The Cardinal Tree

 By Guest Blogger: Tom Honke, GSNI-M Property Project Manager

  I have a curve in my sidewalk that leads from the driveway to the front porch.  In between that curve and the house is a small earthen area that I planted with a cranberry tree years ago.  The tree has white blossoms in the spring, purplish  green leaves in the summer, and leaves turning a deep glossy dark purple in the fall.  While pretty, I’ve never had much use for this tree.  The leaves are hard to rake up and it drops small sticks as it grows.  I’ve often thought about removing the tree and replacing it with a lower maintenance shrub or evergreen.  Until early this fall, that is.

 I often stand on the porch at night, close to the cranberry tree, looking over my yard, enjoying the distant, mournful whistle of a train, looking at stars, and generally just enjoying the solace that the peace and quiet in my small rural neighborhood brings.  While looking at the tree one night, I caught site of a particularly bright red spot in the tree.  Not many of the leaves had turned yet, and I was curious.  Red leaves?  I got a flashlight and inspected the too red area more closely.  It was a male Cardinal.  He had chosen a spot in my tree to roost for the night.  Cool, I thought!  He didn’t flinch as I walked around the porch or shone the flashlight on him.  I figured he thought he was invisible perched on a small branch and surrounded by leaves that pretty well camouflaged him.

 Now, I have to explain the boyhood bond I have with Cardinals.  They’re my favorite bird as they don’t migrate in the winter and add such wonderful color to the drab grey of winter.  Their song is beautiful and easily identifiable.  I grew up rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, my Dad’s favorite.  He even took me to see some of their games.  At one game, he bought me a red baseball hat with a Cardinal on it.  I wore that hat until it disintegrated.

 The next night I went back on the porch and he was there again, in the same exact spot.  I said hello, checked him out, and thought of my Dad.  This has gone on for about 6 weeks now.  He’s not there every night.  If it’s extremely windy or raining hard, he must have a different branch in a different tree that offers better protection.  I know he won’t roost there for the winter, as the tree will be bare and offer no protection.  But until then, I check for him every night.  I’ve named him Big Red.  Most of the leaves are gone now, but Big red is still there on the warmer nights

 How wonderful!  In a tree I was thinking of removing because of the minor inconveniences it posed, another thing of beauty has taken hold, if only for a short while.  The joy he brings when he’s there is comforting, like a good friend.  And all I had to do to find him was look.  Now, when I hear the train whistles or am admiring the stars, I have someone to do it with.  I have my Cardinal friend, Big Red.  And my Dad.

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