It’s a beautiful sunny day in UB…well, let me add smoggy and 0F/-16C to that lest one thinks we’re standing on a beach somewhere! I’ve been up since 8 (just don’t completely trust Josh to wake to his alarm so he can walk the dog at 8:30). But I’m an early riser and love the early morning hours. The first thing I do is set the hot pot to heating and make three small pots of various types of tea (usually two green and an Earl Grey) and a cup of coffee or chicory blend. While the water’s heating, I put out seed for the sparrows. I just love those sparrows. I think we’ve had them every place we’ve lived except for Jakarta…I don’t remember any sparrows there.
I think sparrows in Mongolia have a really tough time, but somehow, they seem to thrive. Where ever we’ve lived I’ve fed the local birds. Sparrows have always been the common denominator.
Here in UB, our computer/craft/’hot house’ room faces east towards the compound’s central courtyard. There are several evergreen trees and a birch tree on the east side of our unit. In the early morning, the sparrows are tucked in amongst the various branches looking like dried autumn leaves. At least that’s what they look like to me with my not so great far vision! I admire their tenacity at being able to survive winters here. I really don’t know how they do it.
Our first winter here, we put out a mixture of American wild bird seed twice a day. We’re just about out of that and none is available locally. Rather than order more from the US, we are now using a local grain that resembles millet and the birds are very happy with it. A bag costs just over $1 and lasts almost a week.
The bird feeders are located on our two tiny balconies: one on the ground floor and the other on the top floor. The balconies have iron railings and there the birds sit looking like notes on a scale. There must be at least 50 out there at any given time. They take turns flitting from the railings to the bird feeders, twittering noisily as they compete for the seed.
Now that it’s so cold out, the ones on the railing are huddled down in their feathers and shift from foot to foot as they try to keep warm. One can see little puffs of bird breath and (sorry kids, but I do find the following rather amazing) when they poo, and the wind’s blowing, the poo freezes as it falls and looks like a water fall frozen in time. The kids get really grossed out by this last bit, as I happened to observe it last year for the first time while sitting at the dining table eating breakfast. We’ve never experienced cold like this so everything about life here is, to me at least, an amazing occurrence. I’ll never forget our first winter here last year. Before arriving, I wondered how anything could survive temperatures in the -30s. Well, we did, and so do these amazing little birds. But back to the poo! As I was sitting at the table, eating breakfast, I glanced out the door at all the sparrows sitting on the railing. We also have a thermometer with a large red mercury column hanging on the railing. It was -30C/-20F. One of the sparrows chose that moment to poo. There was a slight breeze and the falling poo froze in a perfect fan-shaped stream. It was one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen in nature.
Please don’t think I’m some weirdo, but I always try to see something positive in difficult situations. That morning when I checked the outside temperature and thanked God that I was not a sparrow sitting on a frozen railing, I felt that I was being shown something wonderful. I am always struck with awe by pictures of myriad snow flakes, none of which are the same. How can something be so perfectly symmetrical, so perfectly beautiful? Things like that make me reflect on the purpose of life. So here was this tiny little bird, sitting on a frozen railing (oh, it was also snowing at the time), and suddenly there was this most amazingly beautiful shape that would have occurred under no other possible circumstances. I had to ponder on that for a while.
The boys still can’t get beyond the fact that I was inspired by frozen poo, but for me, it was like seeing a picture of a frozen snowflake enlarged in real life. I’ll never forget it.
This is a bit late in the posting…not sure why. We’re no longer in Mongolia and I just realized it’s over two years since my last post!