seel: close (a person’s eyes); prevent (someone) from seeing. —Dictionary.com
seel: to close the eyes of (a bird, such as a hawk) by drawing threads through the eyelids. —Merriam-Webster.com
A Spiritual Journey Thursday reflection
Over Thanksgiving break from school, I read a book about a family of twelve children, six of whom (all boys) were diagnosed with schizophrenia: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family. I expected to learn more about the disorder, how it manifests as a distorted, alternate reality, affecting a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior. I expected to learn about the part genetics play (six siblings!). I expected loads of medical research and new scientific insights…more than anything, I expected to be moved by the story.
I did. I was.
In a word: Devastating.
I never expected to learn a haunting little detail about falconry.
Originating in ancient times as a form of hunting, it became a sport and status symbol of the nobility in medieval Europe. A pastime of the Galvin family in Hidden Valley Road, falconry involves trapping a bird and training it to be completely dependent on the bidding of the falconer by “seeling” its eyes—stitching its eyelids closed.
Young Don and Mimi, parents of four boys at the time, trapped their first bird of prey, a red-tailed hawk. They consulted the local zoologist for guidance on training. He said, “Now sew the eyelids together”:
Stabler explained that [falcons’] eyelids protect them as they dive at speeds upwards of two hundred miles per hour. But in order to train a falcon the way Henry VIII’s falconers did it, the bird’s eyelids should be temporarily sewn shut. With no visual distractions, a falcon can be made dependent on the will of the falconer—the sound of his voice, the touch of his hands. The zoologist cautioned Mimi: Be careful the stitches aren’t too tight or too loose, and that the needle never pricks the hawk’s eyes. There seemed to be any number of ways to make hash of the bird…Mimi went to work on the edge of each eyelid, one after the other…Stabler complimented Mimi on her work. “Now,” he said, “you have to keep it on the fist for forty-eight hours”…At the end of those forty-eight hours, Mimi and Don had successfully domesticated a hawk. They felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. This was about embracing the wild, natural world and also about bringing it under one’s control. Taming these birds could be brutal and punishing. But with consistency and devotion and discipline, it was unbelievably rewarding.
Not unlike, they often thought, the parenting of a child.
For me, the fleeting sense of wonder is outweighed by horror on reading these lines… for suffering of the bird, for the foreshadowed suffering of these parents, these children.
The image will not leave my mind. I think about what a falcon symbolizes. Among many things, freedom. Which was taken away, here.
The most famous book of wisdom and suffering happens to mention a falcon. In Job 28, the title character continues a speech around the question “Where is wisdom?” Job marvels at the precious resources hidden in the earth and humans’ ability to extract them through mining. Human industry brings silver, gold, iron, copper, sapphires from the depths to the light.
Job speaks of the hidden way to such treasures:
That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it (28:7).
The metaphor is for wisdom, how elusive it is to mankind, and that its value is far above any earthly riches: “Man does not know its worth” (v. 13). The word “hidden” is referenced or alluded to over and over; wisdom can’t be seen even by the creatures with the keenest eyesight, birds of the air. Wisdom comes only from God (v. 28).
A song also plays in my mind, this line from Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind”: How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?
Hidden wisdom, hidden treasure. Hidden Valley Road. Hidden suffering, to an unimaginable degree…
I can’t help but think, as the year 2020 comes to a close, how those numbers stand for perfect vision—and the irony of so much we never saw coming.
Moving forward, let us seek wisdom, above all. Let us not be guilty of seeling our own eyes—or our hearts—to suffering beyond our own. Let us see.
Most of all, Dear God, don’t let us perpetuate more of it.
Simply walking down the street found a fledgling at my feet. Tiny baby on the hot asphalt from where’d you fall? By whose fault? What left you in the middleof my street wobbling on your new, new feet? Yellow beak wide in a silent cry flailing wings so small to fly. Should I touch you? Dare I try? Baby bird, what can I do to keep harm from befalling you? How long could you last if I just walk past? Wait—I think I’m hearing —yes, your mother nearing and your father, too, —they’re both here, calling you. They won’t come very near as long as I am here. How wretched it is to back away my wrenched heart will break—it may —but from back here I see them land see you hop-hop toward them, and —you’re not too steady —don’t know if you’re ready. But to think I know more than a bird about what’s best for birds, is absurd. So I turn and walk, fighting my fears, fighting my instincts, fighting my tears —it’s a hard, hard thing, just walking on praying, Baby, you’re soon up and gone.
