“I seem to get along better with the squirrels,” my dad said, taking a long drag of his cigarette and looking out onto his backyard. He blows out and continues, as if finishing the other half of a sentence that wasn’t spoken out loud, “…so that’s the other thing. These guys are all my pals now.”
His bird feeding had progressed to a new level of insanity that was surprising, even for me. The backyard was a small patch of grass, right before a large parking lot nearly three times the size. The lawn, if one was generous enough to call it that, had one single scraggly tree. My dad had put roughly six bird feeders in it, weighing down each little skinny branch with 9 pounds worth of seeds. He explained that the squirrels were annoyed because they couldn’t get easily to the bird feeders, so for them, he had placed about a dozen mountains of expensive designer grocery store nuts at the bottom of the tree, piled among the Buddha statue covered in bird poo. He proudly reveals that these piles come from a separate outdoor storage closet that is full of enough nuts, bird seed, peanut butter and crackers to feed a large metropolitan zoo.
I had come to his house for the weekend from my apartment in NYC, taking the train and then a bus from Springfield that drives almost everywhere around rural America before taking you where you’d like to go. My dad picked me up at the bus station, behind a Chinese food restaurant in a parking lot outside of town, and we headed back to his place.
When we arrived, I was always mixed with emotions – the feeling of being comfortable and back in the cocoon of his lunatic land, and feeling deeply overwhelmed by how lunatic that land has become. After ten minutes without a cigarette, he starts to get antsy, so I throw my bags down and we go outside to catch up.
On the balcony, he explained his latest problem: the amount of food he is throwing out onto the lawn all day has attracted more than just birds and squirrels. Raccoons are now popping by, seagulls have travelled from the ocean more than 130 miles to visit his lawn, pigeons have come from big cities to get a taste of his delicacies. And, not unpredictably perhaps, the neighbours in his shared condo have complained.
I look out onto the lawn, and wonder, as I often do when visiting, where he can go from here.