West Virginia Morning: Riches

“We are told to consider the birds,” my friend says to me this morning, after I’ve confessed guilt feelings for staring out the window at the spring doings of my bird community for a prolonged time. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a waste of time.”

Sometimes God’s messengers wear skin and they bear such tidings as to douse a parched soul.

I’ve been reading John Burroughs’ Wake Robin (this version is free on Kindle). It’s a collection of his essays about birds and it has me captured. His delight for our little wingeds is so evident in his writing. What I’ve been doing is reading his description of a bird’s song and personality, then going to my birding app and listening to his descriptions take sound. It makes for slow reading but it unfetters my heart so. I can get caught up in learning about the ornithological world. Thus, guilt. But sweetness too.

There has been a bluebird pair checking out my box for a couple weeks now. Last week I saw the male dive at a red-bellied woodpecker who was clinging to the side of the box. I think that sharp-beaked intruder may have scared Mr. and Mrs. Blue away from nesting there, for when I peeked in the door this morning there was no evidence of nest-building. But I still hold out hope. Every time I pass the bay window in the kitchen I must pause to study the box and its surrounding habitat. One must be patient to catch a glimpse of nest building. Bluebirds are shy and furtive birds. I’ve stopped filling the feeders near that area so the neighborhood does not appear too noisy. I so want them to build their home inside that little shelter. Bluebirds haven’t nested in that box for over ten years. Not since the first two seasons I put it out. The house sparrows have always been more aggressive, no matter how many of their nests I pitched out.

Everywhere I look the birds are frolicking, caught up in the magic of spring. A robin couple has built their nest in one of our maple trees out back. I watched them carry dried grass and leaves to and fro for days, it seemed. But they seem all settled in now. I caught them in the act just yesterday as I walked Bonnie around the house. We came upon them unawares and they startled apart, taking flight like two nervous teenagers.

I am behind on my spring chores. Just this morning I trimmed back my crepe myrtles, meticulously making my way through each woody branch. I was dismayed to see new growth already and worried my tardiness will stunt the bush’s beauty. But nature is so forgiving. My lilac bush is filling out with heavy blossoms. And last season I neglected to prune it after its glory faded. Still, this season: beauty. The back yard is filled with its heady scent. This world dressed in spring holds so many fascinations.

Yesterday, I read this:

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” ~Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Yes. So many discoveries waiting to be seen. This thought fills me to overflow. I may not be poet enough to call forth the riches in my life, but my eyes will notice. My heart will be glad. There is no poverty here.

West Virginia Morning: Red-shouldered Hawk

There is a pair of red-shouldered hawks mating in the meadow behind our house. This morning, as I poured the coffee, I heard the distinct key-yeear, key-yeear, echoing in the sky. I quickly put down my mug and moved to the bay, searched the sky for the wide-winged soar. I spotted him just in time to see him land in the top of one of the walnut trees, where his mate awaited. I watched for several breath-stopping moments as they stilled, side-by-side, communicating who knows what kind of intimacies?

Hawks are monogamous and red-shouldered hawks often nest in the same area from year-to-year, sometimes reusing the same bundle of sticks labored over strenuously in past years. As far as I know, this is the first year this couple have graced us with their presence, so I was careful to stay still, out of sight, in fear they might determine our little meadow a lackluster place to raise their brood.

I watched, barely daring to breath, until they departed—the male with his boastful cry, the female in smooth silence. Even after they left I continued to search the sky, willing their return, longing for a closer glimpse of feathered beauty. This is not the first time I’ve seen these lovelies. Last week, before we took Ted back to school, he came clamoring down the stairs one afternoon.

“Mom, did you see that guy?” he asked, pointing out the window into the back yard. There, perched in the maple tree, was the Mister, greedily eyeing all my little finches who were enjoying my feeder. He was so close I could see his red shoulders. I could see the individual feathers on his rusty breast. I must have swooned because I could see the precise moment he noticed me watching through the window. It was an almost imperceptible twitch of his eyebrow before the most magnanimous lift-off. Suddenly, I was the air under his wings, lifting, lifting, until full in flight.

