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Biff America: White sugar and bad neighbors

Jeffrey Bergeron
Biff America

“Honey Bun, eat your sandwich and stop looking out the window. And, if you are trying to be sneaky, stop yelling. I’m sure he can hear you.”

“I hope he does,” I said. “Maybe that way he’ll stay out of our yard.”

I have an affinity for redheads. My mom was a ginger and, before the years turned my hair into the color of recently-peed-on snow, I, too, was a strawberry blonde. And though a certain kinship is enjoyed among us carrot tops, I’m outraged over the one who continually trespasses in my yard.



I blame it on white sugar. I was shopping at City Market for the usual stuff my mate makes me buy like kale, humus, quinoa — all the stuff I’d never eat were I single. While I was in the process of searching for yak milk, I received a text from Ellie that read, “Pick up 5 lbs of white sugar.”

I assumed her phone was hacked. I love white sugar! That’s the stuff found in much of the food I ate before I was married. Normally, I’m forced to buy organic, local honey produced by free-range bees that pollinate only flowers grown in soil free of pesticides and dog poop.



Just in case an epiphany (or head injury) had altered Ellie’s obsession with buying only organic, expensive food grown on farms owned by dudes with man-buns, I bought a 10-pound bag instead of 5.

I will admit my enthusiasm was slightly tempered when, just before checkout, I received another text reading, “And don’t you dare buy any more Dunkin’ Donuts coffee — buy the organic stuff that’s more expensive, but I like it better.”

Upon arriving home, my hopes and dreams were crushed like a local trying to make a cellphone call on a Saturday afternoon. Rather than perusing recipes for rice crispy treats or Chocolate Covered Sugar Bombs, on the kitchen counter was a new hummingbird feeder.

Months ago, I mentioned that perhaps we should get a hummingbird feeder. But I also have mentioned 10 times that we should stop buying that fake bacon that tastes like a salted-leather belt.

Like her choice in coffee, Ellie spared no expense in her bird feeder purchase. The feeder had five fake flowers, a half-liter holding tank and an actual little moat on the top to discourage ants.

I also have a great affinity for hummingbirds; we have a similar food preference and attention span. When I tried to brew up a batch of sugar water greater than the 1-4 recommended ratio, Ellie insisted that could cause cavities, though I was fairly certain that birds are toothless.

The first hummers showed up minutes after I hung up the feeder. For the most part, they got along. You can imagine, with a diet consisting mostly of sugar, they are a bit high-strung. One would dine for a while then get scared away by another who also would sup for several seconds, and they seemed to be taking turns.

All was harmonious until that scarlet-topped-pecker-head called a rufous hummingbird showed up. I sat by the window for 30 minutes and watched as the red rufous would perch on a nearby tree and dive bomb, missing by inches, any bird who dared to enjoy a meal at our new feeder.

I seldom even saw the rufous drink; he would just sit in a nearby tree, leaving only to selfishly scare the other birds away.

Now granted, I am not blameless. Rather than let the birds dine at their leisure from the many flowers in our yard, I created a plastic and sugar-water buffet next to our window so I could be an avian voyeur. And more importantly, I naively projected expectations of human sentiments like generosity and compassion on a wild beast.

Of course, in the animal kingdom, a creature’s first concern is its own comfort and survival. They are genetically wired to place their needs before all other species. In the rufous’s case, it didn’t matter that he had all he needed to survive and thrive. He could have shared, and his life would not be changed in the least. But being an animal, he did not think that deep.

A human, on the other hand, can recognize, “I have way more than I need; by sacrificing just a little I can dramatically improve the lives of those who have so little.”

We humans have the capacity for compassion and generosity — on our good days.


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