Category Archives: birds

I rest and breathe.

I’m breathing deeply of the cool and clean air that blows off of Lake Michigan, while my friends at home in northern California are wearing masks against the smoke that has filled the skies for a week now. Months ago I’d planned a trip to visit my oldest daughter Pearl and her family in their new home here in Wisconsin, and though I felt it necessary to delay my departure by a couple of days, I was finally glad to get out of town.

Milwaukee River

As soon as I boarded the bus that would take me to the airport, I began to relax, and when I did, and began to drop the burdens I’d been carrying, I felt the ache I’d been unconscious of before, and almost wept from the relief.

My eyes stopped burning as soon as I boarded the airplane, and what peace to sleep in a quiet neighborhood that night, with nothing threatening anywhere.

I’ve been taking walks with Pearl, visiting Port Washington with everyone after church, and in particular enjoying the wind and rain. Today I took a solitary walk and found a convocation of geese assembling by the little lake I can see from my bedroom window.

Of the grandchildren in this family, only Maggie and the Philosopher are still at home these days, both in high school. They introduced me to cheese curds and shared a few hugs already. We played Apples to Apples and laughed and laughed.

Back at my home, housemate Susan has a box of my important papers and things that she will take for me if she has to evacuate; with so many firefighters on task now and no high winds, it seems unlikely for my neighborhood. But four families I know have had their houses burn to the ground, and scores of friends have been evacuated.

Virginia Creeper

The first night in Wisconsin I didn’t sleep too well, but after a walk and a nap, the second night I logged ten hours of deep rest. Then I woke feeling brand new, or like my old self. I’ll be here a few more days, and maybe will write again before the next stage of this journey.

Heralds and singers all day long.

On the church calendar, we are still in Pentecost, that 50-day period between Easter/Pascha and Pentecost. We even take note of Mid-Pentecost, which was last week.

Of course, it’s never inappropriate to remind one another that “Christ is risen!” but during these weeks we make a special point of it and try to remember, instead of “Hello!” to greet one another with those words of joy and hope. For truly His resurrection from the dead, His overcoming of death, shows the power of God to deliver us from our own patches of darkness, no matter how impossibly deep and cold the current “grave” we find ourselves in.

Last night a robin came around to chirp the falling of dusk to me, “my” robin who always seems to be sent as an emissary from the Father – or more precisely, a herald: Gretchen, remember, God is here with you! I forgot to tell you that in my hotel in Atlanta earlier this month, the night when I was staying alone, a robin chirped right outside my ground-floor window just before darkness and a rainstorm.

This morning I woke to birdsong floating in from the garden and the trees. As I made my bed I joined in with them and sang a meditative version of the hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life.”

Next week will be the Leave-taking of Pascha, after which we will focus on the Ascension of Christ. At Vespers the evening before, we will sing all those rousing Paschal choruses for the last time liturgically. I know the little sorrows and worries, confusing thoughts and maybe even some big heartaches won’t disappear from my earthly life, and I will want to keep singing these re-orienting melodies of Christ’s transforming Life.

I’m counting on the birds to be my helpers.

The presence of crows and persons.

On one of our foggy summer mornings recently I was doggedly walking my most frequent loop around the neighborhood. It’s almost an hour’s outing if I don’t take the shortcut. For the first fifteen minutes I was lost in thought, that is to say, my mind in a different place and/or time from where my body was… and then suddenly I remembered to pray. Immediately as I “tuned in” to the present and His presence, I became aware of the cawing of crows nearby, and I looked up and saw them in the trees.

I think it was the fine mist, combined with the noise of crows, that made me think of Japan, perhaps a classic painting of misty mountains, like the mountains in which the character “Crow Boy” lives, in the book named for him.

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You will notice that in my mind I’d already left my body again! So why not jump back across the Pacific Ocean to a time some years ago, and to the crows that destroyed my daughter-in-law’s deck planters when she and Soldier were first married. 😦

Closer to home, I hear the crows’ harsh kind of talk on my block sometimes, but only in the mornings. Occasionally I wonder if they will descend on my garden and start pecking at my flowers as they did Joy’s. They aren’t the sort of birds I wanted to attract.P1050182

In Taro Yashima’s children’s story, Crow Boy, the birds do not themselves figure strongly in the plot. The book is about a little boy Chibi whose classmates make fun of him because he is shy and strange and not bright in the school-y way. The teacher evidently writes him off, but for five years he treks to school faithfully every day from “the far and lonely place” where he lives with his family. And it turns out he’s always learning.

Maybe because he is rejected by the other children, and ignored by the teacher, he can in his solitude really pay attention to his surroundings.

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mr sobe

 

Then a new teacher comes, someone who is able to appreciate the gifts that have been developing in the boy, because he takes the time to be fully present with Chibi for long periods. And to hear what Chibi knows from his own being present, on his journeys to and from school and everywhere, over the course of his short life.

Mr. Sobe is an inspiration to me. Some people have this ability to give you their full attention. Certainly Jesus was not distracted by random thoughts, but in being one with the Father He was always fully present with the people he met. Those rare people who have acquired the Holy Spirit to the degree that He fills their minds and hearts, leaving no room for lesser things — they also are able to attend to the moment and all who are in it to a degree I can hardly imagine.

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I could not even stay with the crows for one minute. But at least I had begun to use my mind for something productive, the creating of this little lesson for myself, and the promotion of a good book.

If the creatures I had met on my walk had been human, I know I would have kept my mind and heart on them somewhat longer. I don’t have much heart for crows yet, even though Crow Boy is one of my favorite children’s stories. I’ve already told you enough about that short book and why it is worthy of your acquaintance, so I will stop short of giving away the ending, which often makes me cry, as I vicariously experience its drama and happiness.

If any of my readers can tell me something about crows that will help me in my attitude toward them, I will be glad to hear it! Then next time we meet, maybe I will love them enough to stay with them for a whole minute.

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little goldfinch

This morning a goldfinch flew with a thud into the glass of the sliding door, and lay still on the patio with one wing splayed out. I waited for her to recover herself and fly off, worried that a cat would wander through while she was vulnerable. IMG_2964When she didn’t move, I went out and talked to her, to ask if her wing was broken. Should I touch my wounded bird friend? It was the natural thing to do, to stroke her small body. After a while I tried tucking the wonky wing back in place, and it seemed to line right up with the other one. The bird was looking a little more alert after fifteen minutes or so, but when I tried to lift her on to her feet she stumbled.

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I texted my friend Mrs. Bread, who I guessed had experience with wild animals like this – and also daughter Pippin, whose first animal-related job was working for the bird rescue center. Mrs. Bread said I should fix up a shoebox with soft materials and put the victim in it; that would help her to calm down.

So I prepared a box with a towel and some fine rice straw from my bale of mulch, and carefully set the finch in it, and on the patio table temporarily, while I went inside for a minute. From the window I saw that right away she hopped on to the edge of the box, and when I took my eyes off her to go back out the door, she had vanished. My box worked like magic!

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This is the last picture I took, before I prepared the box. I am amazed at the details of her feathers, which I didn’t take in when I was with the real bird. I hope she is okay, and that she will be back taking a bath at the fountain tomorrow!