A ligustrum tree grows outside my kitchen window. What started out as a bush has grown into a lush, branch-filled tree. To humans, the ligustrum looks like your basic tree with a brown trunk, green leaves, and, in the spring, sweet-smelling white flowers. But to the animals that live in my backyard, the tree is a veritable wonderland.
As I wash the dishes, I can watch my own version of the Animal Channel. I'm never sure what I'm going to see. The view is such that I can see right into the middle of the tree where squirrels and a variety of multi-colored birds eat the seeds they've culled from the nearby feeder. Most days the squirrels are on the run, using the maze of branches as a speedway to get from point A to point B. At times, however, the more virile of the scraggly-looking males sits on a limb right in front of the window waving his tail in my direction as if it were a luxurious fur worth swooning over.
Creatures with wings, however, find the tree more of a multi-purpose co-op. The trunk bears rows of wholly rings drilled by a brilliantly red-headed woodpecker. Finches, titmouses, bees and butterflies flit in and out of the leaves looking for food, rest, or fragrant, pollen-filled blossoms. Our resident brown thrasher rests under the leafy canopy to shiver and shake himself dry after a dip in the birdbath. Cardinal hatchlings, out of the nest and not yet in their full color, use a limb's camouflage to roost while they wait for mama to magically provide an avian version of a happy meal - something already chewed and processed. Yum! The jays use the hard bark of a preferred branch to crack open sunflower seeds.
I often toss peanuts to the ground just under the tree. I rarely see which backyard guests scoop up these treats, yet they disappear within minutes. To my amazement, as I washed breakfast dishes this morning, a jay settled on a branch right in front of me. In its beak was a whole peanut, shell and all. Birds are normally too skittish to stick around if they sense someone is on the other side of the glass. This bird, however, was clearly more concerned with his trophy-sized nut than being watched by me.
I'm not sure how, but this jay was able to balance on the branch and hold onto the peanut at the same time. He pecked at the shell until it cracked it open. Like a runner about to cross the finish line, the jay new he was almost home free as he joyfully retrieved the protected nut from its covering.
But wait! Both the jay and I noticed a problem at the same time. The nut was too big to eat in one bite. If he continued in his time-tested manner to throw his head back and drop the nut down his gullet, the bird was sure to choke. He needed to pare the peanutty morsel down to an edible size. To do this he had to hold the nut in his beak and bang it on the tree. However, because the best nut-cracking leverage was right between his toes, the jay would undoubtedly lose the shell and possibly one more nut. Clearly this was the bird equivalent of the classic have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too dilemma.
What to do? Hold on or let go? Let go or hold on?
I know that feeling. I understand about holding on to stuff that may not work for me anymore. I can relate to wanting to let go of something, but not quite being able to pry my fingers loose. Lately I've become aware of just how much holding on I do. I have a stockpile of past grievances, old heartaches, outdated beliefs, and self-righteous anger. Like the jay's half-empty peanut shell, none of them do me much good if I want to savor a moment's joy.
Why is it so hard to let go of things like unfulfilled dreams, ideas that no longer make sense, unrequited love, and credit cards? If I could loosen my pinched heart and clenched fists, just imagine all the good stuff I'd be able to embrace. Like my bird counterpart, I already know the truth; that one can't have it all. In the end one must make a choice. Yet knowing and doing are often two different things. Dang it, even when it hurts I seem to want both the entanglement and the freedom. My therapist calls it codependence. I call it fruitless... a waste of energy...weird.
Birds, I've noticed, are not so emotional as dish washing window watchers. Birds hop around a little, squawk a lot, but in the end make a decision based solely on what it will take to survive. Thus, the jay shook his head, dropped the empty shell, swallowed the half-nut, and flew off for more.
The lesson to be learned here has less to do with peanuts and way more to do with freedom. I hope it wasn't lost on me.