My final homework packet for this term is due to my professor today, so I don’t have much time to dally, but I embrace a deep sense of peace when I sit at my computer to talk to you before I attend to my real life (and work) so . . . here I am.
Today, I am thinking of birds. (Ha. Don’t be calling me birdbrain cause of it. Cheap shot.)
Yesterday, while at the computer, I heard a loud thunk against the glass door. A bird had flown into the screened-in porch and rammed into the pane. This is the fourth bird that has hit our cabin this month. It is peculiar. We’ve lived here for almost 1 ½ years, and to our knowledge, no birds have committed suicide by flying into our windows before. But suddenly, it is happening over and over again. I don’t understand why.
The birds fly into the windows and usually die on impact, falling into the bushes. Next, my overgrown, exuberant, puppies come along, find them, and think, “Dead bird. Cool. Let’s take it to Ginny and watch her freak out.” I go outside (barefoot, of course) and just barely miss stepping onto a poor dead creature with a broken neck and puppy slobber dripping from its twisted wings. Sad.
I’ve always lived by the “I don’t do dead things” rule. I’ll put a bowl over a dead mole or bird if the cat drags one onto our porch, claiming it is a man’s job to attend to gross or unpleasant things that pertain to animals. Mark then removes the carcass, but he always grumbles (fairly) that it isn’t much fun to come home to that kind of “honey-do”. I guess I’ve grown hearty here in the country, because I have learned to remove dead creatures myself, though as I do so, I make quite a racket scolding the family member I blame for the death. My dogs or cats head for the hills when I come upon something that has been caught, chewed or in any other way, tortured, because I berate them wickedly for their insensitivity. Then, I get sad for at least a half hour and no amount of tail wagging or contrite wining will provoke a tender pat on the head. The barbarians!
But, in the case of the birds dying around our cabin recently, I can’t blame the pet’s playful instincts. These suicidal birds are a puzzle. I’ve looked at our cabin from outside, and the windows are dark. If they were clear, I think it might make the birds blind to the obstruction in their path but frankly, my windows are not all that clean (I’m embarrassed to admit), and they have screens in them. It is not as if the panes in the glass are camouflaged. I’ve drawn the curtains thinking that might help matters, but still, birds keep slamming into the cabin.
I wonder, “Why now?” Are there suddenly more songbirds about – is this is a matter of odds – too many birds in the sky to assure a safe flight path? Or are the birds eating something newly in bloom that makes them loco, like catnip to felines. Perhaps they are flying about hilter skilter, high. (and I don’t mean altitude). What is up with this reckless flying? A sudden case of bird blindness? An effect of wind and air pressure affecting their equilibrium? Have there always been birds flying into cabins in the fall here in the mountains, but somehow I’ve missed it?
Anyway, yesterday, after the bird hit the cabin door, I saw a flurry of motion, so I leapt from my seat and went to investigate. The bird was not dead. It was lying, stunned, in the corner of the porch. I think it had to be hurting, because I can’t imagine any live creature hitting a wall that hard with his or her head and not feeling a serious sting. I bent down and gently picked him up.
They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and I can tell you now, for a fact, that it is absolutely true. I admire birds as they flit about. I love to hear them sing and watch them zip through the sky or land on the bushes around me. But that doesn’t compare to the thrill of holding one in your hand. That little sparrow weighed nothing, yet felt as soft and warm as a toddler’s hand. It looked up at me and blinked with such resignation, it took my breath away. I guess it was thinking, “Well, this is the end for me.”
I stroked the creature’s feathers a bit, then took it outside and held my palm open. I wasn’t sure it could fly, but I was praying it would skirt off to freedom if it could. If not, I was committed to nursing duties, of course. He sat there a moment, and then abruptly took wing and shot into the sky without looking back. I was happy for him, though I was thinking wistfully that I sure wish the area birds would show up wearing little wire rimmed glasses the rest of the month. I worry about them and their sudden spatial misjudgment.
Holding that bird was endearing, but it wasn’t the first or only time I’ve held a wild bird in my hands. This is actually the second time I’ve held one in my palm in the last three months.
