A View from the Top
Winter Alliances


Gordon Cherr,


Day Two of near blizzard conditions and periodic white outs on the side of Cedar Mountain teaches me another lesson in life.

The birds have been voracious at the feeders, more so than usual, with the onset of the storm. Fortunately I stocked up on bird seed and other essentials (wine, soup. coffee, batteries, in that order) for the home, although I don’t believe that this will be anything but a short lived three days and nights, then a quick melt off before the next round of winter sets in. As it inevitably will.

Competition is normally fierce at the bird feeders. Different coping and survival skills are evident. Smaller birds like chickadees and titmice swoop in, grab a beakful and quickly exit. Or they are driven off by the goldfinch, who feed en masse, and who like to set up shop on a more permanent basis. They, in turn, are ravaged by the cardinals, who are displaced by the more aggressive and apparently more intelligent blue jays. That would be it but for the mourning dove, who every other bird and I detest. They patiently take over the feeders, gorge themselves by eating everything in sight, and that which they don’t eat, they defecate upon. There are other visitors but that is the principal community of our feeder friends.

But today and tonight it was different. The fight for food and for life takes on a more ominous tone, weather conditions being what they are. However, these little fellows coped beautifully. Instead of the usual turf battles, they lined up, literally shoulder to shoulder on each feeder, stopped the endless bickering, cooperated, ate and most importantly, survived. Not the mourning doves though, this interesting cooperative behavior kept them out all day. Not to be outdone, they patrolled the ground and snow drifts under the feeders for left overs and anything else which might drop from above.

Cooperation, compromise…survival of many if not all. Not a battle to the death, not yet.

The snow fell and the wind blew, and as the day wore on, the itch to run became unmanageable, as usual. I normally do not run from this house, it is beautifully perched on the side of a small mountain in a small residential neighborhood, but leads down to a highway and shopping centers below. Traffic and rush. There are much better places to run. Yet a snow emergency was in place county-wide, and traffic was non-existent. Who could pass that up? Besides I wasn’t driving anywhere anyway. There are many hidden neighborhoods around us, most across the highway and I was curious. Or maybe there was nowhere else to go. So, with three long sleeve shirts on, a thermal wind shell, gloves, two hats, tights, two pair of socks, and trail shoes, I found myself ankle deep in slush and on slippery ice, trying to not fall on a deserted Old Charlotte Highway. I had already fallen three times, simply walking the 15′ to the road in front of my house. Ice under that snow, lots of it. Slick.

Icy sleet stung my eyes and slush ran up my legs and into my shoes. My finger tips had begun to sting and freeze. This definitely was not fun. I took the first street off of the highway and found my way on a hilly deserted road, Rose Road. I don’t see any damn roses, pal. The sign at the intersection noted that this road had no outlet. OK, I’ll just run up this thing into the wind for a while, turn around and head home. I can see a ridge line high above me. Whoa, this is going to be a long, nasty hill climb. I put down my head and just ran as best I could. Crap!

The neighborhoods on this portion of the road were poor and some homes, dilapidated. Some, a few, much nicer too, set back from the road, hidden in trees, and the all too numerous trailer parks. They look like deserted ghost towns in the winter here. Ugly. It wasn’t difficult to cop an attitude about this run, I won’t be coming back here for sure. Well, I might as well put my face into the wind and sleet, climb up this hill and get it done. I am cold. I am wet. I hate this. I hate everything.

“WATCH OUT!!!” came the scream from above and three kids came shooting downhill past me on modern day sleds, I think that they are called “sliders.” Colorful lIttle plastic shells, very common here and probably everywhere. WHOOSH!, and they were quickly past me before I could even react. Then two more. Then a lot of hysterical laughter from above. Some barking dogs as I climbed higher, then a few parents and more big and little kids, and finally the atmosphere had changed to one of a snowy festival with people, maybe a dozen or two, bundled up against the weather like sodden mummies. But smiling, laughing, snow balls flying, kids sliding downhill, some wrestling in the snow, oblivious to the cold. Some English, “Buenos dias Amigo!”. And an involuntary “Buenos dias!” from me. You cannot be angry when you are smiling. I am smiling broadly under this icy beard. I didn’t expect this at all.

And so it went as I climbed higher and higher up Rose Road. A definite rosy hue to my day now, more kids, more dogs, more people laughing in the snow and ice.

At some point though, too many miles is too many miles and that comes sooner when you are slogging up the side of a mountain, no matter who you are or who you think you are, and it was time to take the sweet downhill all the way back to my warm home. Long sweet downhills, crunch, crunch, crunch in the ice and snow beneath my feet, it is almost hypnotic, like a great metronome. My mind is racing now, while I fly down Rose Road, as it does for runners everywhere, everyday.

I am thinking about Rodney King. Who? Do you remember Rodney King? A Los Angeles African American taxi driver and allegedly a drug addict, beaten senseless by white police, perhaps deserved, perhaps not. I don’t know, but it was the first incident of its kind to draw national attention that I can recall. 1986? And race riots followed in Los Angeles, although that was far more complex than a single incident. Made more famous by his public plea to everyone, of “Can’t we all just get along?” I am (we are, aren’t we?) exhausted by the daily grind of news, guns, terrorism, arguments, disrespect for each other and anyone with a different opinion.. Divisive presidential candidate politics here being the worst of all. Are you kidding me?

We are not naive nor a virgin by any stretch of the imagination. But can’t we do better? Can’t we all get along better? Little birds on the winter seed feeders can. Perfect strangers chance meeting in the mountain snow can. Look, it takes effort. Like running up Rose Road. And there are downhill rewards for those who persevere.

As Mr. Natural says: “Keep on truckin’.” Really. Do we have a choice?