Posted December 09, 2011:
Breakfast at B’s

by Miriam Stulberg.

This article was written (but never published) in February 1985, less than a year before Catherine Doherty (whom we called "B") died. She was 89 at the time and already dying. Here is a glimpse of the light side of that last year of her life.

At St. Kate’s, the Russian style cabin on the island where B lives, across the bridge from the main house, days have their own rhythm.

The part I have come to enjoy takes place each morning around 9 o’clock. By this time, B is usually awake and ready for the two male staff workers who arrive to help lift her into her chair. The woman on duty prepares breakfast. B eats it facing the big picture window, looking out past the pines and birches to the little Russian shrine and beyond it to the Madawaska River.

However, B is not the only one eating at this hour. Dozens of birds and several local squirrels consider mid-morning just as much their mealtime as hers. In fact, walking over to St. Kate’s, I half expect to see a new sign posted on the bridge: Breakfast at B’s: 9 a.m.

B eats her breakfast looking out, and the forest creatures devour theirs looking in. The clientele varies slightly from one day to the next.

Usually it’s a question of who gets there first—the squirrels or the blue jays. It is a matter of either/or, for the spirit of neighbourly love has obviously not penetrated this part of the animal kingdom. Although different species may distribute themselves among the various feeders, first come, first served is in general the law of the wild.

"The blue jays are fat," B observes. "They are so fat, I don’t see how they can fly."

"Would you call them ‘pleasantly plump’?" asks Patrick, who has assisted her that morning.

"No," says B emphatically. "They are fat."

Eventually, the fat blue jays are replaced by the beautiful yellow grosbeaks. This is what our veteran bird-feeder, Mary Davis, calls "a big show."

Literally scores of grosbeaks descend en masse from the pine boughs and birch branches to perch just outside the window, chattering furiously. They gulp down the sunflower seeds, flap noisily about, peer into the window, push each other on and off the feeder, and, generally, have themselves a gay old time.

B and her companions recognize the steady customers, including one ruffled chap who always looks as if he has forgotten to comb his hair in the morning.

"The grosbeaks don’t seem as fat as the blue jays," ventures a staffworker.

B ponders this possibility. "They are still fat," she decides. "They eat all day long. That is all they do."

"Why do you think they eat so much?" asks Patrick.

"I think it’s our fault!" says the staffworker. "After all, we feed them every morning. Factually, B, we are contributing to the obesity of birds!"

B looks at her with that sharp blue gaze we know so well. "Now, that’s true," she says. "I like that. We are contributing to the obesity of birds."

But what to do? They are so pretty, the bright yellow ones and their more subdued mates, the little redpoll and the two speckled fellows, the sassy jays and the one who forgets to comb his hair.

Charity they lack, and manners as well, but they are God’s creatures, and their presence gives life and zest to this bright winter morning.

"Anyways, B," concludes the staffworker, "if anyone tells you that you are eating like a bird these days, you’ll know you are doing pretty well!"


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