I have seldom felt so helpless or torn as I did on encountering this baby bird one late afternoon. Although tall trees line the street (a quiet cul-de-sac), I couldn’t possibly guess which one held the nest, if I could even reach it, for returning the bird. I thought about my Aunt Jack, who found a baby blue jay when I was very little; she took the foundling home and raised it to adulthood (he was never caged, had free rein in her house, and here’s a post if you’d like to read about him: Kilroy). I wondered: Should I take my fledgling (I think it’s a finch) home, too? Could I raise it? Or would I be tempting fate, tampering with nature when nature knows far better than I about taking care of itself? How long had the baby been struggling here on the road when I (heaven help me) nearly stepped on it as it flailed? Should I scoop it up carefully and put it by the side of the road in the grass… where there are cats… and snakes… then, the frantic parents showed: Which side did THEY want their baby on?
I walked back and forth a while, not too close to the scene, until the parents and their baby were gone. Where, I do not know. I didn’t see. Seems I could hear their voices somewhere in the lush pines… all I know is that, after a bit, there was no trace of birds on the street any more.
Yet I remained distressed. I had done nothing to help the baby bird. It was so tiny, so frail. Was it really so helpless? Was I? Had I been wrong? I had to face the truth, even it if it was ugly… so, later on my phone, I searched things like What to do if I find a baby bird and Should I touch a baby bird? National Geographic had an interesting take: “It depends on how cute it is.” Meaning that a mostly featherless pink baby bird not capable of hopping or flitting is a nestling and should be returned to the nest. A fledgling has feathers, can hop, and is “generally adorable and fluffy with a tiny stub of a tail.” National Geographic (bless them) says “It’s not a good idea to put a fledgling back in the nest—it will hop right back out.”
I can rest a little easier. I guess. I do marvel at the parents both coming to rescue their baby, both of them chirping and hopping, looking back to see if the baby was, too. Which it was, in its zig-zaggy way.
—They better be giving that baby some quality flying lessons now.
Special thanks to Catherine Flynn who’s hosting Poetry Friday Roundup at Reading to the Core. Drop by to check out her wonderful post and the many other poetic offerings.
More of it each day. Driving the darkness away with its gentle appearing, rousing bright-eyed birds earlier and earlier, which respond in uninhibited chirps, songs, chatter. New day new day new day day day …
It’s a beautiful time to be alive. To be reborn. To mark having been born.
“What do you want for your birthday?” asked my husband.
“New rocking chairs.”
I’d been thinking on it.
The old chairs on the front porch are cracked, broken, portions held in place with wood glue. Time for them to go. Time for new ones. I want to sit outside in the light, in the breeze, even though it remains oddly chilly, to hear the birds, to see Papa Finch alight on the roof. I hear him before I see him; I wonder what his loud twitter means but I always answer, “Hi Finch!” Then there he is, tiny brown creature with his chest faintly dusted red, sitting high above the garage against the cloudless blue sky, looking directly at me. The porch is part of his domain. Sometimes from inside the house I hear his loud chirp; looking through the window, I find him sitting on the white porch rail. I suspect he’s eyeing the front door wreath for his bride’s nest. Although I took the wreath down for the winter, I’d left the old nest from last year attached. With the coming of March, and with great care, I put the faded, bird-loved wreath back in hopes that the nest would be reused. It hasn’t. So I removed it to make way for new.
Like my rocking chairs.
When my granddaughter visits now, it’s only on the front steps for a while, until the coronavirus social distancing expires. She comes with eyes full of spring light, as blue as the sky above my finch, who never fails to join our gathering and to add his voice to the conversation.
“That’s a loud bird!” says my granddaughter, age four.
“He is. Look, there he is, on the roof. Hi, Finch!”
And in these bright little moments, I revel in the poetry of life, that this bird (I wonder if he was one of the previous hatchlings from my wreath? ) should be a mainstay. Especially as my granddaughter’s name is Scout. Yes, from To Kill a Mockingbird. Whose last name was … Finch.
I want sturdy chairs on the porch, for resting. As a place to quiet my mind with the greenness of the grass in the yard and over where the path leads round the pond through greener trees. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul … To share with my granddaughter as she grows, to have coffee with my husband who almost didn’t live to see another spring. To celebrate living, being, enduring. To converse with generations of finches who’ve chosen to make my home theirs. To know, as evening falls, and I must go in, that I savored the gifts of that day to their fullest, their deepest.
My husband bought the chairs.
“We’ll put the old ones on the back deck,” he told me.
