What would you say to grief-torn birds,
anguished by life’s broken bonds?
Could you turn away, unmoved,
dismiss their cries as habit,
a bit of empty noise?
I saw it once, there on the spring grass–
not hidden in the human way
but public, painful as a slashing wound
that leaves the heart exposed.
The frantic male’s flapping,
his heav’n-tipped beak and sharp-edged trill
I thought no more than courtship
until I saw his mate, keening
near their babe —
its helpless form feathered but inert,
its life-song drained and pooling.
It was a kindness, I supposed,
to pluck the nestling, hold it close, and carry it away —
to claim the fallen home and end the desperate cries.
Nest in hand, I caught the signs
of growing resignation —
the folded wings, the fallen heads,
the shared and tender glances
more intimate than death.
Soothed at last, unfurling wings,
they lifted to the sky —
flying in silence against gathering clouds,
absorbed by the swift-rising sun.
is the instructor.
We need no other.
Guess what I am,
he says in his
Because I love the world,
I think of grass,
I think of leaves
and the bold sun,
I think of the rushes
in the black marshes
just coming back
from under the pure white
and now finally melting
stubs of snow.
Whatever we know or don’t know
leads us to say;
Teacher, what do you mean?
But faith is still there, and silent.
Then he who owns
the incomparable voice
suddenly flows upward
and out of the room
and I follow,
obedient and happy.
Of course I am thinking
the Lord was once young
and will never in fact be old.
And who else could this be, who goes off
down the green path
carrying his sandals, and singing?
“Spring” ~ by Mary Oliver
Naturally enough, birds tend to attract human attention by their activities: flying, feeding, courting, fighting. A mockingbird singing at 4 a.m. will not be ignored. A blue jay, irritated by a squirrel’s antics, can be heard for blocks. Chattering sparrows, self-important grackles, and apparently demented woodpeckers all vie for their share of the spotlight.
Around the water, things are different. Rookeries are raucous, and the increasingly desperate cries of mallards in mating season can penetrate walls, but water birds generally tend to be quiet sorts: like children of an earlier time, cautioned by parents to be seen, but not heard.
A sure sign of winter, the arrival of coots and gallinules on the Texas coast is especially quiet. One day, there are none. The next day, flotillas of birds bob like decoys on the water: placidly drifting from place to place, picking their way through lily and lotus on elongated toes, quietly clacking and chirring to one another in clipped, metallic tones. Continue reading
Never mind the traditional excesses of Thanksgiving, the horrors of Black Friday or the panic of the pre-Christmas rush. For afficionados of the sport of people-watching, the up-coming holiday season is the best season of the year. With crowds of impatient adults and captive children navigating the stormy seas of covetousness and retail madness from now until New Year’s Day, amusement should be easy to find.
In fact, I’ve already been amused. During a swing through our local Target store, I found myself waiting in the checkout line behind a child and his mother. The boy appeared to be about three, and he was fussy. Hanging on to his mother’s skirt with both hands, he circled around and around until he found a comfortable spot, sandwiched between his mother and the cart.
Peeking out from the folds of her skirt, he looked past us to the vibrant displays of candy and merchandise across the aisle. Using one hand to point to something, he tugged on her skirt with the other to gain attention. Busy sorting through her purse, his mother ignored him while the rest of us started paying attention. Continue reading
When reminders about the end of daylight savings time began to crop up last month, the usual congenial grumping began. Some people wished it never would end. Others expressed hope the practice would be abolished. Arguments broke out at dinner tables and over fences: is the practice left over from a more agricultural society? Does it really save energy? Should it be standardized across the country? Does it help or hurt school children?
At least for now, Daylight Savings time is gone, but the transition back to Standard time always amuses me. I have one friend who takes the reminder to set clocks back one hour at 2 a.m. so literally she sets an alarm to wake her at 1:45. She doesn’t want to be late in meeting her civic obligation. She’s done it for years, and for years I’ve given her a bit of a hard time about it. She says she does it because that’s the way it’s “supposed” to be done, and if everyone would get up in the middle of the night and set their clocks as they’re told, we wouldn’t have so many people being late for Church or missing television programs on Sunday.
I’ve never dared tell her about my approach to the end of daylight savings time. If she knew, she’d be scandalized, and probably would be knocking at my door at 2:05 to get me moving. She’d have to, because the fact is I’ve never risen in the middle of the night to change clock settings. I don’t even reset them before I go to bed, as my mother does, or adjust everything, one by one, as I move toward the first early sunset the day after the change.
The way I see it, that hour we “gain” as we “fall back” is pure gift. It’s a little chunk of time, just lying there at the edge of my life, and it’s mine to do with as I please. Every year, I save my hour of re-claimed time until I need it, or decide what to do with it. While everyone else is running around resetting clocks, I’m sitting back with my feet up and a smile on my face, secure in the knowledge of that hour safely tucked into my pocket. When I decide I need that extra hour, I reset the clocks, and am back in synch with everyone else.