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.


“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.

From glory to Glory

They do not even wait until I leave anymore. As soon as I reach the feeder with my old rusty coffee can, they come–perch in tree and bush, hover above my head–and wait. They watch as I fill the transparent tubes, scatter seed on ground for the thrush and occasional rabbit.

Sometimes they sing.

This morning, as I knelt over the can of seed, a song sparrow lighted on the leggy forsythia bush. It was raining but I didn’t care as I stopped what I was doing and gazed up at his prehistoric form. He cocked his head to one side, as if to say, “On with it, lady!”

I smiled and finished the task at hand, barely stepping away before he flitted down onto the fragile sill of the seed trough.

I studied him, fast at work, and remembered my morning reading.

“Are you waiting for me to be revealed?” I mused. A strange, tingly feeling possessed me and it was my turn to wait.

When will this glory come? Mr. Sparrow was oblivious to my plight and if there was some secret knowledge in his heart of when the sons of God will be liberated from their state of decay, he wasn’t sharing.

He was too busy being cute.

Turning away, I savored the simple joy in my heart.

Back inside, I sat at the kitchen table and watched the others come, joining my lone sparrow for feasting. And I pondered the Words.

Sitting there, with rain softly pattering against window and birdsong lifting me, I realized there is nothing I want more. To be shed of burdensome desires, to carry only luminosity…to see with the eye of eternity…

Surly this is glorious.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that I would be so much happier if I did not have this dream in my heart. Suddenly, it felt very easy to let go.

The weight that lifted was tremendous and I wondered why God puts these dreams in our hearts, anyway. I knew it was a foolish thing to ponder. I know the answer. Well, part of it anyway.

The dreams themselves are beautiful. They give me yearning, longing, desire to seek. A metaphor for the Bigger Dream. But when I lose sight of this, when I hold the smaller dream in tightly clutched fists…this is when the yearning turns to sorrow.

Unsilting the two–sorting and sifting–this is the real work.

Why is it so easy to get lost? I ask it with an earnest heart. It is not my desire to put anything before Him.

And He reminds me of the birds. How they wait for me to fill the feeder. Trusting in my hand.

He is asking me to trust Him.

Do I dare? I have before, with mixed results–at least with these temporal eyes. Is my faith so fragile as to crumble with the smaller dream? Do I not still have the Bigger?

Does any of this matter anyway?

I know it does, and yet it doesn’t. Immediately before the verses I have been pondering, Paul says, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

It does, and yet it doesn’t. These heartbreaks, these daily hassles…they matter. But they don’t matter the most.

So I am sifting. My goal is to keep my thoughts focused on the higher things. It doesn’t mean these other things do not matter. They just need not matter as much.

Will you please pray? I thank you most sincerely. I am, after all, a work in progress.

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rom. 8:19-21)

photo by Steve Greaves, from flickr creative commons