Suddenly a blackbird flew to the top of a beech. She perched way up on the tompost twig that stuck up thin against the sky and sat there watching how, far away over the trees, the night-weary pale-gray heavens were glowing in the distant east and coming to life. Then she commenced to sing.
Her little black body seemed only a tiny dark speck at that distance. She looked like a dead leaf. But she poured out her song in a great flood of rejoicing through the whole forest. And everything began to stir. The finches warbled, the little red-throat and the gold finch were heard. The doves rushed from place to place with a loud clapping and rustling of wings. The pheasants cackled as though their throats would burst. The noise of their wings, as they flew from their roosts to the ground, was soft but powerful. They kept uttering their metallic, splintering call with its soft ensuing chuckle. Far above the falcons cried sharply and joyously, “Yayaya!”
The sun rose.
~Felix Salten from Bambi
I had not actually been aware of the silence of the winter sunrise until the birds returned this week and the stillness retreated. Last autumn their joyous morning songs had gradually ebbed as darkness expanded, the heavy frosts driving them south to more hospitable climates. Once in a while, if I listened carefully, there would be geese and trumpeters flying overhead with audible wing rushes and an occasional honk, though invisible in the fog and morning clouds.
Otherwise the eastern winter horizon would be lit to glowing each morning in stillness, without announcement or heralding song. As if no one was there to notice.
The sunrises have a soundtrack again, just a few lines to introduce the symphony of spring around the corner. In a short few weeks it will be all out booming chorus and I’ll be wishing for bird mufflers at 4:15 AM.
And so joy returns in the morning and I’m noticing.
A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh,
a breath; One group of trees, lean,
naked and cold,
Inking their cress ‘gainst a
One path that knows where the
corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the
fields went brown
~Angelina Weld Grimke “A Winter Twilight”
Our farm’s lone fir is a focal point of the neighborhood,
standing grand on the highest hill for several miles around.
Raptors use this tree for views of the surrounding fields.
The horses love the shade on hot summer days.
It is backdrop for glorious sunsets and rising moons.
Yet in winter I find myself admiring it most —
Its steadfast presence, so stoic and unyielding
though buffeted by cold wind and icy storms.
Decades of seasons flow past the lone fir,
“silence slipping around like death,
yet chased by a whisper, a sigh,
Why, who makes much of miracles?
As to me, I know nothing else but miracles…
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me [all] is a continual miracle…
When I go to our 100+ year old hay barn to fetch a couple of bales for the horses, I stop to marvel at the continual miracle of this barn. It is breaking down along its roof crest, yes. It is sorely in need of another coat of paint, yes. It has leaks where the winter winds have blown shingles off so the rain and snow come straight indoors, yes.
Yet these old growth beams and rafters, recycled from a nearby dismantled saw mill over a century ago, continue to do their job of holding up the world encased within. This home of pigeons, swallows, bats, barn owls, mice, rats, raccoons, skunks and possum remains a steadfast sanctuary for the harvest of our hill. For decades it has remained steep and silent, serene and solace-filled.
Every cubic inch, the streams of light and the shadowy dark, inside and out, is wonder-full, even when it is empty in the late spring and especially when packed to the rafters, as it is now, with this summer’s hay crop. The miraculous is grown, cut, dried, raked, baled, hauled, stacked and piece by piece, stem by stem, as it sustains living creatures through three seasons of the year.
I have the privilege of entering here every day and witnessing the miracle year after year.
I know nothing else but miracles, despite my own sagging, my weakening foundation and some *occasional* inopportune leaking of my own.
I know where and to whom I belong.
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Jesus, sovereign over all, does not cry “Mine!”
To Christ Our Lord
I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
…And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird…
~Emily Dickinson from Poem 254
The end of the school year is the season of barely feathered hope in my world. The academic nest is crowded, the competition fierce, the future uncertain. Those who have struggled to survive in classes, in debt, in relationships, in a tenuous job market, can find themselves ill equipped and unprepared to fly on their own. Their lack of feathering becomes obvious the closer they get to the edge. Bashed and abashed, they worry and panic, sleep little, self-medicate, cry easily, contemplate death. Sometimes they tumble.
We try to catch them before they fall.
We remind them: it takes only one feather to have hope in a soaring future of grace and strength. Only one.
The others will come.
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “God’s Grandeur”
This morning springs in beauty, in hope for a new day and I am grateful again for another chance.
