In Roman times, priests called augurs studied the activities of birds to divine the will of the gods. This practice of reading signs and omens was called taking auspices.
Likewise, many ancient legends depict the language of birds as perfect and divine; predating human speech, it was communicated by deities, understood by prophets and angels. Some say bird language was the original language n the Garden of Eden, spoken by Adam, Eve, and God.
I cannot speak to these mystical beliefs. But I agree there’s something of the sacred in birds.
I assumed I’d developed this affinity later in life. Birdwatching as an older person’s pastime. My mother-in-law loved birds. So did my grandmother. What is the correlation between aging and deriving such pleasure from birds? An acknowledgement that life in this world grows short, and the beautiful should be savored? Or something deeper? Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated, writes Terry Tempest Williams.
I’d forgotten that my love of birds began early in life. It all started with parakeets named Angel and Lucifer (how’s that for spiritual connections?). Angel was blue and white, sky-and-clouds. Lucifer was yellow and green. They were pets of my parents’ friends and after my first mesmerizing encounter, I begged for a parakeet. I got one for my sixth birthday. Solid yellow (although I’d wanted one like Angel). The pet shop folks boxed my bird in a carton decorated like a circus train, with little holes in the sides. Riding home in the car, I peered in to see a red-purple eye looking back at me…
Tweety lived until I was twelve.
I could never have a caged bird now.
They are meant to be free.
Living in a rural area offers daily doses of bird-awe, from the blue herons standing like statues in stillwater ponds to the snowy-winged hawks perched high on power lines…last week on my way to work, I felt lighter than I have in a while. It’s been an exceptionally trying year at school. It helps that there’s actually more daylight now that spring is on the way (I should have my vitamin D checked, perhaps). On this particular day last week, I sensed that good things are coming. I even said it to myself, so strong was the sense: Good things are coming. A little farther on, I happened to notice a large brown clump up in a bare tree by the road. A nest of leaves, maybe? Work of squirrels? But as I drew near, I saw a white head…a curved beak..
For the rest of that day I felt I had wings myself.
And then there is the return of the house finches, which, truth be told, never actually leave. One or two little birds have been sleeping in my door wreath this winter. They startled me a few times at night, flying out of the wreath when I went to the porch. I suspect finches although I couldn’t get a good look in the dark. If you’ve read my blog a while, you know the finches build nests in my door wreath each spring. In fact, I left the old grapevine wreath out for this very purpose.
A couple of weeks ago, I heard the telltale chatter on the porch. Finches discussing the wreath. Probably planning the nest. It was a loud, spirited conversation, hard to tell if the pair was in agreement or not…
I kept checking the wreath, but all I saw was the indented place where a bird or two had been sleeping.
No nest. It was still February, after all.
This past Saturday, the finches were the loudest yet, out there on the porch. My son and granddaughter, age sixteen months, were visiting.
“Is that your finches, Mom?” he asked.
“Yes. They’re talking about making a nest,” I explained.
We listened for a while to the happy trills.
The next morning I went out to check… surely a nest was started, with all that cheerful bird language?
I saw nothing.
Until…I don’t know what made me get the stool and check the far side of the wreath…
This is what the finches were up to:
A perfect nest, so perfectly disguised that even I, who was watching for it, didn’t find it until four eggs had already been laid.
I know this happens every spring across the Earth, but to me, it is a miracle. The eggs, incubating life, laid on a bed so carefully and lovingly lined with soft hair…it is soul-piercingly precious.
As is the father finch’s glorious, glorious song from the rooftop, morning and evening, his voice rolling down and echoing across the countryside. His is the predominant voice of all the birds around, and there are many…I will write of them later.
For the father finch’s song of deep joy is my own right now…celebrating family, life, light.
Good things are here.
with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.
I suspect there will be lots of birds in my posts… spirit-lifters that they are.