A (micro)cosmic tug

Barbara and Fern on a remote island in northern Illinois overlooking Lake Michigan.

After I read this morning’s prompt How far back in your family tree can you go?, I took Barbara for a walk and thought about her family tree.

Who was Barbara’s mother? Who was her father? Who were her litter mates? Are they still alive?

Beats me.

Some animals come with papers clearly delineating their pedigree. Barbara came with cuteness and little else. Compared to, say, the Queen’s corgis that date back 15 generations, there is very little recorded about Barbara’s heritage.

Here’s what I know: Barbara is a 12-year-old tan chihuahua from Chicago.

Here’s what I was told in 2011:

A college student bought the dog from a flea market and then decided nah. The young woman told her instructor about her chihuahua woes and he took the dog from her and said he’d find a home for it. His then-wife, an animal rights activist who had previously brokered the adoption of our first chihuahua (Toddy), asked us if we wanted “Annabelle.”

We said yes.

Jesse picked up the dog at State & Wabash and the two new pals drove home to Rockford. Upon meeting the dog, the family agreed that her name would be Barbara, after Barbara Bush.

As Barbara (my dog, not the ghost of the former first lady, although who’s to say she wasn’t there?) and I were walking along the pre-dawn streets of my neighborhood, I was lost in thought about pedigrees, puppy mills, flea markets and the like. Then I felt a cosmic tug on the leash. I looked up and noticed another “family tree.”

A family tree.

That’s my mom’s house and that pine is her tree. It’s the tallest tree in the neighborhood. Shortly after moving back to Rockford, I was driving home and realized I could see the trees from several blocks away and felt an absurd amount of pride. I didn’t shout, “The rest of y’all trees suck!” but I certainly thought it.

There are three trees in that section of her yard and they’re lovely but I don’t know the family tree about the family trees. I don’t know their age, what kind of pine tree they are, if someone intentionally planted them or if they’re volunteers.

Here’s what I do know:

In the 1970s, my brother adorned the trees with Christmas lights from top to bottom.

In the 80s, I climbed them.

In the 90s and on, my late father hung bird feeders on them and watched the avian activity from his porch swing.

“It’s a microcosm, Conniegirl,” he told me one afternoon when I was visiting from Minneapolis.

This was the nineties. Even though I was well into my twenties, it was the first time I ever heard the word and asked him what he meant. He, a teacher and a wordsmith, explained it to me scientifically and poetically. He used their compost bin as another example of a microcosm because he and my mom frequently saw snakes, insects and mice in it. He spoke to the essence of nurturing life, the importance of “turning the pile” and respecting the order of culinary events in a ecosystem, aka the “food chain.” Whenever I hear the word, I think, “Dad.”

I have a fascinating family tree but don’t have time to get permission to write publicly about them. Just know I am very proud of my family — the roots, trunk, branches, buds, leaves (fallen or fresh) and sap.

Thanks for reading.

Tugging the microcosm,


My dad’s swing.

The loser who hates nature

“Is it dead?” I asked. “Why is it just sitting there?”

Barbara didn’t answer me, so I gently tugged her leash and we walked closer to it.

“It” was a house finch that was sitting in the middle of the street. It wasn’t dead but it was definitely stressed. The bird had avian conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye for birds. This infection makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the infected bird to see, fly, eat or survive.

You can identify the conjunctivitis by looking at the bird’s eyes. They will appear crusty, swollen or runny. If you live near a wildlife rehabilitation center, you might be able to take the injured bird to them and they’ll treat the infection with a saline solution. Call first.

Most of the time you have to let nature take its course. The infection will spread to both eyes and the vulnerable bird will starve to death, get eaten by a cat, fly into a building or something else. It’s never easy to see wildlife struggle, even if it’s just a small bird. But there is something you can do.

Conjunctivitis is a bacterial infection that spreads easily and quickly at bird feeders and other places birds gather. It’s not a guarantee, but to help stop the spread of infection, scrub your bird feeders at least once a month. Let them completely air dry before refilling them.

If you fill the feeders before they are dry, the bird seed will get moldy. The seeds will clump together and clog the feeder. Moreover, you’ll feel like a failure. The birds will judge you and so will your neighbors. You’ll be known as the loser who hates nature and it’s really hard to come back from that.

It starts with that nagging feeling of guilt. You notice that your bird feeder looks dusty and mildewy. You’ll remember you haven’t filled it in awhile.

Arthur takes zero crap.

“Gee,” you’ll think. “Even the squirrels are leaving the feeder alone.”

That’s when you’ll notice a bird wearing a leather jacket walk by. That’s Arthur, the neighborhood catbird. He’s a bully. He takes zero crap from anyone and when he passes by, you won’t feel safe.

“What…what’s happening to me?”

You’ll quickly descend into madness and before long, you’ll be dead. And it’s all because you wouldn’t let your bird feeder air dry before you refill it.

I’m not here to tell you how to live your life. I’m not judgmental like Arthur. However, if it behooves you to clean and fill your bird feeders every once in awhile, you’ll have my eternal respect. Thanks for reading! -Connie