Concerning birds, and my increasingly worrisome relationship to them

Despite the fact that my first few months without a regular job after returning from Maine last summer were rough, I've really settled into my schedule. I like my days - a lot - I like them so much that sometimes I wonder if I'll be able to return to the structure a regular job requires. I like working from home in our little office/laundry room, completing various freelance jobs and looking for new opportunities. I like checking in with the newspaper where I'm contributing regularly, having a chance to work with and be around people from time to time - part of a team. My days are more organized. Sure, sometimes I turn on "What Not to Wear" while eating lunch, but that's it. I don't get drawn into endless television-watching marathons when the rest of the world is putting in an honest day's work. I've learned to be productive while remaining flexible. For the most part, I'm doing things I like. And when I'm doing things I don't like, I'm able to rationalize their professional value.

Whereas before I tended to get a little depressed if I wasn't sure what to do with myself on a less-than-busy day, now I'm able to redirect my energy and do something worthwhile, if not directly related to becoming famous and scoring a major book deal, and one of my new favorite things to do when I've got time on my hands is take the dogs on a long walk. This is an especially enjoyable activity now that winter is becoming a distant memory. We walk around our adorable neighborhood checking out any new flowers that have appeared in neighbors' yards and thoroughly tiring ourselves out. Mina views the walk as a hunt - she's constantly ready to kill man or beast with the brute force her 10-pound body can deliver - but Cecilia is happy to plod along by my side, her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth, looking up at me every once in a while as though to say, "Isn't this the best?" - so I sometimes leave the smaller dog home. She's just a little intense, which I explain to her as she looks on, bewildered, when I bypass her pink leash and leave it hanging on the hook. "Sorry, it's not happening," I tell her.

Today was one of those days so Cecilia and I, both in a good, carefree mood, set off on a walk. It's been one of those indescribably beautiful days in North Carolina, the sky a pure, intense blue and the temperature - there's no better way to say it - perfect, around 75 degrees.

We'd gotten a few blocks from the house when I heard an unfamiliar noise, much different than the other neighborhood noises I'm used to. I know what most the common birds sound like because J, in addition to pointing their calls out to me, now has books and CDs that play their songs. And many, many thanks to everyone who gave him those books and CDs as presents, by the way. No, really.

But this sound - this sound was unlike the others - a loud, repetitive screeching and I stopped in my tracks, checking the sky and nearby trees for the source. I realized, of course, that this might be a bird J had not seen - a bird he hadn't even heard of, maybe - and that if I caught a glimpse and identified it I'd succeed in a rare double-win situation where I'd get to surprise my husband with the discovery of a new bird AND beat him by seeing it first.

I searched high and low, dragging my confused dog around with me, until I found what I was looking for. A low-hanging tree branch, swaying in the soft springtime breeze, was scratching back and forth against a metal bus stop sign, producing the high-pitched, avian-like noise I'd heard. Not a bird at all, but instead a rather shocking moment where I wondered what on Earth had gotten into me. Was I, too, now obsessed with birds through osmosis or proximity?

After we'd nearly completed our regular loop and were on our way back to the house, Cecilia and I stopped to watch a caterpillar make it's way across the street. She perked up her ears and lowered her head, placing her nose nearly right on top of its furry back as she watched it crawl, but lost interest after only a few seconds and we moved on. And then I realized that's the thing about she and I, we're not out for the hunt and probably never will be. We're too distracted to get worked up about the specifics and that's why it's important that we live with others who alert us those life-changing events, like the sighting of a Downy Woodpecker, or the arrival of the mailman.