Northampton Press

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A female hairy woodpecker and a male and female bluebird stop to dine on suet cake before taking refuge in yew. PRESS PHOTO  BY BUD COLE A female hairy woodpecker and a male and female bluebird stop to dine on suet cake before taking refuge in yew. PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLE

Bud's View: Within yew and without yew

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 by BUD COLE Special to The Press in Focus

Shaggy shrub retained for giving year-round show

We have a poorly-shaped overgrown yew on the west side of our house. It rises from its roots to nearly the top of the second story. If the top was not routinely pruned, it would extend well above our roofline and spread much wider in width than the double chimney.

The shrub's position adjacent to the chimney is no longer considered an enhancement to the beauty of the yard, but we keep it because it provides shelter, protection and branches for nesting, as well as soft red fruits and seeds, for the birds.

The oft-used phrase "for the birds" is usually used to describe something that is not good, but in this context, referring to the yew, it is a good thing.

Our yew has given support to the nests of mourning doves, blue jays, northern cardinals, chipping sparrows, finches and other songbirds. Its wide-ranging size has on occasion supported multiple nests in the same breeding season. My wife, Bev, and I have spent 20 springs watching the birds enjoy and use the yew.

One of my favorite children's books is "The Giving Tree" (Harper and Row, 1964, 64 pages) by author-illustrator Shel Silverstein. It is one of Silverstein's best-known books.

I remember reading it for the first time during my Children's Literature course, or Kiddy Lit as we called it, in college. The course required students to read more than 300 books. Since I decided to take the course in a three-week summer session, I was very busy reading. We had to fill out index cards, summarizing each book and describe how it might be correlated into a lesson plan.

I also read "The Giving Tree" to my students when I taught fifth and sixth grade. We discussed the meaning and-or moral of the story and the relationship between the characters.

In case you are not familiar with the book, it is about the relationship between a boy and a tree. The tree gives the boy selfless love as he plays beneath its shade, climbs the trunk, swings on the branches and enjoys eating the tree's apples. "Giving" to the boy makes the tree very happy.

The tree becomes sad as the boy begins to grow older and he is no longer interested in the tree. The boy is often gone for long periods of time. When the boy returns the first time, the tree wants to share her shade and apples and branches. The boy would rather have money to have fun. He is not interested in playing.

"Can you give me money?" the boy asks.

"I do not have money, but you could pick my apples and sell them for money," the tree responds.

The boy picks the apples and goes away again for a very long time. The tree was happy to help the boy, but quickly becomes sad without the boy's company.

When the boy finally returns he has become a man and the tree is happy to see him again. The tree continues to call him a boy. "Come boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and have fun."

"I'm too busy to climb trees. I need a house to keep me warm and I want a wife and children. Can you give me a house?"

The tree can't give the boy a house, but it offers its branches for the boy to build a house. So, the boy cuts the tree's branches and goes away to build his house. Giving its branches to the boy made the tree happy again.

You will have to go to your local library or go online to find out the rest of the story.

I've introduced and summarized "The Giving Tree" because our unsightly yew continues "giving" to the birds visiting our birdfeeders hanging outside our kitchen's bay window, and, thereby, "giving" us hours and hours of enjoyment. The window provides us with an oversized natural wide-screen view of the visiting birds' activities as they consume our food offerings and use the yew. This nearly nonstop reality show keeps us entertained year-round.

Our "giving" yew is about 10 feet away from the feeders, thus providing a sheltered spot for the birds. Its branches allow birds like the black-capped chickadee and the tufted titmouse a foundation to hold a sunflower seed while cracking open the seed's outer shell.

Each chickadee and titmouse grabs a sunflower seed from the feeder, flies to the yew, lands on a branch, holds the seed between its toes and opens the shell with its beak. Their efforts reveal the sweet seed protected within the shell. The birds use the branches as a perches between trips to and from the feeders.

The moral I take from our yew's story is that not every shrub, bush or tree that becomes overgrown and loses its former beauty needs to be yanked out by the roots or cut down and replaced. Many shrubs, bushes and trees continue to keep "giving" long after their beauty has disappeared.

That's the way I see it!

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