I wanted to say Why, they’re held together with glue, they’ll last maybe three days out there with no shelter, let’s just throw them away. But I didn’t. He wants to keep them, for some reason …
Truth is, the old chairs look kind of nice on the back deck by the flowerpots. For ever how long they last out there.
It was the rocker nearest the kitchen that made me realize.
Thump thump. Thump thump.
Dennis the dachshund woke from his sleep in a patch of sun-stripes at the back door. Ears perked.
“What is that?” I asked him from my chair at the kitchen table, where I was typing on the laptop.
Rising, looking through the window.
The rocker, rocking all by itself.
Thump thump. Thump thump.
The other rocker opposite sat motionless.
The wind, I thought.
Second thought: Why this rocker and not the other?
Third thought: Is the wind — or something — IN that chair?
It reminded me that I’ve always wanted to write a collection of ghost stories. An incongruous thought on such a bright, gold-green day.
How have I missed it?
For all the weeks—months—of the wind’s extended gusting and moaning under the eaves, unlike I’ve ever heard it before, I failed to notice it had stopped. All through the COVID crisis it’s been a grieved entity, swirling around my house in desperation, haunting my spirit with its voice, agitating the tall pines.
It’s still here, as my rocking chair can attest. But subdued.
Perhaps the wind has decided to sit a spell and rest. Perhaps the rocker was an invitation.
I am not sure we are friendly, yet, the wind and I, but I will offer it hospitality as long as it’s a benevolent guest. Is it taking up residence here, like the finches?
Perhaps I will take my coffee out there one afternoon and ask—begging the wind’s pardon, of course—why it cried so long and so hard.
But as I have no wish to stir anything up, maybe I’ll just let the wind rock to its heart’s content, in peace.
While we couldn’t attend church yesterday, it doesn’t mean a presence wasn’t there.
A friend went to photograph the dawn and heard a song coming from the steeple.
The building, empty like the tomb, had its own winged messenger at the first light of Easter.
If you do not know: A cardinal bird can be considered a sign of the divine—I’ve written of it before (Divine appointment). The vivid red birds also represent life and blood. In Christianity, specifically, the blood of the living Christ. Thecardinalexperience.com states: “Traditionally, the cardinal is symbolic of life, hope, and restoration. These symbols connect cardinal birds to living faith, and so they come to remind us that though circumstances might look bleak, dark, and despairing, there is always hope.”
Cardinals were named for the red-robed bishops (although this one’s sitting on a Baptist church). Name associations include heart and possibly the Old Norse word for cross.
Which is, of course, atop the steeple where our visitor perched to offer his doxology.
First light of Easter morn Found the church silent, forlorn Empty of its life, its music, its people And a winged messenger on the steeple As if proclaiming the old, old story Singing, full-voiced, Glory, glory, glory.
Mourning doves are said to symbolize providence, grace, peace, safety, renewal, and moving forward. Their low-pitched song sounds sad or comforting, depending on the listener. I dedicate this lament to the dove outside my kitchen window, whose plaintive murmur I hear in the dark, just before sunrise.
I was expecting to find a hatched baby finch on Sunday.
Instead, I found two!
I can really only tell it’s two because one egg of three is still there. Although I can kind of discern two different necks, one baby lying over the other.
I knew the eggs were due to hatch around Sunday, and all last week I wondered what the mother bird was experiencing. To begin with, she built—rebuilt, actually—her nest on top of the wreath on my front door, which means that any time we walk down the hallway or open any other doors in the house, she feels those vibrations. Is that a good thing, somehow? Is that a reason why finches like to build so close to humans, to feel those larger rhythms of life, perhaps trusting them to be benevolent and protective forces?
And I wondered—being a mom—if she could feel stirrings inside the eggs beneath her as she diligently kept them warm on these still-frosty nights and mornings. Eggshells are only so thick . . . Can she feel those tiny hearts beating under her, long before her chicks begin pecking their way out into the world?
So many good vibrations . . . .
Reminds me of the story behind the famous song. When he was young, Brian Wilson’s mother told him that dogs will bark at people who give off “bad vibrations.”
Inspired, Brian eventually composed the Beach Boys iconic masterpiece Good Vibrations.
Which leads me back to the naming of these three babies (in a previous post: Tiny trio). Finches are singers, and my son is a Beach Boys aficionado, so . . . .
Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Brian and Dennis (the latter of which was apparently revved up and decided to hatch early—how fitting).