Our big, boisterous dogs outgrew the little doggie door we put in the screened in porch for Sammy, and this summer they took to just tearing through the screens when they wanted in. Grrrrrrr. So, we began keeping the screen door open to protect the porch from further destruction until we move. But this meant bugs could get onto the porch. Whatcha gonna do? We figured we were only going to be here a few more months, so we lived with the bugs. In August, butterflies ekpt getting trapped in the screened area. I tried to save them when I could, but it is a delicate thing. Sometimes, the butterflies would have beaten themselves to the point of exhaustion and destruction against the screen long before I discovered them. And if you touch a butterfly’s wings, they can’t always fly afterwards, which is paramount to death too. I helped them find freedom whenever and however I could.
One day, we were eating dinner and I noticed what I thought was a butterfly, frantically flying against the screen. I excused myself from the table, intending to help the creature find its way out, but when I got closer, I saw it was actually a hummingbird! Well, in my book, a hummingbird is a very special and important symbol of nature, so I was grateful I had the opportunity to save it, especially since my dogs were eyeing it with enthusiasm like it was a Reece’s peanut butter cup floating down from heaven. I shoed the dogs away and cupped my hand around the tiny bird. He tried so hard to get away he actually got his bitty, pointy beak caught in the web of the screen. I had to pull him off like removing a dart from the bull’s eye of a dartboard. Funny. I had this minute bird in my hands and I could see him, yet he felt like air, not unlike when you think you have caught a lighting bug. You don’t always know if ti’s there until you open your fist, and then it gets away. If you are smart, you peek inside a crack between your thumb and forefinger to see if your hand is glowing in the cave of your fist, looking for proof you successfully captured the light. My bird was like that. There, but in an unreal way, because he was like a wisp of smoke.
The hummingbird fluttered a bit, his ultra-delicate wings beating so quickly against my palm it was like an Eskimo kiss (you know, you give an Eskimo kiss when you bat your eyelashes against someone’s skin.) I thought it was so cool to actually hold a hummingbird that I didn’t want to let him go. I wanted to call my family out to stare at him, maybe even keep him a day or two to show him off, but I knew I must set him free before he experienced any more trauma. His freedom was more important than my desire to hold on to something special. Hard as it was to do, I stepped outside and opened my hand and off he flew. Had to do it. I’ve believe you must always be willing to let go of the things you most love if you really want to do right by them.
But even though the bird got away, it left something wonderful behind. Our moment together was a glorious thing (for me) – and it swelled my heart. Such an experience serves to remind me that even when our contact with someone or something we love is too brief for our satisfaction, we must rejoice rather than focus on the loss. If the contact was truly meaningful, the joy will resonate with you long after the tangible association has discontinued.
I need to believe that.
I live a life now where miracles occur every day. In the middle of dinner, anything can happen. I might even experience holding a hummingbird for a few seconds. How often do things like that happen in the hubbub of suburbia? Not often, at least, it didn’t for me. But the beauty of the world is at my fingertips here. Literally. I celebrate this all the time.
One final bird report. Last week, we were at the new house, cleaning to ready it for moving day, and a worker pointed out that we might want to look at the hole in the tree by our front gate. So, as we left, we looked up at this huge, knarly open knot in an oak. And sitting there, was a beautiful owl, which apparently lives in the hole. He blinked slowly and twisted his head unnaturally far (well, not unnaturally far for an owl, I guess). I took a picture, but the way the sun was setting, it came out as just a shadow. (Ding-it. I so wanted to share this with you.) This owl is beautiful, like a character from Harry Potter with beautifully patterned wings and an expressive face. (Now that we know where he resides, we see him everyday so maybe I’ll get a picture yet.) He isn’t very shy, but then, perhaps he senses that we will respect his health and home. I think of him as our friendly family owl. I get such a kick at the idea that we have a new security guard at our font gate, an inquisitive pair of eyes greeting everyone who drives in. I think we should name him. I’ll tell the family to give that some thought tonight at dinner.
Anyway, today I am thinking of wild birds instead of the birds that have to do with the homework I am supposed to be doing. I should be writing an annotation for the book “The Song of the Lark” – which isn’t really about a lark. It’s a book about an opera singer in 1915 who reaches fame against all odds. It’s actually a literary exploration of art and how a great artist is developed- how the world reacts to them and foils or encourages their gift. My teacher assigned this book because my project explores into the same questions about art and society. It was a good read considering my interests, but that doesn’t mean writing a literary annotation is any the more fun. Sigh. Well, I must get to it. Birdbrain or not.
I hope the day offers you your own sort of private miracle today. They are all about, you know, if you’ve a mind to look for them.