In my various morning readings I encountered plagues divine deliverance fulfilled prophecy epiphany and wounded trees weeping until their blood-sap crystallizes into fragrant resin ancient gift of kings
and in one passage, this line: It is almost too beautiful to believe
my mind is replaying all these things when I catch sight of you there perched on a wire against the eggshell sky —an owl! No, not in daylight —a hawk ancient bird of kings winter sun glinting on your snow-banded wings
Hawks have a number of symbolic meanings, such as associations with Egypt, pharaohs, divine power, and salvation from slavery…I’d just been reading about these in Exodus. I’d also been reading of the Magi.
Hawks, birds of keen vision, are also said to represent the ability to see meaning in ordinary experiences —if one is willing to become more observant.
where I can watch you hopping along, pulling worms these warm winter days
unseasonable but I’m glad on your behalf, keeping my distance
hoping predators do the same, until you’re healed and take to the skies
lucky bird, forgive my bad Shakespearean pun: you’re Robin the Plucked
for salvation comes in the most peculiar ways, begging the question
of mortality, the taking and the giving in daily living
these two days I’ve watched your grounded red breast gleaming by the old arbor
—today, no sighting, inexplicable sadness despite the wonder
of your survival and the part I got to play. Little Robin, plucked
to live life anew, here’s to taking flight on your wings and my prayers.
Robin the Plucked right after his rescue from the grille of my sister-in-law’s SUV. She’d driven down I-95 a few days after Christmas to visit us. Robin had some feathers askew from his ordeal but his wings weren’t dragging; my husband and I put him in our fenced backyard in hopes that nature would take its course, that he’d soon be fit enough to fly again (and that he’d want to). There are no words to adequately describe him enmeshed in that grille, very much alive and calling out, or for the sight of him immediately trying to run once we got him loose and laid him on the grass. I was amazed and elated to see him eating in the backyard with other birds that came and went the next day. I didn’t go near him again, as when I attempted it, he ran. I refused to distress him any more (heaven knows being trapped on the front of a car going 70 mph is enough for a lifetime). I joke that he’s my last good deed of 2021; I kept an eye on him all yesterday. On this first day of 2022, he is gone.
I keep watching, however.
One final observation, regarding the symbolism of robins: They’re tied to a number of legends and mostly positive connotations like spring and good luck (begging another question: Who’s the actually the bringer of luck here, Robin the Plucked or me?). But the perspective of Mother Teresa moves me most at present, as quoted in No Greater Love (Benenate & Durepos) on the legend of the robin and Christ’s crown of thorns: “Each of us should try and be that bird – the little robin. When we see someone in pain, we must ask ourselves: ‘What can I do to give them comfort?’”
Happy New Year and new life to you, Robin, wherever you are.
Suppose you’re a special sort of Scarecrow with a Carved pumpkin head and a purple hat Adorned with pink roses, holding out your arms to Receive birds instead of repelling. Your reward for Embracing these winged messengers might be Canticles of cheer sung in your ear, Refrains of comfort and even celebration as October dies, again, reminding you, again, it’s only for a While.
Little seabird with only one foot Standing perfectly balanced at the shore You’re so calm, so still Despite wind-ruffled feathers
Standing perfectly balanced at the shore You’re a picture of grace Despite wind-ruffled feathers For you aren’t alone
You’re a picture of grace Safeguarded, transcending For you aren’t alone Flanked by faithful friends keeping watch
Safeguarded, transcending You’re so calm, so still Flanked by faithful friends keeping watch Little seabird, with only one foot.
As best I can determine, this is a laughing gull, already wearing winter plumage. I thought it was merely standing on one leg before realizing the other foot was gone. I have since learned that such sightings are common: many gulls lose feet and legs when they become entangled in fishing nets while hunting for food. What you cannot see in this close-up are two fellow gulls standing nearby, looking in different directions like bodyguards. I was struck by the poignant poise of this little shorebird and the proximity of the others. Gulls are symbols of adaptability, resourcefulness, community, survival, and strength. Maybe even uncommon grace.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge
Just outside my window an unexpected song so loud and full of joy I want to sing along
An unexpected song bright spirit, wild and free I want to sing along until you fly from me
Bright spirit, wild and free winging your doxology until you flyfrom me I’m clinging to your singing Winging your doxology so loud and full of joy I’m clinging to your singing just outside my window.
