Of Birds and Seeds and Capitalism
–by Mike Horvitz (c) 2010
I have these birds that come into my back porch, you know. They come for the goodies I leave for them. I’ve discovered there are all kinds of different bird feeders available these days. And for a whole variety of seeds, too. I have, for example, two very different kinds of thistle seed dispensers. One is long and has a few tiny openings for the goldfinches to pry the seeds out one at a time. The other is quite fancy looking, at least to me anyway, because it’s shaped like an inverted cone with a round red roof with eaves, and has a secret swivel opening on the top to pour in the thistle seeds. At the bottom is a nice perch which circles around the whole base, where there are four feeding troughs. It creates a very nice communal setting for these little goldfinches. The bigger house finches don’t care for it, presumably because the tiny thistle seeds aren’t as interesting to them. The odd thing is that the fancy-looking feeder was very cheap—only about 2 bucks! It’s only made of plastic, but it looks fancy enough to me to be at least three times that expensive. And anyone who knows bird feeders knows that the 6-dollar range is getting into better quality with more features.
I have about 6 or 7 feeders out now, and a couple way out back in the trees as well. Sometimes 20 to 30 finches appear, hopping about and feeding. Some are aggressive and chase others of their own kind off, but all in all they get along pretty well. I think it helps that I’ve hung extra little branches for them to perch on when it gets too crowded.
When I hung out my very first feeder a few months ago, I can’t honestly say that I was a serious bird-feeder. It was a dirty old feeder left around in the yard from years ago, the plastic all clouded over, you know, when it gets real old. And I only bought the cheapest seed—the yellow millet, which doesn’t even look appetizing to me. I bought the seed at a 99-cent store–I didn’t know there was much of a variety of wild birdseed available. I didn’t expect that there would be much out there for birds that were only itinerant visitors, creatures that could never even be thought of as pets. But surprisingly, as I went from store to store, from Wal-Mart to K-Mart, I found a very nice variety for my new little wild friends. I was beginning to realize that this bird-feeding thing was much bigger than I had first imagined.
I became interested enough even to read the ingredients on the packages, and soon I was buying big 5- and 10-pound bags of various mixes, and black oil sunflower seeds labeled “Not Fit For Human Consumption”. I felt a kind of pride in giving these little creatures something they enjoyed so much, but which would remain a mystery to us humans, never to know the taste of such delicacies.
Then when reading the instructions about how and when to feed the birds, I began noticing something appearing on almost all of the packages. They had a sort of warning that basically said I must be sure to always have plenty of fresh food and water out for the birds. They said that consistency was very important for our little friends, and they shouldn’t be let down or neglected. I began to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. I didn’t really mind the cost—if I had to I could always go without some little luxury if it came right down to it. I’d rather do that than let the little guys go hungry. But it started to seem like quite a responsibility, what was supposed to be just a little diversion or hobby. If there were sometimes 20 to 30 goldfinches and house finches around with an occasional pair of doves and a shy oriole or reluctant scrub jay now and then, this could easily mean that I was becoming personally responsible for dozens or even hundreds of hungry bird families, since I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the same 20 or 30 finches each time. How does one handle the emotional let alone economic burden of such a responsibility as this?
I get anxious real easily, in case you didn’t realize that. But watching the birds hopping about all excitedly, going from one feeder to the other, pausing to perch on my special little twig-branches (even sideways, sometimes) before calculating which feeder to hop over to, or which companion to bump out of the way; all of this, you know, was very, very enjoyable to watch. And even if it wasn’t necessarily relaxing, so as to relieve my general anxiety, it was, at least, quite entertaining to the point of causing me to occasionally burst out with laughter at all of the antics these little fellows demonstrated. And it was quite satisfying to know that I was personally providing the livelihood for so many families of my little winged friends. But get this: in the midst of my altruistic pastime (which, as I have admitted, had definite elements of personal pleasure), I was now faced with what seemed to me a nearly overwhelming responsibility, which could even be considered interminable! Where might this all end? Suppose I became so involved with my work at the office that I became a bit forgetful for a few days, or suppose I had to leave town for some emergency, say, to help my poor sweet mother deliver her newspapers up in San Francisco? Could I in good conscience just pack up and leave all my cute little avian friends flitting about an empty porch for days on end, patiently waiting for that wonderful and, by the way, even vitamin-enriched, food to magically reappear? In the meantime, after becoming so dependent on my good nature, how would they feed themselves, let alone provide for their little nesting babies hidden somewhere in the trees with the nourishment needed to grow strong and take to the air at that special time in their development?
