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Category: migration

season of the mournful cry

it gives you goosebumps when, say, you are meandering down the lane, and suddenly through the leafy canopy above, you hear the song of your heart raining down from the heavens.

what i mean is it’s been happening all week, for a string of weeks. i am out attending to the nooks and crannies of my life, my garden, the here-to-there of chores and errands and putting one foot before the other.

i am likely sifting through the shadows of my heart, my ache, my longing, and there it comes, the piercing. the minor key, the dissonance, the trumpet blasts of geese in Vs, far above the trees.

they punctuate the sky, the gray september sky. they punctuate the flight. and with it, my own mournful song.

this is the season of migration, of winged flight, of thousands of miles of flapping wings, and honking siren’s call.

the snow geese, the canadian geese, turn and return, from cold north woods, to far-off warmer climes.

and as they pass on high, they cry out to me. and i in turn return the call–though silent. my mournful song has no melody, and its verse i keep inside. some sorrows, best kept hushed.

i have always, though, found company, found solace, in the geese’s call. it is but one of the dark notes of autumn that draw me in, that take me to a deeper place, the cove of meditation.

and this autumn in particular it is as if my song, my internal cry, is broadcast from the clouds. the geese cry, they call out, and so i listen, i respond. i reply, stopping in my tracks, taking in their celestial signal.

(i wonder if perhaps the cry of the signal goose is why they call it goosebumps. for that is the thing, the spine-tingling, up-and-down-the-arm-tingling, that happens in an instant when that one long note makes its way down, down, spiraling from above to the inner crevice of my heart.)

i hear the lonely goose, and i understand its story. i embrace the mournful cry.

God’s world is at one with me.

and how blessed are we, we who live beneath the arc of flight, to take in the sorrowful song of the V that etches ’cross the sky.

how blessed are we, when, at oddest hours, just beyond the dawn, or in the cloak of nightfall, we hear the trumpet blast rain down.

i am not one to run and hide from shadow, from sadness. i say bring it on, the whole orchestra of heart sound, the light, the bright, and, yes, the dark. i find particular company in the darkness. i find much to explore there.

and this september, as my heart is stretched and pulled, and i redefine the rhythm, the verse of my everyday, i am at one with the crying goose who flaps across my frame of sky.

i turn and crane my neck. i scan in search of all the pitch-black Vs. i hear before i see.

and when at last i catch the flapping geometry, when i match song to sight, i lock my eyes. i follow that acute angle till the dull edge of my horizon.

it is a call to prayer for me, this mystical stirring from beyond the beyond.

and so i send up holy whispers, and so i wrap myself in the sacred folds of their heavensong.

be safe, mournful geese, as you cross the globe. bless your brave determined flight.

i hear you, papa goose, as you and i together sing in minor key, the sound of love trying to find its way.

a short bit of musing on this crisp cool day, when pumpkins tug on the vine, and cinnamon bubbles on my stove. i am haunted in the best way by the cry of the geese. i find such comfort in their mournful melody. who else has heard their flight song? who else is stirred by the power of migration? who else finds full glory in all the colors of the rainbow, the light, the dark, and shadows in between? who else is trying to find the way, this september?

humming my song

i’ve never thought i’d make the cut.

the hummingbird cut, that is.

the wee things, the size of thimbles, the weight of five extra-strength aspirins, it’s been said, flap-flap-flap their wisps of wings some 2,000 miles, nonstop across the oily gulf of mexico, praise be the thinkin’ birds.

en route from way up north in canada to down in costa rica, the little darlings keep their eyeballs peeled for a comfy place for roadside grazing. if you flapped your wings up to 80 times a second–do the math, that’s 4,800 times a minute, nearly 7 million flaps a day–you too would wanna drop the landing gear, suck up a jug or two of nectar.

and, i’m told, the wee things have braincells that do not forget. should you put out the welcome mat, but then forget to keep the sugar water fresh, those birds will cross you off the list, never forget that your stale waters made their wee, wee bellies ache, and never ever stop again.

you’ll be blackballed by the hummers, i was told in unforgiving terms.

so that made me 1.) worried, and 2.) afraid to even try.

i couldn’t stand the thought of my ol’ house and garden being X’d off in the hummingbird map across america.

so i did the wimpy thing: hoped they’d like my nodding flowers, and left it at that.

oh, i might have caught a glimpse here or there, one popped its nose in the rhododendron a spring or two ago. then maybe, by the black-eyed susans, at the end of some summer, i might have seen another.

but, well, my mama, she’s no chicken. no feeble-heart is she.

she reached right in the cabinet where she keeps her bird supplies and she marched up my walk with the very bright red feeder i’d not long ago given her.

while the feeder itself came in a box, complete with “hummingbird solution,” a mix of this and that that came with darn directions (thus ever raising the bar on whether i could make the cut, could cook up the holy nectar for the passersby), my mama pooh-poohed all that.

said, sugar and water is all you need. change it once a week, even every 10 days. none of this make-it-fresh-before-the-crack-of-dawn-each-day-or-your-birds-will-keel-and-X-you-off.

up she hung the feeder on my tree. and back she stood to watch the hummingbird brigade.

i dared not hope.

but then, out of the corner of my doubting eye, i spotted a large cicada darting through the trees.

or so i thought.

the large cicada, hovering, stuck its nose down the gullet of the pale pink anemone.

and then i realized: that was no cicada.

that was my mama’s promise come to roost.

ever since, it’s been hummingbird haven around here. the little things are darting here and there, practically coming to my nose. they fly forward, backward, up and down.

