Death and the birdbath…

Bing images

Bing images

Mother loves birds. Wild birds on PBS Nature specials. Tiny glistening, quivering Hummingbirds at the back yard feeder. Plain sparrows with their nest in the top leafy branches of the big apricot tree in the back yard. Fluttering and flouncing brilliant black Starlings that glitter emerald in the sun as they wash off their latest dirt bath in Mother’s birdbath, their gold beaks a bright beacon . Oh, she fusses about the dirt they leave behind, especially if she’s just cleaned up the bird bath and left it full of fresh water, but they’re birds and they’re welcome. She whispers to the Phoebes; coos at the Doves and click-clacks her tongue at the Wood Peckers.

She does not have the same affinity for feral cats. She treats them as interlopers who invade the bird space that is the back yard. She fusses like a mother hen when they slink across the grass to the birdbath, or when they lay in the shade of the apricot tree, their ears deaf to the warning of sparrows that screech in dismay. Anytime she sees one of those feral cats, Mother taps against the window or rushes out the door, sudden wings to her feet and cane, yelling to startle them into bolting to the fence where they squeeze under to safety.

I’ve gotten accustomed to Mother’s irritation at the cats and I’ve started chasing them away as well. Don’t get me wrong. I like cats. We usually had one in the house when I was growing up. What I don’t like is Mother’s stress and her fussing over the unwanted cats. And I figure if the cats are going to take it seriously that this yard is off limits, then the people that live in the house need to be unified in their feral cat approach, right?

I was rinsing dishes at the kitchen sink after lunch today when movement in the yard caught my attention. I looked out the window in time to see the younger black feral cat take a three foot leap into the birdbath. The entire event couldn’t have taken more than three seconds. He leapt, was coated with water that dripped off him and the sparrow in his jaws, steadied himself for a brief moment, then was down off the birdbath and headed across the yard towards the fence. Lickety-split.

“Hey!” I pulled the yellow rubber gloves off my hands and headed for the back door, my heart pounding. He was gone by the time I unlocked the door and got outside. The chirping from another sparrow at the top of the apricot tree sounded pitiful and mournful.

When I got back inside, Mother had come to the window above the kitchen sink.

“What were you chasing,” she asked? She had a Kleenex in one hand and with the other leaned on her cane and searched the yard for some sign of the disturbance. We’d been out to the doctor’s and then to the lab for blood work and she was still wearing nice green slacks and a flowered button down blouse, her hair combed perfectly, her lips the shade of coral.

The house was cool against the hot afternoon, the classical station played Mozart as if the entire world was tamed, with no animals or people dying anywhere. No drought in California or Texas or Oklahoma or Nevada; no famine in Sahel or Sudan; no Christian girls kidnapped in Nigeria; no political machinations at work in Ukraine; no terrorists released in exchange for a missing soldier who might or might not be a terrorist sympathizer himself, no estimated 200 million of the world’s people in slavery today.

“Nature at work,” I said and gave her the details.

“That’s probably a baby left in the nest or the mother who saw her baby taken,” she turned and clunked her cane back to the dining room.

For the next ten minutes I could still hear that remaining sparrow crying in the nest. My ears hurt and I had to tell myself to breathe in and out. This is life. This is the cycle of life. Nature had impacted that little family.

I forgot for a time there, in this air-conditioned, machine and technology propelled life that there’s very little we control. That a cat’s instinct is to eat birds, that mankind’s basest nature is to control and dominate, that our world doesn’t live in a bubble where we can determine the weather and eradicate drought.

What we can do is pay attention to each other, care for the weakest and take responsibility to rise above the worst that mankind can be. Reach to be the best we can be, and by God’s grace leave the world a better place than where we found it. I can do that. And, I can go on chasing feral cats out of the yard, knowing full well, if they don’t get a bird here, they’ll get one next door.

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fly high…and sing your song…

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

We lost another one this week.  That makes two in the last eight days.  First, Bob, then Charmaine.  Elderly, frail friends of Mother’s.