Here suddenly, what was supposed to be a source of relaxation or at least gratification was now bordering on a nightmare of responsibility. I carefully read the instructions on those packages over and over again. Only the cheap 99-cent yellow millet lacked any guidance here, but that wasn’t enough to let me off the hook. All the others, alas, proclaimed the same warning concerning the dire consequences should the bird-feeding neophyte be so careless or negligent to provide anything less than a wholesome meal with plenty of liquid to the new friends he seduced over into his own private porch. There was virtually a complete consensus that anyone unwilling to provide anything short of a full well-rounded meal on a regular daily basis was not of the mettle required to fulfill the responsibilities of what at first glance would appear to be a lackadaisical hobby, but what, in reality was, in fact, a life-long (indeed, perhaps even to extend beyond one’s own life) dedication to not, as one would think, the mere personal pleasure of daydreaming out the window while the birds peck away joyfully at the seeds here and there, but a mature commitment to sustaining the livelihoods if not the very lives of our sweet airborne cousins.
I looked out the sliding glass door, which now, as reality set in, seemed to acquire a filmy haze over its surface. I gazed beyond at those playful, scrambling birds, watching their movements which had just that same morning filled me with such feelings of amazement and delight. Now suddenly their flitting about seemed mildly irritating, as if they were obtruding on me their right to come to my private porch and demand some endless supply of nourishment; as if, somehow, I had been elected to serve these creatures, without regard to my own needs, wishes or aspirations. Did not I, too, need nourishment, no less than they? And did not I, at least, work hard to sustain myself, without depending on others for handouts? Certainly, of course, we still have a sort of social safety net which some of us may require in times of need or desperation to depend upon. But we, after all, are of a higher caliber, our species, and have used our collective abilities to create this great social structure and infrastructure for the very purpose of supporting ourselves and those around us. We all contribute to it in one way or another, we all put forth our best effort and hard work to form, maintain and sustain this structure. So one could hardly call that freeloading, except for the rare individual who has actually been so depraved as to never even begin to dream that he must do something other than lay around and wait for others to help him, feed him, bathe him, and maintain him in comfort. But this, I’m sure you are aware, is the rare exception in our great society. We, as a collective species, have risen above the basics of Nature, and have earned the right to deviate from Her rules. So it surely is no crime against either Nature or Society for the occasional wayward soul to seek sustenance from the system that helped shape him.
You might be thinking, vulnerable as I am to collapsing under the pressures of anxiety, that I am at a point of near total despair as I have described the situation with the birds. But I’m not one to take things solely on their face value, fortunately. I look beyond the common interpretation of things; looking to depths more often than not ignored by the less creative or at least less adventurous minds. I have saved myself from much grief and misery on account of this natural ability of mine.
Let me explain what I mean, if you haven’t already discerned it from what I have described above, if you don’t happen to be one of those lucky ones in possession of that specially deep visionary ability. (Please don’t take this in a belittling or ridiculing way, for I, myself, can not claim to have possessed this ability until after years of pondering and intra-mental contemplation and study.) As I was describing, I, without wanting or seeking it, was drifting into a deep cynicism about bird nature. This was certainly not appropriate for one such as myself so well versed in the great qualities of the entire animal kingdom, especially those warm-blooded creatures that show the greatest exuberance and joie de vivre. If I may, I might say I was saved by a great revelation. Of what? you may ask. Of the Evils Of Capitalism, do I answer. Let me put my theory forth at this juncture.
