Kathryn watched the sparrow up close, with her full body next to the window where the bird pecked at the seeds on the bird tray. “She must see me—my shadow?” Kathryn said to herself as she stood motionless, listening to her own breathing while the bird stayed to peck. Balancing on its toothpick legs, the bird barely bobbed its head when it pecked at the snow-covered seeds on the bird tray, which was nailed to the porch railing outside the bay window.
Even though the morning sun was out, the bird puffed up its feathers to keep warm. Kathryn worried that later it would be cold in the winter wind after sundown. She looked beyond the bird feeder tray and saw a cave-like bush. “The bird could fly under the boughs to stay warm,” she speculated.
The boughs of the Bridal Wreath bush had bent to the ground under the weight of the snow cap heaped on its crown. Under the boughs of snow the sparrow would have a perfectly warm cave. She thought, of course, that the space was too large for such a tiny body; even so, she felt relief.
While Kathryn continued to watch the puffed-up bird through the window, she felt that her own body had become a gentle shield for it, almost like a cave. She wanted to protect the quiet, small bird. “What should I do next?” she wondered. “I cannot stand in the window until darkness hides us both! I’ll make a house over the bird feeder tray!” Then she remembered that mother birds are scared away from their nests and that they do not return to their eggs if you touch the nest and leave your human scent. Would she scare away the bird? So she decided to wait until John came home after school at three o’clock.
In the afternoon Kathryn watched and waited from inside the bay window. The sparrow had flown away during the morning. “Would the sparrow return to the feeder at the end of the day?” she asked herself. “Where was it now?” she wondered. The other birds had not come either and the feeding time was over. She hoped that the sick bird would huddle with the others where they knew how to keep warm, in a place like the Bridal Wreath cave. But then Kathryn questioned whether or not the other birds would let the sick bird in. While all the other birds had eaten together on the feeding tray, the sick bird pecked by herself at the opposite end of the tray; obviously the other birds were staying away from her.
When John came home at three o’clock, and the bird had not returned yet. The two stood in the bay window waiting, feeling disappointed and helpless. Earlier that morning John had commented that the bird’s movements had slowed down to the speed of a slow motion film. Finally, while they waited in vain for the bird to return for food, they began to fear that the bird might be sicker than it was in the morning. “Maybe she would never return,” they thought.
At that moment Kathryn made her decision and told John about it. Hastily, she hurried to the woodshed on the opposite end of the house. She found a shallow, rectangular box propped against the garbage can. The box, formerly full of soup cans, was an extra one John had been saving to collect black twigs and tree bark which blew off the trees in late fall and winter.
On her kitchen table, she covered the soup can box with two long sheets of wax paper, one for the length and one for the width of the box, and carefully taped the paper over the outside to keep the box dry. Carrying the transposed soup can box, she glided over the smooth wooden floors of the dining room, through the front door, and onto the slippery slanted porch. She stepped carefully over to the side porch railing and fitted the box under the tray and around the open sides of the feeder tray so the wind would not blow on the wobbly bird when it pecked at the seeds. When she had finished, she brushed the snow off her skirt and shivered back to the kitchen.
Outside the winter evening wrapped around the warm house like a fluffy, white rabbit stole. The fire popped inside the Alpiner woodstove in the living room. Their mystical cat, Thomas Aquinas, nestled in the corner of the sofa on his Icelandic wool blanket, folded in layers to make it extra soft to comfort his arthritis.
In the kitchen Kathryn and John washed the supper dishes. She kept thinking about the birds and the feeder while she dipped her dishes in and out of the warm, soapy water. After rinsing the last cup she hurried out through the tall black door onto the dusty white porch. Enough snow had blown onto the floor that she slowly pressed one moccasin into the snow at a time to keep from slipping on the slick painted boards. Shaking each foot, getting her ankles wet, she made her way to the balustrade railing outside the bay window.
Disappointingly, the birds had not returned to the feeder as Kathryn hoped they would. Powder flakes had begun to form a frozen glaze over the bumpy seeds on the bird feeder tray; it looked like the top of a sheet cake covered with vanill