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Perspective: The magical brain of the chickadee

By Talshiarr at English Wikipedia

Since everyday you sing for me, today I sing for thee, chickadee. Your name, and everything you sing, ends in E. You sing onomatopoetry, and in spring you sing ‘pewee,’ and ‘hey sweetie.’ You weigh no more than a triple A battery.

You’re the most curious of birds. I think you may even understand me. You’re tough and cute, and you stick around in foul weather. Other songbirds flock to you. They know you’re onto something.

You have a secret, Chickadee, that you can’t keep under that black cap of yours. Your secret is that you have a most amazing….memory. Each year your elastic hippocampus swells in late summer and fall. Yes, you’re a bird who can grow your brain. But why does it grow? So you can find the buckets of seeds you’ve taken from my feeder, each seed hidden in its own cache, to last the winter. You can find seeds hidden in ten thousand trees, all in the time it takes me to find my keys.

Your winter brain inflates to fill its cavity, but then in the spring, it shrinks again. I agree, chickadee, one doesn’t need to be so smart in the spring. In spring, you can eat your fill of torpid insects. In spring, perched on a fat catkin in a slant of sun, who needs memory? You know this truth: Spring is a time to feel, not to think. Spring is the time for spending, not accounting. The heart and belly swell in spring, even as the brain shrivels. It’s happening to me right now. I feel it, small friend, Chickadee. We’re not as smart as we used to be, but it’s springtime, and we’re singing.

Chris Fink is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Beloit College. He is the author of Farmer's Almanac, A Work of Fiction.