Nature Comes A-Courting

by Joan Axelrod-Contrada

Freddy courted me with nature. He took me to Breakheart Reservation in Saugus on a crisp fall day in 1983.

“Did you ever notice how the woods smell like cornflakes?” he asked.

“No, but I like that.” A breeze blew through my hair, and it felt like happiness.

Freddy’s brain worked sideways, not just up and down, and I liked that.

He took some birdseed out of his pocket and put it in my hand, then instructed me to outstretch my arm. A chickadee landed in my palm. Its little clawed feet tickled, and I let out a little squeal of delight.

No longer was I just the career-driven, city slicker, muckraking journalist I saw in the mirror every morning. Freddy helped me rediscover the nature girl in me, the one who’d grown up on a dead-end street, catching grasshoppers with the neighborhood boys.

Next, he brought me to the Ipswich Audubon Sanctuary where we watched river otters dive and somersault like underwater acrobats. They belly-flopped onto land, then slid back into the water.

Freddy put his arm around me, and we breathed together, and I stopped pining away for the artsy hipsters who brought me to smoky jazz clubs. I smiled every time Freddy called “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” to the little black-capped birds that answered back.

We talked about our favorite birds. I adored woodpeckers for their drumming abilities and patch of red on their heads. Freddy went for novelty, which fit with his adventurous spirit. He’d spent his twenties working odd jobs and writing novels like his hero Jack Kerouac. “The most beautiful bird is the one I’ve never seen before,” he said.

One Saturday in the dead of winter, Freddy called and asked if I wanted to go see the snowy owls at Logan Airport. His cousin Rudy worked in security and knew the places where they nested.

“Sure,” I said.

I’d already met cousin Rudy’s dad. Uncle Rudy had kissed my hand and offered me a shot of Frangelico.

Cousin Rudy greeted me with hug. I told him how I’d been totally charmed when his dad kissed my hand. I half expected him to recoil with embarrassment like the jaded rich kids I knew, but instead he beamed affection for his dad. I wanted Freddy and Rudy to adopt me as an honorary Italian.

Rudy drove us to a deserted stretch of runway where the owls migrated south from the Arctic tundra. Silence blanketed the desolate land. We saw what looked like cotton balls in the distance. Rudy kept driving until the white fluff took on distinctly owl-like shapes. We tumbled out of the car to get a better look. I stared into the closest one’s yellow eyes. The feathers around its neck looked soft and furry.

I hugged Freddy and whispered, “Thanks.” Something in me had changed. I’d reconnected with my old nature-girl self but also discovered a whole new world.

That’s the day I fell in love with him.

""Joan Axelrod-Contrada is a former correspondent for The Boston Globe and the author of 20 books for children. She is also the founder and editor of WriteAngles Journal. She can be reached at

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