People she knew for nearly forty years from church.  People, who were hardy, still working with busy productive lives when she and Daddy first met them.  People, whose lives morphed and changed into retirement, followed by the death of spouses and the total rearrangement of how they lived; people, who once self-reliant, at the end, relied upon others.

Mother hasn’t been feeling well, so I told her the news carefully.  She seemed to take it in stride as part of the everyday markers of her elderly life.  After all, Daddy’s gone too, and he was her mainstay.

Charmaine and Jim retired and moved back to the mid-West to be near their kids.  Maybe ten years ago?  Then Jim got sick and died and Charmaine’s daughter was around to do the caring.  Now Charmaine’s gone.

Bob nursed his ailing wife while he worked full time and then she died.  Mother says he was never the same after those exhausting years.  Is that why Alzheimer’s took over his capable brain?  In the end his daughters had lie to him to get him to leave the house so that they could get him care.  Bob’s gone now, too.

A flurry of birds in the backyard catches my eye as sparrows dart, flutter, and settle on the grass and the green is painted into a polka dot green blanket with hopping browns and grays.  Today’s sunshine reveals a glitter in the multi-layered hues of their feathers.

Squawk!  A blackbird clutched to a swaying high wire interrupts and the sparrows take chirping flight up into the bare oak branches.  Low to the ground, along the fence perimeter, there’s black fur that moves stealthily.  Feral cat.  Could be that squawk was a warning, right?

image source:Bing images

image source:Bing images

So, those ended elderly lives?  Makes one think; ponder; if you get my drift.  The shortness of their lives doesn’t hold a candle to the song bird, the Cedar Waxwing, trilling on the bare Apricot branches.  Those dudes only live two or three years.  That’s short, my friend.  Or it is when compared to Mother’s eighty-plus-year-old friends that just sang their last, breathed their last.  Well, you get the point.

But, does it seem short to the Cedar Waxwing, or does it seem normal?  They’re born, they’re fed, they learn to eat and to find their own food and water; their instinct keeps them moving ahead, they make music, they make baby birds, they feed them and push them from the nest.  They make more music.  They die.

It’s all perspective.  The light we’re seeing from the stars, by the time it gets to us, those stars have died.  The music of Chopin or Pachelbel, it’s ours because they lived and created, but they’re done now too.  Even so, they left something behind.  So do the stars, so do the Cedar Waxwings.  Their beauty and their songs are captured and saved on YouTube on in some documentary for us to enjoy.

Here’s what keeps crawling around the edges of my mind, “Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Aren’t you worth more than they?”  That was Matthew, a Jesus follower, noting down his observations of the cycle of the birds in the skies above him over 2,000 years ago in Palestine.

Matthew’s been gone a long time, but he caught the truth and left a record of it for us.  It’s life.  The value of life.  The preciousness of life.  Your life.  My life.  The bird’s life.  Ok, I’ll admit it, as much as I don’t like feral cats, the feral cat’s life, as well.  Life.  We see it replicated from one bird to another; one cat to another, one human to another, but it’s a gift.  Matthew said it was a God given gift.  It is.

image: google images

image source: google images

I see that.  I feel it inside.  I’m aware life is a gift and not something I can make or bring into being.  Nor can I control how long life lasts.  Oh, I suppose I could throw in the towel to my life’s fight and find some way to end it.  The problem is that’s only the life that exists in this earthly world; the one we can see and touch.  But, it’s not the soul.  There’s no ending to the soul.  The soul comes from God and he controls its destiny.  I need to remember to hold it in an open hand, because I can’t control it.  Just like I can’t keep that Cedar Waxwing living on forever nor can I predict how long before Mother loses life.  Her life and soul came from God and back to God she will go.  I will go.  You will go.  Take comfort.  God loves you and the soul he gave you.  Meanwhile, fly high and sing your song.

Trailing clouds of glory…

image source:google images

image source:google images

Seventy-five degrees, blue skies, birds twittering their songs in the trees with leaves swaying in the breeze, it’s a perfect Southern California fall day.

