Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

The Case of Bird vs. People

It’s a beautiful and yet uneasy feeling. Walking into a territory where you belong but do not speak the language or even barely understand what the high and low notes mean. That’s what an ordinary morning does: it turns on you. The guest, you.

Pup and I walk the couple of blocks to the park and then we let loose. She’s off her leash, allowed by higher authorities than me, and I am off mine (everyday rush and craziness). A couple of crows swoop close enough but not like last year’s bullies that almost got me twice. Not yet anyway. Building nests and having babies is serious business, I know that. Humans can meddle, as they’ve shown on many an occasion. We’re on the black list, no pun intended, and the crows show it when they have a chance.

Pup and I hike the hill taking the narrow steep trail, all the way to the top. If you steer a gentle left you leave the highway buzz behind and the crystal-clear song of a meadowlark (now I know) reaches straight into your soul as if to show what you’re missing on when immersed in urban cacophony.

Just like that, you’re hooked; you’ll be seeking this cascade of sounds every morning. I do. The meadowlark perches herself (himself?) on the very top of the tree and delivers a loud, clear and perfectly harmonized song it makes me wonder the same every time: where does so much sound come from when the body is so puny?

I choose to think of it as a greeting. I am no birder, hence sweet ignorance protects my feelings. It could be a threat call (pup and I are the threat, again), or it could be a song delivered despite our presence there for other purposes. My new reading ‘What the Robin Knows’ (author John Young) is building a pyramid of question marks in my head. The more I read, the clearer it becomes: I know nothing of birds. I thought I did, a bit. Sweet ignorance, how thick your veil.

The resident hawk I often see swooping from a scraggly tall dead-looking (I know it’s not) Ponderosa pine dances rather than flies. Elegance. I think of us humans walking, often waddling, hunched forward, ungraciously forgetting to even breathe deep enough in our rush, forgetting to look up at the sky, overwhelmed by problems, often self-created, painful many of them yet diligently maintained. Yes, I envy the hawk easiness of being…Grace.

Robins. We saw two this morning, possibly a couple. Staring as if to detect our intentions. Friendly. How do I say that in bird language? I stop and stare. They’re beautiful and remind me of my mom. Here’s why.

One flies away to get the pup’s attention. Protecting a mate perhaps. The one left on the branch looks at me. I am fascinated, mute in my delight and sorrowful in how most of us humans have forgotten to sit quietly and observe… Sparrows dart every which way, cheeky and cheery, even on a rainy day. The life continuum sketched by outstretched wings, chirps, and intentions I will most likely never be able to interpret.

The other day I found a dead bird on the side of the path. As if asleep, its tiny body frozen yet soft to the touch. Light as feathers… patches of sparkling yellow on its sides and head, beautiful gray and charcoal ones adorning the body, wings and tail; delicate black feet. The boys and I identified it; an Audubon warbler. One less song. Warblers sing just because, for the love of it… I would have never known. It took this bird on the side of the path. Why did it die, the boys asked? I had no answer. Quiet reverence as death stares us in the face. So easy to forget we’re all due one. Infatuation over our self-proclaimed superiority doesn’t help when humility is needed.

We know so little. It’s easy to let go when you know little. There’s but one answer: we ought to learn more. Understanding even a fragment of that continuum; the language of songs that fill mornings with wonder, with panic, with love, with sounds that perpetuate life. Our songs are the same, except that we sing inwardly and mostly forget to do so by the time we need it the most. We ought to relearn, we ought to rediscover serenity, grace, and that sliver of gratefulness… the robin knows…


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  1. Love this column about birds!!!

  2. J

    -Beautiful. Called by the songs of life, perhaps audible reflections of our soul’s delight in beauty.

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