even the cat has taken to watching all the aerobatics.

and i’ve not yet been scolded by a hummer for letting all the sugar water go sour. or dry.

fact is, i think they’ve taken a shining to my little bird hostel. they’ve been sipping and darting now for nearly two whole weeks.

and i have found my end-of-summer bliss in the watching of their antics. they come so close, they dart so quickly, they seem so downright unafraid, i can nearly imagine the cartoon clouds coming from their little beaks, the bird words spewing, as they chatter back and forth. chase away the big birds. never mind the cat. order up another batch of hummer’s brew.

they are said to be pugnacious, and pugnacious they are. who would think it of a flying thimble?

and i have come to delight in their fearlessness. marvel at it, really. have tried to absorb a drop or two, from their lesson plan: how to rule the world, even if you’re no more imposing than a gardener’s thumb.

i’ve no real clue how long this show will last, before the sun and wind and moon call to the wee ones, beckon them to return to their long flight.

i’m told, though, that the flip side of that brain that won’t forget is that they’ll remember. they’ll come back. these very same winged blessings. they will remember, perhaps, the blue table where i pull up my chair, where i sit beneath the trees, where i keep watch, and whisper sweet thanks.

they will remember the long-necked anemones they drink from. and the bright red feeder my mama hung so boldly, so believingly.

they will be back.

and i’ll be ready. bold and believing, just like the birds who cross the globe, knowing they’ll find sweetness when and where they need it.

i sat down to write this morning but first found word from my beloved little brother that his most beloved golden retriever, max, might not make it through the night. if dawn came, they’d be driving max to the nearest best big city and hoping the vets could work a miracle. i cannot tell you the depth of ache for my brother who has already buried a retriever he loved. and who took years before he was ready to love another so dearly. my little brother had just turned 13 the day my papa died. he was the one who walked in the hospital room as they tried to save my papa. please whisper a prayer for my sweet bri, and for max, the dog who has been his dearest friend these past few years….
heartache comes in so many forms. and all we can do, besides wrap our arms around the ones we love, whisper hope in their ear,
is keep prayin’ and loving.
for all the heartaches gathered at this table. and all the moments of rejoicing. amen.

so what life lessons might you have learned from winged things, or dogs that nuzzle up beside you?

and, p.s., in case that photo up above proves to be an optical delusion, there is a wee hummingbird just to the left of the red feeder. see him, pointing his long nose toward the hummer nectar that i cook up? the shadowy little thing in front of the willowy pink anemones?
oh, and in case you too want to cook for aerobatics, it’s simple: 1/4 cup white sugar to 1 cup boiling water. stir sugar till dissolved, let cool (hummers don’t like to burn their two-pronged tongues) then pour into a hummer feeder, or i am sure there is some alternative feeder, just something into which they can stick their long noses…..

bring on the birds

it seems fitting, doesn’t it, to begin the new year with an ear to the symphony outside. the sounds we don’t notice. the birdsong we are missing, dashing in and out from the house to the car to the errands that never ever seem to stop.

i was just out listening. and i’m telling you, it was an awakening. bach and beethoven, they tried. but they never got close. never got close to the sound and the song that the little birds make.

i had a fellow over, a wonderful fellow, the sort you want to sip coffee and listen to all the day long. his name is tim joyce, and he is a bird man. he came for a story i’m working on, a story about birdscaping, which is, believe it or not, the fine art of figuring which birds you might attract, and then laying out a plot for doing just that. it’s the bird version of landscaping. only it’s all about bringing on the birds.

so for a good hour or more, in the finger-numbing chill of this january morn, we stood and we watched and we listened. there were, in no particular order, house finches, house sparrows, black-cap chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, and red-breasted ones, too. there was a red-bellied woodpecker, a downy woodpecker, an american crow, and darn it, european starlings. of course, there were cardinals, my signature bird. and last but not least there were juncoes and goldfinch.

what all of that means is that nestled in the branches of my pines and my old scrubby brush, i have whole civilizations with stories to tell and flutterings to delight.

this tim fellow, bearded and spectacled, unspooled tales of how the starling, a seed swisher and most social bird i now know, was an invader from europe, how they’d come generations ago, brought over by settlers who, so the story goes, thought a starling in the background would make a new york city performance of shakespeare’s “king lear” seem so much more authentic. who knew?

he told how a hummingbird, flying from the yucatan peninsula to a quiet little corner of, perhaps, southern ontario, would dart into my little yard if i put out a hummingbird feeder, dally for a day or two, and then in the fall, flying back south, would remember my spot on the map and make a certain return. imagine that, my very own hummingbird friend.

but, he cautioned, should i ever forget to put out fresh hummingbird nectar (aka sugar water) and that sojourner took a gulp of bird drink gone bad, i would be blackballed forever by that sweet little flapper. egad.

all in all, it enchanted. and it turned on lightbulbs galore. here, in my little corner of the world, close enough to the big city that i’m there in a blink, i could be brushed day in and day out by the spectacle of God’s winged creation. what it takes, most of all, is carving out time, carving out quiet, to sit and to marvel at all that’s around me.

what if every morning i started my day not with a leap to the treadmill but instead crept outside, bowed to the rising sun and listened for the bach and the beethoven already nestled in my limbs?

i’m curious. how do you bring the natural world into your every day? is it the stars, or the moon? the rising or setting sun? and what about the birds, do you ever stand at your window and marvel, or better yet, step outside and drink in their song?