I go out and put water in the flower petal shaped birdbath for Mother since she hasn’t been feeling well.  She loves being outside, keeping the bird bath clean and filled with fresh water, but she’s out less and less these days.  Anyway, I add fresh water to it, right?  And above me, somewhere in the long, leafy branches of the apricot tree, a bird starts putting up a racket.  And I do mean racket, if you get my drift.

It’s a funny sound for a medium sized bird with red on the top of the head, a white throat, gray chest and black wings.

“Quack.  Quack.  Quack.”  Or if you prefer, Wikipedia says, “waaka, waaka, waaka.”  Sounds like “quack” to me.

I come back inside and the silly bird gets louder and louder.  The next time I look there are three of them at the bird bath.  Acorn Woodpeckers, so Mother says.

“Do you think that bird called his family to tell them there’s water in the birdbath?”  I ask.

Mother makes her way over to the kitchen window, her cane clunking right along with the quacking outside the open window.  Plunk, quack.  Plunk, quack.  Plunk, quack.

“Maybe so,” Mother says, “I’ve seen four of them at the birdbath, and two are young ones.”

They fly before long but the yard, which had been quiet until I turned on the water, is now filled with Sparrows and Finches poking around in the grass and there’s a busy squirrel moving up and down the fat, old trunk of the Apricot.

The quiet and the still has been replaced with chitter-chatter and an infinitesimal undulation of teeming life.  Bees and Hummingbirds vie for the prominent spot at the feeder; flies flit, butterflies dip and sway, ants march along the path, spiders swing on invisible threads and over the fence, the neighbor’s dog yaps.

Sunday afternoons have always meant no pressure to accomplish anything of significance and so I sit on the wooden bench rocker with the sun warming the top of my head and my skin.  The birds were startled when I came out, but the longer I sit still all the movement in the yard, trees and bushes returns.  I’m drowsy in the sun.  A kite floats overhead, its tail trailing just above the fence.  I reach up and catch the tip and am aloft.  As I look down, our patch of green shrinks until it’s just a tiny dot in the middle of the curvature of the horizon.

I see now how infinitesimal my grasp on life has been.  How small my dreams that only lived among the known heights and depths of what I could see and touch and hear and taste.  This blue ball in the swirling black expanse studded with twinkling dots is but a speck in all the universes that stretch to infinity and on and on.

I must go higher.  I urge to go higher but I am impotent as my balloon has no inertial dampeners, no life support, no sublight engines.

I lose height.  I float downward; the dots of green, the dark of mountains, the blue of the ocean, the black of its buried depths rush towards me; the tip of skyscrapers fly past and become giants once again.  I recognize the Apricot branches and aim for the back yard rocker where this trip started.

I’ve seen the heights, so what will change?  What will I believe?  What will drive me on through each day now that I know the truth?  Will I be satisfied again with being comfortable when someone else needs food or clothing or comfort?

No.  I cannot be happy with just getting by when unknown possibilities are there for the nurturing.  I cannot be buried with the stress of the temporariness of an aging body, a dying world.  I cannot allow the stresses and concerns of the tangible consume all my time and effort.  My thoughts flit back to the vastness of space and time.  There’s more; there’s a universe more; seek it, reach for it.  I find myself agreeing with Wordsworth,

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory
Do we come From God, who is our home:”

Genesis

image:bkt-6

image:bkt-6

Rock ward they come, flashes of green and turquoise,
flapping, squawking, on pillowed flight dives
t0 crash with shale splitting and crumbling.

Crabbing up; down; jolting into spars and squabbles,
attacking in nibbles to sharpen, scrape and toughen,
swirling away again in brilliant pinks and purples.

image:galleries.neaq

image:galleries.neaq

Round breath pushes through the watery murk,
iridescent, swift, gliding past, flitting up and down,
smoothly cresting, diving, frenzied
at the red until all is devoured;
again just murk, gliding swift, innocent and smooth.

image;google pics

image;google pics

Buried by multitudinous greens and yellows,
life crawls, hops, flits, scampers yet
some indeed change before the unannounced pounce.