This is what it means to be fully present in a moment. How can I keep my eyes from searching the sky?

Bark Butter and other Small Joys


Flowers—and other growing things—like water. It’s amazing how much more they cooperate with being beautiful when they get some. So this morning I get up early to water the flowers and my tiny vegetable garden. There is a new raised bed in the back yard, waiting for me to fill. Yesterday, my father-in-law brought me a load of soil and we spent the afternoon shoveling and mixing and dreaming that empty bed full. All night long I slept on images of earth and roots and good things to eat.

This morning, I comb my hands through the loose soil—locating any stones or sticks or large clods of dirt. I break up the lumps of dirt, letting the soil stain my fingers; letting the smell of earth fill my lungs. I find some broken pieces of pottery, a bit of a tin can, and some unidentifiable plastic. Already it’s the kind of day that has a drop of sweat trickling down the small of my back. There’s a Cardinal in the maple tree making a fuss, asking me to please leave so she might visit the feeder in peace.

I pick some green onions and look over the wilted lettuce. It will need pulled up in the next couple days if it is to be worth anything. At that thought I feel my heart make room for squash and cucumbers.

I need to cut the dried blooms off the lilac, but already it’s getting too hot for that. I pull a few weeds around the bee balm; shake my head at how quickly they grow. The feeder needs filled so mamma Cardinal can have some breakfast so I go back inside and get the sunflower seeds. I pull out a container of bark butter—a recipe one of my patients told me about—and carefully place the block in the suet pocket.

My boys are sleeping in. Teddy is finished with school for the year and I can almost feel the contentment of his breathing through the walls. Jeffrey still has three days next week.

“NO ONE goes to school on the last day, mom,” he said to me yesterday. And he had that look on his face that I have seen on my own in pictures of a young me. Monday will be Step-up Day—the day all the eighth graders go to the high school to see what they are in for next year. I shake my head again. How quickly they grow.

Later, Jeff and I will go to the nursery to pick out some more pepper plants and blue lake pole beans. And who knows what else. This is the happy: being together, moving slow through the day, tending the earth.

How about you? What does Sabbath look like for you?

Bark Butter Recipe

2 cups of crisco
2 cups of peanut butter (I used crunchy, but it doesn’t matter)
4 cups cornmeal
2 cups rolled oats
2 cups bird seed or sunflower seeds (I put some overripe berries in too)
1 tsp. of honey

Stir it all together. I then pressed mine into small Tupperware containers to shape them into a size similar to the store bought suet cakes. Then I just pop them into the suet pockets of my feeder and let the birds enjoy!

For the Birds

The only thing I wanted for my birthday was a new birdfeeder. I wanted it positioned right outside my kitchen window so I could watch my birdies more closely. It took a couple weeks, but we finally found something that would work. Jeff and I installed the pole and I filled the feeder and waited.

And waited.

“They’re not going to come, mom,” Jeffrey said. “It’s too close to the window. They’re too afraid.”

“Just wait,” I said.

A couple weeks went by. Nothing.

Finally, we received our first visitor.

Little thief.

I waited some more.

“They’re not going to come, mom.”

Jeffrey expressed his opinion again this morning at breakfast. We were sitting in the bay enjoying our pancakes (well, I was having yogurt) when I had to get up to shoo away a couple ugly old Grackles. I sat back down.

“Do you remember Pitty-Pat?” I asked him.

Pitty-Pat was the wild cat that I managed to befriend and tame. He used to stalk my birds, so I knew I had to give him a taste of the easy life. He has since passed on to greener pastures.

“Um-hmm.”

“Remember how I first put food out in the meadow? And then gradually moved it closer and closer to the house? Until finally, he would sit in front of the French doors and meow at me to come feed him?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I remember.”

“Some things take time.”

Right about then, Lady Cardinal landed on the feeder and began to munch. And then…busy little Titmouse stopped by. Soon, a Purple Finch joined them.

I was afraid to breath. The boys grew quiet too.

“Happy birthday, mom. Just a little bit late,” Jeffrey said.

“See, it just took a little patience.”

“Patience,” Teddy said. “I don’t have any of that. I’ll check the archives.”

And the birds flew away.