Illustration by Davianna Inirio

Why is it always only old people feeding birds? They’re reclining the morning away on a bench, while we’re here, prime of youth, cramming for tests and running clubs and busy-busy-busy—it’s so played out. There ought to be at least one college student out there, on a bench, sitting silent, just tossing some bread around. Switch up the age demographic. So today I’m walking through the Green, a stash of dining hall pita bread in my pocket, on a mission to find birds. 

There aren’t many, on account of it being winter. We’re deep into stiff-ground, stick-naked migration season, and maybe a more professional ornithologist would’ve taken that into account but c’est la vie. I wander birdless for a solid five minutes. That might not seem long but it is, especially with passer-bys about casting glances, and then more glances, because there’s no one on the grass but me. And also I suppose someone playing with his dog, but at least he has an excuse, a dog, while all I’ve got is some pocket pita, and he doesn’t even know about that. All he sees is some college student that’s been wandering in circles for an awful while now, dare he say five minutes, staring inanely up at the sky like she’s lost something in the trees. 

But then finally I spot one, a bird, up in a branch. She’s a cardinal. I know she’s a she because she’s got all the color drained out of her and that’s what the females look like, just a bit of red on the nose and the wingtips like someone out in the cold for too long. The rest of her is this gray, not a nice soft one but pretty dull, brownish, like a rusty nail, a rain pipe, a fork that’s been through it. But I’m not going to be picky—I tear up the pita bread and scatter a couple of pieces on the ground in front of me. No response. I toss a couple more down. She turns her head to give me the side-eye, and I know that’s just where birds’ eyes are but this one feels pointed, and when I reach into my pocket to grab some more bread she’s gone, she’s done with me. I watch her flap away to another tree a couple feet away. It’s a low moment, I know it, when I bend down to pick up the bits of bread I put on the ground, walk a couple yards, stand below a new tree, and throw the bits of bread back on the ground again. Still: not a chirp of a reaction. Maybe I seem too alert, standing up? Too ready-to-pounce? The old people usually have their benches. There are no benches around, so I sit down on the ground beneath the tree, stare up at the bird, and I wait, zen-like. 

The dog darts by me. The owner chases after it. Deep down, I know: this bird’s not coming down. She whistles, and I get a sense that she knows what’s going on. That I’m trying to get something out of her. The old people, they don’t have an angle, an agenda, a plan of action that they started executing in the bread section of the dining hall. The old people don’t contrive or force it or run—they let it all come gently to their palms. Whatever they’ve got, that patience, that ease with time, I don’t got. And the bird knows it. 

I get up, pick up the pita pieces for the last time, and turn to leave. Maybe I’ll try again when I’m older: I’ll wake up and pull my tired body out of bed, in the cold light, in the quiet morning, and take yesterday’s loaf to the park to feed the age-softened, long-feathered birds there. Not you, though. Bread snob.