That could be me bent and broken on the hard ground, as defenseless as the baby swallows tumbling helpless out of their crowded and soiled nests in our barn rafters, left to die cold and featherless and alone.
Thank God for His brooding breast keeping me safe. Thank God I am still in the nest waiting to test my wings.
The roofs are shining from the rain,
The sparrows twitter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.
Yet the back yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree–
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.
– Sara Teasdale, April
Here we are, closing in on mid-April and it has been a week of heavily drifting snowstorms in the plains, tornado weather in the south, and blustering wind and rain in the northwest. I am not so sure of Spring nor is anyone else.
Yet it sings in me. Yes it sings.
The calendar does not lie, nor does my nose. The pollen counts are rising despite the rains and as I step outside in early dawn, I can catch the slightest fragrance of just-opening cherry and apple blossoms in the orchard. Within a week there will be sweet perfume in the air everywhere and the fruit trees become clothed in white puffy clouds of blossom before bursting full into green.
In defiance of the calendar, our oak trees cling stubbornly to their brown bedraggled fall leaves as if ashamed to ever appear naked, even for a week. In May they will go straight from brown to green without a moment of bare knobby branches.
Even so, it sings in me. Yes it sings.
A morning bird symphony tunes up ever earlier including the “scree” and chatter from bald eagles high up in the fir trees surrounding our house. Nesting has begun despite the wet and cold and wind because their nest is the secure home that calls them back, again and again, year after year.
Like them, it sings in me. Yes it sings.
I rise opening like a bud, I dress my nakedness to cover up my knobbiness, I wander about outside exulting in the free concert, I manage to do chores despite the distractions — this routine of mine which is so unchanging through the calendar days becomes glorious gift and privilege.
Hopefulness sings in me in Spring. Yes it sings.
Late February days; and now, at last,
Might you have thought that
Winter’s woe was past;
So fair the sky was and so soft the air.
The happy birds were hurrying here and there,
as something soon would happen…
– William Morris from Earthly Paradise
We’ve had a pair of bald eagles who return every winter to our hilltop farm. They like the high perches offered by our tall Douglas fir trees providing them a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside and fields. I suspect their nest is nearby, if not in our woods. They were back today, full of conversation and gossip, chittering back and forth like a couple of sparrows, only much louder and much much bigger/grander. The regular inhabitants of our fir trees — crows and red-tailed hawks — are quite put out at the encroachment of eagles on their territory. They fly about the trees angrily, with scolding and harassing calls.
But the eagles reign wherever they set down talons. There is simply nothing to argue about. My only worry about having them in the yard is how vulnerable our cats might be when the wild bunny pickings get thin. Otherwise I appreciate the eagles for the good neighbors they are. They keep the rodent population under control, they are polite and don’t throw raucous parties at night, and they have a stable long term marriage, something I deeply respect.
So when their chirpy dialogue quiets down for the night and the hoot owls start in, I think about how much I always miss all this conversation during the silent nights of deep winter. Happy birds are back, a truly hopeful sign that we are passing into spring, and something soon will happen…
Silence and darkness grow apace, broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods. Songbirds abandon us so gradually that, until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay, we haven’t fully realized that we are bereft — as after a death. Even the sun has gone off somewhere… Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed, and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head.
~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”
Every day now we hear hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer. The usual day-long symphony of birdsong is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering, the occasional dog barking, with the bluejays and squirrels arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.
In the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, the owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant conversation echoing back and forth. The horses confined to their stalls in the barns snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.
But there is no birdsong arias, leaving me bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wake me at 4 AM in the spring. No peeper orchestra from the swamps in the evenings, rising and falling on the breeze.
It is too too quiet.
He shielded him and cared for him;
he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
11 like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft.
12 The Lord alone led him;
Deuteronomy 32: 10b-12a from the Song of Moses
3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
Exodus 19: 3-6. 25
We live where eagles live. It is a rare day to not see an eagle sitting in the tall firs around our farm, or flying over the river in search of salmon, or circling high above the valley. They command awe and my attention is riveted by their strength and beauty.
The eagle, of all God’s creatures, is used as metaphor by God Himself for the care He feels for His people. The wings of an eagle carry the weight of the world’s cares.
So too, the weight of the world is carried by a baby earth-bound, born in a barn to eventually die on a cross. Either soaring on the wings of eagles, lying helpless in the straw or hanging forsaken on a tree so we are forever forgiven.
That is man, that God is mindful of us.
That is God, wanting us to know He loves us enough to carry us.
…those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40: 31