RICHMOND

Where was Goldilocks when we needed her? The three bears came, clearly showing us that the world’s best weight loss program is probably semi-hibernation, and they wanted food.

We knew we were gambling with Mother Nature when we approached the Ides of March with three bird feeders full of seeds, plus one small chunk of suet in a net bag on the weeping crabapple tree. But it’s the same as the days when we raised corn and would wait until the last possible day to pick it -- the day when it would be perfect. And the night before, skunks and raccoons would have the same thought and figure we were a day off. They would strip the ears down and savor our corn, with no butter and no salt.

That’s why we stopped raising corn. But we still feed the birds, and we still wait just that one day too long. Before bears moved down from northern Berkshire onto Lenox Mountain and before their Massachusetts population burgeoned, we fed birds from October to June. The chickadees gathered early in the fall and in the spring, we could thrill to the arrival of a bluebird or a rose-breasted grosbeak right there outside the window.

Now we start in mid-December, were attacked this year in January when three warm days in a row woke the big guys up for a bit and put the feeders out again when February sent them back to bed. But on the Ides of March, Mama’s nose -- supposedly seven times better than a bloodhound’s -- smelled something good, probably the suet.


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Putting out suet may be the worst thing to do. But the chickadees and titmice love it, and it brings in the downy and hairy woodpeckers, who are simply wonderful. Perhaps the deadline has to be moved back to George Washington’s birthday in another year.

There she was, taking that little net bag off the tree. She headed up the bank, then came back down to snuffle her way through the seeds on the ground under the feeder. I yelled out the door, and she ambled off toward the woods, then came back for more nibbles. She was very slim. Tracer barked his head off at the window, and I rang the trusty cowbell, a relic from my grandfather’s farm, and she departed. Because of the snow cover and lack of leaves, we could see her way up in the woods, walking back and forth.

I took down the feeders right then and went off to town to do errands.

But she wasn’t done. She came back with her family, a pair of 1-year-olds, and they all grazed a bit before they were scared off. And they’ve not been back again, although they have visited several nearby locations. The up side is that mourning doves, squirrels, juncos, turkeys and chickadees have been picking at the remains on the ground for days now, leaving little left to rake when (if) spring arrives.

The turkeys, by the way, are splendid this year. They move off when the dog barks, looking a little awkward but quite speedy in their scurry mode. The same flock of ten males keeps coming, some of them with very long beards. They are enormous and usually saunter into the yard in a group of nine with one trailing some distance behind.

The laggard was out front one afternoon when Tracer and I emerged for a walk. The dog leaped and barked, and the turkey took off, flying higher and further than usual and disappearing into the trees. It seemed as big as a condor, but of course it wasn’t. I looked it up anyway -- the turkey has a wingspread of five feet, four inches, only 16 inches less than a bald eagle (the condor’s is 109 inches).

Goldilocks would have run away from that turkey, too.

Ruth Bass is author of two historical novels. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.