tending my flocks
don’t have a cow. or even a henhouse.
don’t have a half acre even.
i can hardly call this my farm.
ah, but that doesn’t stop me.
you should see me, these soft snowy mornings. i climb into my boots, my big yellow rubber ones, before i climb into my clothes (oops. hold that image there. erase what you might see in your head, please, the skinny old legs, naked, goose-bumped, slid into floppy ol’ boots as bright as bananas. quake not, friends, i do wear my jammies outside).
back to the boots and where i go with them.
i make the rounds is where i go, make my way, clomp-clomp-and-more-clomp, through the drifts and the mounds as high as my shins.
i make like a farmhand out tending her flocks.
which, actually, is just what i’m doing. just minus the farm is all.
my flocks, though, aren’t peacocks or hens, not araucanas, those blue-laying beauties. my flocks are not geese or ducks. not even a rhode island red, though i long for one, and plot ways to wriggle ’round the village code.
my flocks are winged, all right. and feathered as well.
my flocks live up in my trees. or under the eaves of my roof.
my flocks come in red and in blue and in plain common brown. they line up like ellipses there on the wires that run into my house, from out in the alley. they chirp from on high, from on places i can’t seem to find, though i stand and i look and i look, till the chilly-cold tears run down my chilly-cold cheeks.
my morning rounds unfold thusly, early each and every cold winter’s day:
once the galoshes are on, and the snowcoat and mittens, i reach for my old coffee can and fill it to spilling from the bin i keep near the door.
as i step into the cold, feel the whoosh of the air down my lungs, i open my heart, call out to my friends, “g’morning everyone!”
i yell it loud and sweet enough to make the neighbors think i must have minions sleeping in my bushes, little people who curl up under the branches, wrap up in blankets, come out for morning gruel when i holler.
i shlop (that’s the sound the yellow boots make sucking through the snow) from trough to trough. shake out the snow from overnight. dump in the seed. look up, heavenward, to catch whoever’s watching.
quite often i find mama cardinal looking down on me. i suppose she’s checking out the menu, deciding if she’ll fly in the youngins for their breakfast.
sometimes, and this makes me quite proud, i find a brave little feathered one, one who doesn’t bother flitting at the sight of me.
i like to think they’ve come to know me, not mind me so much. they know that i’m the kook, the one in yellow boots, who comes bearing succulent sunflower and shelled peanuts and cracked corn. who sometimes comes with cranberries. or a fat chunk of suet from the butcher shop.
when i’m done with all the dumping, and the smearing of the peanut-butter paste that never fails to draw the downy woodpecker, i shlop back into the house to begin my water rounds.
i fill an old gallon jug with fresh warm drink from my kitchen sink (i only wish i had a well and i could pump it, creak by squeaky creak). i haul that sloshing load back to where my birdies bathe and sip and fluff their wings.
then, if it’s not too, too cold, i crouch and make like i’m a yellow-rooted bush. i stay still as i can stay. and i make not a sound, ‘cept for the fluttering of eyelids and a gulp or two, when the birds come down, when my flocks return, and i watch them partake of the communion i’ve put out for them.
it is a holy thing to tend the flocks.
doesn’t matter much if it’s a flock that’s winged or hooved, or wearing shoes, for that matter. a flock that bays, or clucks. or even talks behind your back.
it’s why we’re here, to tend the ones around us, most of all.
and these feathered ones bring me mighty close to God, is all i know.
i hear the whoosh of their gentle wings as they come in for what i offer them. i watch the papa bird feed the mama, drop seed one-by-one down her wide-open beak.
i watch the snows tumble down, and all my flocks huddle on the branches at the dawn. they wait for me, because they know i come.
that’s called faith, i do believe.
and it’s a two-way equation.
they believe i’m on my way, me and my coffee cans of sustenance, just as soon as the nightfall lifts and the morning light creeps in again.
and i believe, as i fill the troughs and, every morning, my very heart, that as i tend my flock, my sense of oneness with the gentle world, the world of ever-turning tide and clock and slant of sun, draws me and them, together, to a holy place called peace just beyond my windowsill.
do you have a daily ritual, a peace-filled round, that roots you, makes you feel like you belong, have purpose, on this holy blessed planet?
and speaking of purpose on the planet, i must note that any day now our beloved slj will be a bride, and walk down the aisle into the arms of her true love. it seems right for all of us who’ve been pulling up to this table for quite a while now to send much much love to the ever-wise, ever-heartful slj.
and while we’re at it, please shout or whisper a prayer for blessed jcv whose sister-in-law is fighting what might be her last battle with a stubborn leukemia.
and finally, oh, yeesh, dear susan is in the hospital as i type, an emergency surgery on saturday night.
seems there’s need for many prayers here.
and please don’t forget hh who just last week buried her sister-in-law, a champion for the poor of chicago’s rogers park.
xoxox, the chair lady