Omne trium perfectum: “Everything that comes in threes is perfect”
Little bird up in a tree
Looked down and sang a song to me.
—”Little Bird,” Dennis Wilson, Stephen Kalinich, Brian Wilson
The house finch nesting in the wreath on our front door is incubating three lovely blue eggs.
My son (Cadillac Man) and I are walking, doing laps in the churchyard on a sunny afternoon, talking about names for baby birds (see what happens when new life generates in your realm; if you’re human, you take nonsensical ownership).
“It’s too obvious, but I almost can’t resist calling them Atticus, Jem, and Scout,” I chuckle. “I mean, they’re FINCHES.”
“Yeah, you’re right—it’s too obvious,” says Cadillac Man.
I think I hear a small sigh.
“Hmm. Well, there’s Harry, Hermione, and Ron . . . ” I offer.
Cadillac Man’s face remains immobile. I can’t see his eyes behind his sunglasses. He says nothing.
I can see that literary names are a no go, which is a shame, with “the rule of three” and all that. Cadillac Man does not think from a repository of words and phrases gleaned over time from books like I do. He thinks in music. He always has.
We walk a little way in silence; we’re keeping a pretty good pace. Then Cadillac Man proceeds to tell me new things he’s learning in his continuous (borderline obsessive) research on his musical passion, the Beach Boys: “Dennis didn’t get credit for how much musical talent he really had . . . .”
—I have an inspiration. Cadillac Man will love this. When he pauses, I say:
“We can name the baby birds after the Wilsons. Since’s there’s three of them.”
He grins. “Well, these little birds are singers.”
Brian is due to hatch next Sunday. Dennis and Carl should follow on Monday and Tuesday.
Even if they’re female, it will be fun, fun, fun . . . .
After a recent outpatient procedure, as I secretly celebrated waking up from anesthesia and not dying, my husband drove me home down the back country roads. Through the passenger window I idly watched winter-brown grass, trees, and old gray outbuildings zipping by, noted a small clearing with a tiny pond nestled in wood-strewn ground, an eagle sitting by the wayside—
We said it simultaneously, my husband and I: “THAT’S AN EAGLE!”
Just a quick impression, sitting majestically, facing us, huge, white head gleaming atop the dark body, not ten feet away . . . .
We were past it as soon as the sight registered on our brains.
“Go back! Go back!” I pleaded, grabbing my phone, opening the camera.
A sssskkkkrrrrttt! of a turn-around at a dirt driveway, and we were back in a flash.
It watched us, unmoving, as we neared, but when we slowed, the eagle grew suspicious. It took off. Within a millisecond, into the bare, gnarled oaks.
“No! Wait! Wait!” I cried, snapping as fast as I could.
We rolled a little farther, but the only good shot I got was of its back, soaring away.
Gone. I missed the moment. Failed to capture my encounter with the wondrous. I have never been that close to an eagle in the wild. I’ve hardly seen any free ones at all, in fact. I’ve heard them calling in their high, haunting, piercing voices, have seen one perched on top of a streetlamp, but never anything like this.
I grieved my loss: It would have made such a great blog post, too.
I got home, got into bed.
The image of the eagle wouldn’t leave my thoughts. It stayed, motionless, watching me. Cocked its head, affixed me with its eye, its penetrating gaze.
—Why wouldn’t you stay so still just a little while ago?
It ruffled its feathers. Kept right on staring at me.
So I looked it up.
There are few things I love better than symbolism, and few are better-known than the eagle: The national bird, on the Great Seal of the United States. Revered icon of ancient times, civilizations, people. Mascot to numerous sports teams—even that of the school where I work.
But this is what got me about the eagle:
It is a symbol of healing.
It is a symbol of transition, some element of life or creative endeavor, about to take flight.
—Dare I see it as a sign that all shall be well, that some new venture, personal or professional, lies just ahead?
It was just an eagle sitting by the wayside, as eagles surely do, somewhere, every day.
Only this time I happened to see it. In the blinking of an eye.
I blinked back at it.
So, I told it, you wouldn’t stay put for a real picture, but now you linger as a mental one. If you’re going to hang around portending something, then let it be my creativity and insight taking flight. Let it be about thing I love to do most—let my writing be courageous and free, with clarity of vision. Let it fly, let it fly, on and on, higher and higher.
Only then did the image fade; only then did I rest.
I fell asleep.
And woke in the morning, renewed, resolute.
No more missed moments. There aren’t moments to lose.
—I’m ready for whatever lies ahead. Lead on, eagle.