The Carolina wren is a little bird with a big voice. I’ve been trying for days to get a photo of this regular visitor perched on our birdhouse church. I finally managed it this morning. As wrens are a common symbol for artists, musicians, and poets, a poem seemed called for. The pantoum form beckoned,with the rhythms of its moving, repeated lines (per new line, in stanzas of four:1234 2546 5768 7381).
The wren also represents rebirth, immortality, and protection. It is considered a guide through dark times.
Twenty-four hours ago I woke with the sun by the sea, rested and at peace with the world. I spent a few hours sitting at the ocean’s sandy altar beside my beloved sister-in-law, who’s like my own flesh and blood, speaking of the past, present, and future. Remembering loved ones lost. Cherishing new little ones, our children’s’ children. Hardly any other people were out and about; the beach seemed to be our own for these few sacred hours.
“Look! Dolphins!” my sister-in-law pointed. Out in the glimmering, watery distance, a distinctive leap…dolphins, navigators of the deep, ancient symbols of protection.
Just above the surface, gliding with astounding grace despite their unwieldy appearance, brown pelicans. Flocks of them. More than I’ve ever seen at one time before. Breaking their flight with dives and a mighty splash of white spray, catching fish and bobbing for a while in the waves.
Pelicans, a symbol for resourcefulness. And sacrifice. Legend has it that mother pelicans sacrifice themselves for their young, if need be. They wound themselves to feed their children with their own blood. They are social birds which hunt cooperatively—representing teamwork. Community.
Twenty-four hours ago, I sat breathing the same salt air as the pelicans, stood in the same sparkling waters as the dolphins.
Today I pack my bags, load my car, and return to school, masked. COVID rages on. Many unknowables lie ahead.
Yet I remain at peace. Diving, leaping, or gliding, I shall navigate as called for in the ebb and flow of moments. Children await, life awaits, time does not. The ocean remains. A reminder of constancy, of strength.
Here’s to the mighty plunge.
Low-flying pelicans. Tony Alter. CC-BY
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers…strength and protection to all in this uplifting community of teacher-writers, seasoned navigators of life and story-sharing.
On the first day of summer the young lovebirds venture a rare morning stroll, having flown the coop for a bit of adventure in a lush green paradise all their own, the cocky young fellow squiring his best girl away from the prying eyes of her sisters, sunlight gleaming on his proud coppery coiffure, a pulse-quickening sight, iconic, idyllic, how could she refuse, indeed she cannot, as she bows her little red maiden’s coif, demurely casting her eyes downward, considering the grass beneath her feet, on the constant lookout for insects crawling by while preening her pristine white finery, mostly out of nervousness, mind, as she’s not accustomed to such freedoms, all this overwhelming dewiness, this newness, this green green greenness—ah, they suddenly realize I am watching, so they pretend they are supposed to be here, but of course I know better; I strain for snatches of their deliberately muffled discourse as they turn to walk in the opposite direction, like this is a perfectly ordinary occurrence versus an illicit escape…ba-gock, ba-gock, ba-goooock…we may not speak the same language, my free-ranging friends, but I shall leave your to your day in the sun, yes, here’s to this longest day of the year and savoring every bright moment, I cannot blame you at all for stealing away, with a little piece of my own heart…
My neighbor’s runaway rooster and hen, enjoying their summer morning stroll in the grass across the street from my driveway. My five-year-old granddaughter onomatopoetically refers to chickens as “the ba-gocks.”We seldom see them; their coop is tucked in a patch of woods. But we hear them “ba-gocking” throughout the day, and Rooster (we really should give him a name) never tires of crowing. He sometimes gets in a crowing match with my granddaughter, who “ur-ur-ur-ur-UUURRRRs” back at him. I hear him even now, as I write.
