I’ll never forget the day I met her. Not long before I’d put up bird feeders for the first time, something I fell into after busting the blue jays snatching peanuts I’d set out for squirrels. How had I never noticed these loud and stunning blue birds?
Like an addict, I was hooked. A few days in I was buying feeders, bags of seeds and more peanuts than any sane person should. The birds around here were super stoked about the new fast food joint.
I was outside when she hopped on the fence and I noticed her immediately. She had such a presence about her. I sat motionless, so as not to scare her, and watched from my back steps. That’s when I realized something was different. It was hard to see without my camera (I didn’t even own one yet!), but her beak looked strange and she kept fumbling seeds out of it when attempting to crack them.
I caught on quickly and began cracking them for her, then smashing them, then blending them in the Kitchen Aid. Basically, I stopped just short of regurgitation. I placed them on the fence with her looking on from a distance.
Over the months, that distance became less and less. Eventually, she waited so close I could’ve reached out and touched her had I tried. Her meals were extravagant – live worms and blended seeds of every variety. All I had to do was open the door and yell, “BEEEEEEEE BEEEEEEE” and I would hear her little cheep cheep cheep from far away. It would get closer and closer and then she’d hop out onto the fence in her usual spot.
Over time she became a different bird. She put on much needed weight and her feathers began to shine –just like her eyes. And, oh what eyes she had. They told a story and had more soul behind them than most people I pass in a week.
She could sing her heart out and did so often.
Slowly, she introduced me to her main man, Beau. He’s such a character with his little head tilt, and incredibly handsome with those exquisite red feathers. He took what felt like an eternity to come around but he, too, finally came to trust me. He even began including me on date nights. Stopping by for a worm, he’d dangle and flip it around in his beak until she showed up. The willpower it must have taken not to eat the worm that was already in his mouth! But, he never did. He always waited to feed it to her.
No matter how consistent our routine had become or how much time she spent in my yard, I never forgot that she was wild, and that I had absolutely no control over any of it. I could, and often did, guard her from Hawks, but once she left my yard she was on her own again. I both loved and hated this. I loved it, because she so deeply deserved to be wild and free with as little human help as possible. I hated it, because I’d fallen so deeply in love with her that she’d become a part of my family. The fact that I couldn’t keep her safe 100% of the time was a scary and tough pill to swallow.
I also knew that there would come a day when she did not return. This gnawed at me and I was constantly pushing it out of my mind.
And then one day she did not return.
I hate that I didn’t know her last visit with me was her last. Although, I guess that would have made it impossibly hard.
* * *
Here’s what I know:
She and Beau were doing the typical courting dance.
She left, but in the weeks after Beau continued to show up, grabbing worms and seeds by the beak-ful and flying away with them.
A couple of months later, a cardinal fledgling and an adult male began showing up to eat. I have no confirmation that the adult is Beau, but he’s trusted me from day one and seems to know exactly where to wait for the his worms. I’ve never seen an adult female cardinal with them, although I think I heard what sounded like one a couple of times.
At present, the fledgling is growing up, and now an obvious female! She shows up every day a million times a day, and I can hear her getting closer and closer and closer, just like Bernadette did! She was quick to trust me and is so adorably curious.
The “is-it-Beau?” male cardinal still comes to grab a bite, too.
* * *
As you know, this has been somewhat of a difficult year for me — with the divorce and figuring out life as a single mom.
Bernadette was with me in the months after my divorce, my little slice of heaven and my feathered therapist. Someone once told me that I’d been there for her when she needed me, and now it was her turn to do the same for me.
I fell quickly into a relationship (imagine that!) and began traveling on my own a lot. I was smiling again. And, it was during this time that Bernadette left. However much I hate that she left, she did so at a time that I was strong enough to be okay.
Inevitably, the honeymoon period of the rebound crashed. Sorting through that, I took more trips and avoided wondering what had become of her. Nevertheless, I still called out her name every time I stepped outside. And, I still do to this day.
Yesterday, my illustrator sent me the first page of her book. This was my sign that it was time to stop avoiding.
I’ve received countless messages asking about Bernadette these last few months. And, I’ve avoided them. Because not avoiding them meant that I had to admit to all of you, and to myself, that she really was gone. And, I didn’t want to disappoint either of us.
When I sat down to finish writing this, I allowed myself to finally feel how much I miss her. By the end, I was sobbing all over my laptop, both happy and sad tears.
I’ll probably never know the ending of B’s beautiful story. She was with me for close to two years. Two years in which she was loved fiercely by so many. Two years that she inspired everyone who knew of her. She had an amazing life, and I won the lottery when she picked me to be a part of it.
The new little girl in my life reminds me so much of her it’s scary. The dreamer in me wants to believe that she is Bernadette’s little girl. Or, maybe even Bernadette herself in a brand new body – a body that’s healthy and strong, like her spirit always was.
I know the odds of either of these are slim, but I don’t care. She showed me that anything is possible and taught me to believe in the unbelievable. So, because of her and for her, that’s what I’ll continue to do.
As I was finishing this up, baby girl cardinal stopped by for a bite.
Edited to add: Without Bernadette, I would never have fallen in love with photography — a passion that’s offered me therapy and peace, and opened doors I never knew existed.