What might the motives of the bird seed manufacturers be, to recommend that the innocent bird-feeder (as I rightfully claim to have been) devote such a great portion of his resources to the seemingly innocuous task of providing nourishment to a few species of flying animals quite distantly related to us? Might we call it avian charity? Might we observe that these companies are owned by people who have as their chief care and concern in life to provide for and maintain the ever burgeoning populations of goldfinches, house finches, and the like? Might we believe that these kind, altruistic corporate executives weep on their pillows as they say their prayers and ask the Lord to protect all birds on the face of our planet at any cost, even if it were to mean the loss of share value of their own stock holdings?
I presume you are now getting the point—I can almost see the mildly cynical smile spreading over your face as you come to the realization of what now must appear so obvious that you wonder how you, yourself, not to mention me, myself, failed to recognize it from the start. But this, as you must understand, is EXACTLY how The Evils Of Capitalism, function: The Very Obvious is hidden from us due to our preoccupation with trying to survive, sustain ourselves, and get what little pleasures from life that we may. For those of you who feel you must defend our Capitalistic System for whatever reason, let me be more explicit. Were you really fooled into believing that if I, for example, as an Unconstrained Citizen venturing into the so-called Free Realm of bird-feeding, were to devote myself to such a noble cause as protecting and assisting some certain species of a completely innocent nature, or at least non-invasive to the Functioning of our Capitalist System, that I would be in some way supported or at least maintained in this venture so that I would be protected from any harmful consequences, not the least of which that I may have to miss work, vacation, etc. to continue my duty in not only providing for the birds, but supporting the companies that manufacture and sell the very bird-seed product which is necessary for such venture to continue?
TO those of you who have so blindly followed your Faith In Capitalism, don’t now shrink back and recoil at my revelations here! Face them straight on, for you shall see that even our Great Country has made and will again make mistakes in executing the actions necessary for our economy to function. But the Corruption goes even deeper, if you are willing to follow the thread here. Yes, surely, the Evils Of Capitalism are harmful to mankind (and I add womankind here, as well, for do they not also suffer? Even as they sit and quietly sew by the hearth?)
But did you ever stop to think how such Evils have elicited the complicity of such naïve and innocent creatures as the goldfinch and house finch? Yes, as bizarre as it may sound, it is in every sense true. Let us look at our case in point. Those very creatures, free on their wing to choose how and where they may come and go, are, unwittingly corralled-in to promote the Sinister Motives of the Evil Capitalistic System! How? By their very Enchanting and Free Nature, they draw us in, make us yearn to be close to them, so that we may vicariously enjoy their freedom, their great evolutionary achievement! We, as decent, caring beings, are moved by their delightful actions, and we innocently seek to protect and nourish them. And do they mean any harm by their actions? Of course not, answers even the pre-school child! Yet, that very same child, brought up in the Teachings of the Capitalist System is blinded by the Evils Of Capitalism, which exploit our love of Nature’s creatures in order to generate Profits For The Rich!!
For those of you who are most resistant in relinquishing your stubborn Faith In Capitalism, I ask point blank: Is it right that the goldfinch be used as a tool of the Capitalist System to coerce and deceive finer men (and who knows, perhaps even finer women) into a fear of neglecting and consequently harming these poor creatures? A fear so deep as to make them afraid to Stop Purchasing that very food which is the sustenance of the creature that they have grown to love and admire…
Were it a different, better world, I would, even in my anxiety state, have picked up the bag of birdseed and reassuringly read, “Be sure to always provide sufficient fresh water and food for the birds, as consistency is important for their well being. If, for any reason you are unable to do so, please call us toll-free, and we will provide additional food at no cost to you. Furthermore, one of our CEOs will personally visit your establishment to assist you in caring for these wonderful creatures, should you become otherwise indisposed. Should you, for any reason, become disabled in any way which makes you unable to continue your noble and altruistic quest to provide for those mutual avian friends, we will be happy to issue to you sufficient shares of stock in our corporation (or you may request options, if more suitable to your tax situation) to provide for your well being, as a small gesture of our thanks for the fine work you have done in helping us achieve our most important goal, which is, of course, the caring and feeding of our beloved wild birds.”
But, alas, such a better world does not (yet) exist…we must be patient and wait; we can only wait, feed the birds and wait.
Of Birds and Seeds and Capitalism
Of Birds and Seeds and Capitalism