A Slice of Life doubling as a Spiritual Journey offering later this week, on the first Thursday of the month (thanks to Ruth for hosting). The SJT participants are revisiting the “one little word” each of us chose at the beginning of the year. At that time, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to choose a defining word for the year…but “awe” chose me, in spite of myself.Also practicing a bit for my poetry course this week; we are writing prose poems. Priming the pump, if you will…
Where am I now in relation to awe?
Perhaps more in tune to its vibrations each day…
Late in the evenings, a whipporwhill sings, three notes repeated over and over in the dark; yet it is the brightest of songs, summoning summer, beckoning life, new life in the making, love echoing from the treetops. Whipporwhills are seldom seen and their numbers are declining, yet the song illuminates the night, vibrant, rising and falling, going on and on, like rhythmic patterns of life itself…my granddaughter comes to visit with a book she’s reading, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and I say, “Oh, I love that book! It was my favorite when I was little,” except that I was ten when I first read it and she is five. Five. And she laughs when I tell her that I’ve dubbed her bedroom here in my house the “Spare Oom” in honor of the faun, Mr. Tumnus. She reads to me, her little voice rising and falling in all the right places; I marvel that she’s been in the world so short a time…I recall my son telling me how she stood on a box at the pulpit with him on Easter Sunday to read the Scriptures, the story of life overcoming death; images of trees crowd into my mind, for around this part of the country storms swept through as winter gave way to spring, snapping off the top-heavy crowns of young trees. Their crowns are still lying dead where they fell but on the broken tree trunks, new shoots are already growing tall, reaching their green arms skyward, waving in the breeze, new life from old, wholeness and healing springing from broken places… meanwhile, my son’s wife cradles her belly, just beginning to swell with my new grandchild; at the end of this this week we will get to see the pictures, and will learn if it’s a boy or a girl, and the naming process will be solidified…my younger son comes in from his work at the funeral home and speaks of birds, barn swallows with basket-like nests tucked at the tops of columns in the entryway, hatching brood after brood as the bereaved pass by to mourn beside the caskets of their loved ones awaiting burial, and how one of the funeral directors who lives alone in the apartment above likes to open the windows on pretty days to toss bread crumbs to the birds on the rooftop, taking pleasure in watching them eat…in it all I find a rhythm, a song, the prosody of life, awe flickering like flame in the shadows, whipporwhill, whipporwhill, whipporwhill…
In a poetry class with Highlights Foundation, I recently wrote an Edenic or Fall of Man/Woman poem in which I touched on the idea that animals once had free communication with humans. Maybe we once understood all the lyrics in birdsong. Maybe that’s why I have such a pang when the Carolina wren on my back deck sings, with its whole being, with what sounds like unbridled joy; it fills me with unspeakable longing for something I cannot name. Maybe this lost dialogue is why dogs’ loving eyes so pierce the human soul…begging the question of who’s the purer creature…
One morning this week I heard a sound that I haven’t heard in years. I hadn’t even realized it was missing: the distinctive call of Bobwhite quail. A quick online search told me that their numbers have diminished in my area. Surely some of this is due to habitat loss as more subdivisions are being built. As is often the case with one simple search, I now have more research to do…
And then one afternoon, pulling into my driveway, I saw four tiny brown birds running from the roadside to safety in the grass. A new covey of these quail, forging their life together. Got me thinking about how challenging it is to survive, being a ground bird, considering the neighbor’s prowling cat and any number of things in the snatches of surrounding woods… it is a line of thinking I can’t let myself follow very far. Leads me back to the poem, the idea of Eden, the true unity of all living things, before the loss of it all. Before the first bloodshed.
But today, I will simply savor the sound. And the living. And the message, as much as I can understand it.
Bob-white, bob-bob-white onomatopoeic call of little ground birds skittering through the grasses looking out for each other
Lead photo: Northern Bobwhite quail. Steve Maslowski/USFWS. CC BY
End photo: Northern Bobwhite. Don Faulkner. CC BY-SA