By Keith Michael


How many pecks does a Downy Woodpecker peck when a Downy Woodpecker does peck wood? Answer: A lot. The blue sky is so blue that even in this chiseled first light of morning, this peck-a-peck-pecking fellow looks silhouetted as he inches and dodges and fidgets up a Royal Paulownia trunk in front of me. I know that he (or she) is a scribble of black and white, but I can’t make out (if it’s a he) whether he has a distinguishing little red cap.

We’re in a hurry. Correction. I’m in a hurry. “Millie in a hurry” is an oxymoron. What does a corgi think about while snuffling over every fallen Chinese Scholartree, Honey Locust, Willow Oak and Norway Maple leaf on the block? Is she contemplating Greek literature? Philosophizing on the graceful concepts of splendor, mirth and good cheer? Probably not. Her hesitation step is more likely noting the redolence of her canine challengers in the neighborhood or the prospect of a pizza crust lurking beneath this golden carpet of leaves.

This morning is my first Saturday Nutcracker rehearsal of the season! While I’m distracted by a ruby red Cardinal metallically plinking away across the street and an antiphonal argument of Blue Jays in the next block, the parents of a score of Nutcracker mice and soldiers, in a score of apartments all over the city, are coercing a score of ballet slippers and pink tights to travel across town where, in just over an hour, we’ll all meet in an East Village second floor studio to reenact a fateful battle (again and again, to glorious Tchaikovsky music) where the mice always lose (but not without leavening humor) and the Nutcracker always wins. Oh, I DO digress.

Millie step-shuffle-steps through the last of the season’s Ginkgo berries. Above, a band of Robins are taking stock of the Callery Pear pantry for the cold months ahead while a newly arrived quartet of flighty gray Juncos flash their white-edged tail fans as they pillage a smashed take-out order of onion rings on the cobblestones. In this instant, Millie is a consummate birder: the Juncos (or is it the onion rings?) pique her concentration.

While I’m digging in my pocket for my keys, a flourish of pigeons circle over Perry Street. It’s a conflict of (the pigeons’) interests but I pause, waiting to see if a Cooper’s Hawk might be in pursuit. Not this morning. The pigeons are just stirring the morning air. Millie gives one last hurrah nosing the ironwork near our front door, and we’re inside.

I take off her leash. Millie eyes me warily, thrumping down on the floor in her signature all-fours (mirth-inducing) belly flop. As I’m packing my backpack, she knows this morning is not going to be devoted to her (another day of TCM classics—maybe a Debbie Reynolds tribute!) I unpack my binoculars (this is NOT a birding day) and toss a handful of kibble on the floor to distract Millie as I make my solitary exit.

Back out on the street, a choir of Starlings have taken up residence in the winter-plucked upper branches of a Zelkova tree—whistling, clicking, chortling—anticipating the contrapuntal harmonies of Tchaikovsky scoring my brain right now.

Down Hudson Street. Time for a bagel? Too late. Crosstown bus stop. Waiting. Toes marking a metronome’s beat. The clash of the Nutcracker’s and Queen Mouserinks’ swords twitches in my arms (while visions of Sugar Plums dance in my head.) Looking up. Always looking up. (People DO frequently ask me, “How do you see so many birds?” It’s like knowing another language. If you can read the Cyrillic, Greek or Arabic alphabets, it doesn’t look like hieroglyphics on the subway poster translations.)

Unbelievably, hundreds, no I’m serious, a flock of HUNDREDS of grackles are flying over Christopher Street, rushing further south for the winter. And a trio of crows are jostling for the highest perch on the weathervane and cornices of the terracotta confection at the corner of Hudson and West 10th streets. The Three Graces. Which Grace is each impersonating today: charm, beauty, nature, creativity, fertility? I’m just hearing a cacophony of Jabberwocky!

Here comes the bus. Two minutes early.


For tickets to New York Theatre Ballet’s 30th Anniversary Season of Keith Michael’s The Nutcracker visit and for holiday shopping
for his NEW book Let’s Go Out! visit


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