Al Batt: We take odd things and make them our things

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Why are the cardinals the last birds to leave the bird feeders at the end of the day?

Al Batt

That’s a good question asked by a reader. I tell people they have asked good questions and hope that makes them feel good when I’m unable to answer their inquiries. I think I’ve got this one.

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Cardinals are among the earliest visitors in the morning and the last to leave the feeders at dusk. Why they like the day’s edges is a good question. See how I throw that “good question” thing every chance I get? Brilliant. They’re safer at twilight as Cooper’s hawks, a predator of songbirds, aren’t typically active at either dawn or dusk. Maybe redbirds don’t like crowds. The male’s bright plumage darkens in the dim light of dusk. This makes him more inconspicuous. Cardinals often live close to feeders, which means they have a short commute home and face less competition at the feeders at dusk. They aren’t the Arctic tern that flew a staggering 59,650 miles in the course of a year’s migration.

But here’s a revelation that will stun ornithologists all over the world. The reason cardinals linger at the feeders at dusk is that they practice long goodbyes. I can’t believe some scientist hadn’t thought of that.

A woman called me regularly. She’d say what she wanted to say or find out what she wanted to know and then hang up. I mumbled a goodbye to a dial tone. She believed in short goodbyes.

A retired dean of a university lived his last year at an assisted living place. He was from the deep South and always had stories to tell, but when I visited him at his apartment in that residential setting, we talked for 10 minutes before he looked at his watch and said, “Well, I guess you’d better be going.” I got the hint. I went. He wasn’t good at long goodbyes, so he put a time limit on visits. 

I stopped at a small town café. There were no other diners in the restaurant. I ordered breakfast. The cook and the server, starved for company, came over and sat with me. They watched me eat while no other customers arrived. It was a long goodbye, but the hash browns were scrumptious. 

I talked with a member of a band that played with the late country singer George Jones. He said George was better at leaving than showing up. They had often played without him when he was a no-show. He believed in long goodbyes and possible hellos.

I have Minnesota between my toes and I know Minnesota goodbyes can take forever. It’s an odd thing, but it’s a good thing. 

Minnesotans are thinkers and by the time I think about heading out from a flock celebrating a significant event and find the gumption to get up and go, I must first tell everyone I love them and make an effort to be adorable. I work my way to the door, grab the doorknob and spend an hour with my hand on that doorknob telling others I have to go. I eventually make it out the door where I talk to others who had accomplished the same feat. We could idle outside in our similar journeys because Minnesota gets as many as one nice day in a row. Several people walk me to my car. No matter what time I leave, I get to the car at the same time. We say goodbye again by my car while its “door is ajar” warning chimes loudly. If I’m able to run the gauntlet, I roll down my car’s window and give a wave as I drive off. It’s a long goodbye, but it’s worth it to give that satisfying wave of escape.

Some practice an Irish goodbye. It’s not a derogatory term, it’s a nod to craftiness. It refers to a person who ducks out of a party or social gathering without bidding farewell. A sneaky disappearance into the ether.

A long goodbye might be shortened by offering a thoughtful parting gift, like a “Minnesota Goodbye” play-at-home game.

Goodbyes are hard. I’ll continue to mill about, lollygag, dillydally, loiter, dawdle and linger like a cardinal.


Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.