Opinion: Snow birds and fudge


Commentary by Ward Degler

The snow birds are back. Ornithologically, they are slate juncos, but when I was a kid living in Wisconsin’s North Woods, we called them snow birds.

Today, they gather on the ground under the bird feeders and pick up grain the finches and chickadees drop. Another dozen assemble on the snow-covered sidewalk and peck around for edibles.

They had a different agenda in Wisconsin. I can’t say what they did weekdays, but on Sundays they showed up in flocks outside our back door.

They were waiting for fudge. Dad made fudge on Sundays. And after it was scraped out of the pan onto a cookie sheet, it went out to the back stoop to cool.

I remember that first batch of fudge. We were snowed in that Sunday and it was probably below zero —  pretty much a given at those latitudes during the winter. Dad had finished reading the paper, and Mom had finished listening to her Sunday concert on the radio. Boredom hung heavily in the air.

“Let’s make fudge,” Dad announced. We trooped to the kitchen, and in short order the house smelled of chocolate. Mom and Dad worked as a team at the stove. The pot bubbled, and at some magical moment the fudge was poured onto a cookie sheet.

Mom dutifully covered the sheet with waxed paper and Dad carried it to the stoop. Then we sat back and waited for the fudge to cool. Our mouths watered.

When Dad opened the back door a half hour later, a giant flock of snow birds took wing. What they left behind was an empty cookie sheet. They had pecked through the waxed paper and eaten every morsel of fudge.

Up until that moment we had thought kindly of the birds and had enjoyed watching them flit around the yard. That Sunday, however, Dad used language normally reserved for porcupines and badgers when they invaded our trash.

The following Sunday we assembled once again in the kitchen. Once again the house was warmed by the rich aroma of boiling chocolate. And again the gooey dark lava was poured onto the cookie sheet to cool. And out it went to the stoop.

But this time the fudge was protected by the armor of a metal baking dish instead of waxed paper. For the next half hour we were entertained by the harsh drumming of a hundred beaks against the metal pan. It sounded like an assembly of snare drummers. When Dad opened the door a flock of frustrated snow birds scattered.

For hours we listened to their chirping complaints as we savored the delectable taste of fudge, which we had so painfully been deprived of the week before.