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  • Writer's pictureJohn R

The Drunk Robins Are Coming!

This annual event always creates a big kerfuffle.

Keep the pomes coming, I've got a long flight home.

After autumn has passed the berries of our Ichabod Crane-like pyracantha persist, showing pink under dustings of snow as winter proceeds to crank away through cold and not-so-cold cycles. Eventually, this freeze/thaw cycling cause biochemical changes in the berries. The frozen-then-thawed berries—sometimes called pomes—begin to ferment and produce an alcohol content. [1]

If you took in the title of this piece you can see where this is going: birds are going to eat the pomes and get drunk, and stoner birds are funny. All true, but only part of the story.

The coming of the robins is not a protracted deal. It doesn't happen over weeks or even a single week. The coming of the robins is a one of those inexplicably arcane bird things, like flying in V-shapes, that in this case Mother Nature has decided will be a tightly focused, well-orchestrated, once-a-year live performance that will last no more than 48 hours. Day after day the berries hang there, pendulous and fat and scarlet, sometimes in full warm sun and sometimes snuggled under a snow comforter—and nothing is astir. And then one day out of the blue scads of robins appear with Hitchcockian ferocity, plummeting from the sky and swooping in across the neighboring fences. They flutter their way around and inside the twisty branches and fierce thorns, and gobble pomes while the fruit is at some mysterious peak of imbibe-ability.

Imagine there's no beer in Wisconsin for like a year and then out of the blue some tavern in Madison opens up and they text everybody in the entire state and say, Come on down for free beer this weekend! It’s a lot like that.

The entire fifteen-foot-high tree/shrub becomes a moving, squirming mass of robin-ness. They squawk and fluster and finally fly off like, um, drunk birds. Which is to say unsteadily and without a cohesive flight plan. Some land in the yard and stagger around shaking their beaks like, Damn! That’s some fine pome! Others make it as far as the telephone poles and cable lines where they sit for a very long time until the buzz wears off and they dive back for more.

Unfortunately, some mistake the reflection of the pyracantha in our front picture window as yet another pome pub opportunity and crash headlong into the glass and bounce off into the yard where they take a few minutes to recover and stagger around shaking their beaks like, Damn! That’s some kick-ass pome! We’ve had to put stick-on silhouettes of hawks and eagles on the window to scare off potted robins so every drunk robin season we look like we have grandkids and are obligated to display their crummy art projects on our windows for everybody to pretend to admire.

I should add at this point that Deb pretty much detests the pyracantha and its mean-spirited thorns and its ungainly shape (see The World's Clumsiest Tree). Nevertheless, Drunk Robins Day is a bit of a holiday at our house, keenly anticipated and well-appreciated even by Deb, who for the duration of the event sets aside her utter disdain for the irascible pyracantha for the thrill of the spectacle.

There’s no set Drunk Robins Day, it changes every year, so throughout the winter we have to watch carefully for the first signs of the onslaught. Then one day the cry goes out: It’s happening! The drunk robins are coming! And we race to pull up our chairs and get our coffees (morning) or whiskey sours (evening, as in any time after 3 pm) and admire the natural wackiness unfolding in our tree/shrub.

Cold weather signals that it's getting to be drunk robin time.

By the way if you're keeping score (I certainly am), that’s two big points for keeping the pyracantha: 1) colorful berries and 2) drunk robins, versus Deb's singularly deep and troubling desire to chop it down. Three points, really. That's because when spring arrives so do rows of delicate, cream-colored blossoms. By mid-April long cones of fluffy flowers hang along the branches and swayed seductively in the breezes. It’s then that I take Deb around the waist, rest my head lovingly on her head, and whisper, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

To which she invariably replies, “Let’s kill it.”

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