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What If They Put Out a Bird Feeder and Nobody Came?

It’s been two weeks since hanging a bird feeder in my back yard and still there haven’t been many birds. When I moved into my home in Albuquerque near Kirtland Air Force Base 30 years ago there was a veritable sunrise jamboree, the birds waking me daily at six in the morning with their rampant chittering, mostly finches, sparrows, and robins, but others, too, sinister starlings, bold, hectoring grackles, the occasional lovely Bullock’s oriole, curve-bill thrashers with their piercing, assertive cries, and more. But now, except for the mourning doves, and there are fewer of them, there is silence.

In the mornings I take my laptop and coffee and sit outside at the old table with my small Bausch & Lomb binoculars and my pocket-sized Birds of New Mexico. It is arranged by colors for quick reference.

Morning is the best time in the still-hot Albuquerque late-summer days. After 11 the heat intensifies and things slowly come to a standstill, even the ants going underground. By four it’s an oven, then gradually cooling as the hemisphere turns its back on the sun, birds and animals reappearing as evening approaches. Around 7:30 I’m back at the table with my hopeful binoculars and some dinner.

Though far from the water, we do get the occasional Osprey, this one costing about $9,000 per hour to operate as per Air Force accounting, although according to former Time reporter Mark Thompson the true “ownership” cost per hour, which counts everything up to and including prophylactics and cyanide pills should one crash in enemy territory, which would definitely be my back yard, is around $83,000 per hour.

If this seems like a hard figure to wrap around your head, try swaddling your nut with the 10 billion the Air Force spends annually on fuel. It’s not difficult to imagine the socially beneficial projects 10 billion could cover. As with so much else in this strange life we are standing on our heads here.

Every morning at seven the speakers at the base blare “Reveille” and “To the Colors,” its strident notes echoing throughout neighborhood. At five it’s “Sound Retreat” and the “Star Spangled Banner.” At ten it’s “Taps.” The only one I can tolerate is “Taps,” its mournful tones alerting me to the hour and preparations for sleep. It’s also of mercifully short duration. The others are long and irritating and trigger my enduring anti-patriotism. I love the land, the art, the literature, the music, and the many great people in this tortured country. The rest of the ugliness and stupidity can go to hell.

It’s a vile and violent system and I despise it to its rotten core. In this I am an outsider to many, if not most, of my fellow citizens, no doubt. My friends are liberals and Trump-haters and yearn for the good old Obama days and even dumb little arbusto. How quickly people forget. The malevolent cretin currently occupying the offal office can’t hold a candle to little Georgie for sheer destructive violence, not yet anyway.

It’s a good thing I don’t drive on the base. Official Kirtland protocol states:

“Civilians should stand still, remove your hat, and place the right hand over the heart while the music is playing. If in a vehicle, the AFI states, “during Reveille or Retreat, pull the car to the side of the road and stop. All occupants sit quietly at attention until the last note of “To the Colors” or the national anthem is played or the flag is fully raised or lowered.”

During weekday mornings at 7 a.m. on Kirtland, “To the Colors” follows “Reveille.” At 5 p.m. on weekdays, the national anthem follows “Sound Retreat.” Since most people moving across the base at these times will not be able to see the flag, the music is the primary cue. If you will be traveling on base at these times, we recommend you leave the window open slightly to hear the music and pay proper respects to our flag.

Lastly, if you happen to be on Kirtland at 10 p.m. each night, you will hear “Taps” being played. There are no formal protocols for “Taps” played in the evening. However, when “Taps” is played as a part of military funeral and memorial ceremonies, it requires Airmen salute during these events.

In short, during “Reveille” and “Sound Retreat” we stand at parade rest; during “To the Colors” and the national anthem, we salute while facing the flag, or the sound of music if you don’t see the flag. If you are driving, pull to the side, and wait through the playing of the music.”

A few weeks ago I went to an Isotopes (the triple-A team that plays here) game with a friend and during the national anthem I neglected, not unintentionally, to remove my cap. A worthy in camos behind me leaned forward and asked me if I would mind removing my cap. I told him yes, I would mind removing my cap, and stood defiantly and a little nervously for the duration of the wretched paean to bloodshed and mayhem. As my friend and I walked away some woman yelled, “Next time remove your cap!” Well, there won’t be a next time. Militarism and crass commercialism have effectively ruined attending baseball games for me. At the end of the third inning there was a salute to our brave troops defending our freedoms, with an American flag flapping on the giant screen. Presumably this occurs at the end of all third innings but I couldn’t say for certain.

There is a sharp-shinned hawk that lives in an elm tree nearby and that could be one reason why there are fewer birds, and of course there are cats, but more likely it is the general diminishing of the natural world that is our sad burden in this terrifying age. My back yard is a haven that I cultivate assiduously, but despite Candide’s advice, I find it difficult to mind my own business when the business of our masters is bent on destroying all that we hold sacred. The question is how to fight the bastards. Meanwhile I put out food for the birds and hope for the best, and every day at five, at the blaring of the National Anthem, there is at least one bird here, flipped in the direction of the base.

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Richard Ward divides his time between New Mexico and Ecuador. He can be reached at: r.ward47@gmail.com.

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