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  • Stephen D'Agostino

Changes in Reading Holiday Traditions

I always throw a disparaging remark at the hairy woodpecker who visits our feeder. “Have you no shame,” I ask this large bird as it performs some serious acrobatics to perch itself and grab sunflower seeds.

In the trio of similarly colored woodpeckers (black, white, and red) in our area, the hairy woodpecker is in the middle when it comes to size. According to, run by the Cornell Ornithology Lab, the hairy woodpecker is "one-third again as large as a downy woodpecker." We rarely see a downy woodpecker at the birdfeeder, and we never see the third member of this tri-color trio, the pileated woodpecker, at our feeder. That would be a sight.

I disparage the hairy woodpecker for two reasons. First, the bird's gyrations needed to grab seeds, and second, because a woodpecker's evolution makes it impervious to banging its head repeatedly against a hard object. Yet here it is on my bird feeder, flapping its wings to stay on the perch while using the same pecking motion to snag sunflower seeds.

Well, I think the bird may be having the last laugh. While working last week, I heard a rapping so loud that I thought someone was knocking at the door. It took me a minute to realize the noise was coming from the opposite end of the house from the doors. I looked out at the birdfeeder, which is situated below the overhang outside the kitchen door, and I saw splinters of wood flying from the roof. And by splinters, I mean pieces of shingle about four or five inches long and maybe half an inch wide.

It seems like our (un)friendly neighborhood hairy woodpecker remembered what it is was built to do.

The destruction of the shingles went on for a couple of days and then stopped. Today, the bird is back on the bird feeder, and for now, I watch in silence.

In the meantime, the feeder is a busy place. Every day, we must have fifteen chickadees, a half dozen titmice, at least two common nuthatches and two red-breasted nuthatches, an occasional goldfinch, and blue jays also providing comic relief.

The birds are hungry right now. They are so eager and desperate to eat that they will get on the feeder while I am hanging it up after filling it. This week, I managed to get three chickadees to eat out of my hand. I am so eager and desperate to find different things to do during the pandemic that I don't mind standing out in the cold with my arm outstretched, trying to keep perfectly still.

The pandemic has caused some changes in what had become a tradition in Reading. This year, there will be no Holiday Craft Fair. There will be a wreath sale on the steps of the library on Saturday, December 5, from 9am to 11pm. This year, the event will be hosted by the Reading Recreation Commission. The Rec will donate all proceeds to the Reading/West Windsor Food Shelf. Undecorated wreaths (no bow) are $18 and decorated wreaths and $25. If you would like to purchase a wreath, you must wear a mask, and you must social distance. And, of course, I offer the usual caveat. If things become seriously worse with the pandemic, the Reading Recreation Commission will revisit holding this event.

This year there will be no tree lighting celebration. However, there will be a tree. It will go up in Puddledock Park after Thanksgiving and likely will be ready to light on the first Saturday in December.

The idea of lights adorning homes, trees, and bushes at this time of year, as you know, is to ward off darkness at the darkest time of the year. It was a tradition borrowed from pre-Christianity. It is a symbol of hope that better days as coming as we begin to get more daylight every day after the Winter Solstice.

Even though we appear to be at a dark point of the pandemic right now, I am hopeful that there will be better days soon. In fact, I am confident. Better days ahead, however, require us to all do our part.

Practice social distancing. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Stay home if you are sick. Check in with people who may be feeling isolated. Exercise when you can. Stay sane. Take up a hobby or revisit an old hobby to pass your indoor time. Like feeding the birds.

Or knitting. My off-the-needle count for contributions to the Ottauquechee Health Foundation’s Share the Warmth event is four hats. Currently on the needles is a scarf in a brioche stitch. Yes, I thought bread, too, when I heard that term. It was tricky to learn but makes a beautiful cushy scarf. When Share the Warmth is over, I think I’ll make one for myself.

If you are interested in helping out, the OHF could use some hats for children. If you want more information on how to help out, contact me.

For the latest state guidelines on how to stay safe and about quarantining, visit

That’s the news from Reading! See you next week!

This column originally appeared in The Vermont Standard on November 25, 2020.

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