The brilliant tomb rises
a heavenward peon, masking its
scarlet, turquoise, emerald,
gold, silver progeny;
some will emerge and soar,
others hide in its canopy shade.amazon greenpeace org

Creation’s circular splurt feeds
saplings and seedlings that giant
into green and yellow hues
that ever creep onward,
swallowing up the forward path, oozing out moisture, each drop falling
up, up, up, gathering at the top on its way to slide down, down, down;
new life ever buds and bursts and reaches.

Oh for the bravery of the Wild Outdoors

humingbird

image:birdsandblooms

You’ve seen hummingbirds, right?  Minute things whose wings go faster than you can see, know what I mean?  They’re like a blur, they move so fast.  And the colors!  Jewel tones, like deep green and red and purple; they’re like, wow, just gorgeous, get my drift?  And they’re drawn to red things, right?  So the feeder in Mother’s garden is red on the top and the bottom,can you picture it?  And she makes this red, sugary water syrup and the tiny little things are drawn to it.  They hover over the yellow, daisy shaped holes in the base and drink with their little bodies making tiny up and down movements.  In the heat of the summer, the bees are drawn to the feeder pine and they swarm around the little holes, which means the hummingbirds have to brave the bees to get any of the sugary water syrup and I feel for those poor little hummingbirds because not only do they have to eat several times an hour to survive, now they have to fight the battle of the bees taking all their nourishment.

Is that fair?  Is life fair?  Is there any place I can go to get nourishment that doesn’t include some battle against some force that wants to defeat me?  Will I have the strength and courage to keep up the fight for what I need?

image:thriftyfun

image:thriftyfun

Oh, for the bravery of the jeweled colored hummingbirds,                                                                    oh, for the bravery of the loud, buzzing, bright yellow and black bees,                                                                                                                                                                                 oh, for the bravery of the feral cats who stalk the jeweled colored hummingbirds in Mother’s yard,                                                                                                      who ignore the loud buzzing of the bright yellow and black bees,                                                                                                                                                                    those feral cats who’ve got our movements down                                                                                                                                                                                             who know to run when we come outside;                                                                                                                                                                                                                oh, for the bravery of the wild outdoors.

It wasn’t always this way.  In the gauzy memory of my childhood, my stalwart father’s cheerful, loving spirit hovered over our home as its benevolent and strong protector and my ever present Mother in her dutiful homemaker role made a safe and loving canopy for my brothers and my sister and I to grow; in those days our sanctuary included cats and a caged bird or two and there was harmony for both species.

But somewhere along the way, Mother decided that the back yard should be a bird sanctuary, so she had Daddy get her a stone bird bath, shaped like a huge concrete flower on its concrete stem and most days, she went out to clean out the birdbath and put in fresh water and she kept the hummingbird feeder filled and she determined to chase away the feral cats in the yard to keep them from stalking the birds.

image:ehow

image:ehow

At the merest sight of a cat, she rushed out as if she too had wings, all the while yelling or hissing at the cats and the yard erupted in the black and gray blur of running cats and a great cloud of bird wings rose from the grass to the fence and to the trees where they squawked loudly at the whole commotion.  These days, Mother has lost her wings and her movements are slow and ponderous, punctuated by her cane’s thunk and the times she gets outside are fewer, face it bud, it happens to the best of us, but this doesn’t change her worry, know what I mean?

No, what happens now, if you get what I’m saying, is, now she frets and fusses and tries to hiss at the cats through the window or bangs on the wood part of the back door to scare them off.  Or, she does try to slowly get outside and I’m sitting there, trying to write, and I’m thinking, how can I write with all this going on around me?  Is this part of the test of being a writer, being forced to find the concentration amid all the distractions?

image:fanpop

image:fanpop

I resist the urge to try to take over the task for her, resist trying to alleviate her stress, to make her situation better.  In truth, she’s the only one who can decide to let go of the things that make her nuts.  I can’t fix that for her, so I am resolved I will not let her stresses make me nuts.  I let go. I envision the hummingbird and I take flight.  I will fly unafraid as on the wings of a writer.