Any “birdie” home?

The hum of my early morning barn chores is temporarily paused to listen to the prayerful song of returning migratory birds. With each passing day a growing variety has been calling our home theirs. From the woods, I hear the unmistakable throaty flute-like song of the Wood Thrush. Not to be out sung an Eastern Phoebe, perched on its favorite Maple tree, joins in with a two-parted song that it is named for; “fee-bee, fee-bee”. The Phoebe family has been returning to the mud and grass nest they constructed under our eave for the past ten or so years. It’s the warbling, musical whistle coming from the direction of our prairie that turns my ear away from all the other melodies. The expressive song is soft and gentle. As I make my way to a good viewing position of the nest box mounted in the prairie, I see a glint of azure blue flicker on the ground. The most heavenly blue I know.  Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, the bluebirds are back!

In the mid-20th century, the Eastern Bluebird numbers plummeted, mostly due to the depletion of nesting habitat. Due to the efforts of many organizations and nature loving people, the Bluebird population has rebounded. Gardeners are richly repaid for attracting Bluebirds to their yards as their diet consists almost entirely of insects. Long before backyard gardeners, farmers cultivated this beneficial friendship. In the beginning of the conservation work, farmers lead the way by creating “Bluebird Trails” on their land. Open fields near wooded areas are a favorite habitat. People once understood the importance of these interspecies relationships. Unfortunately, it seems to be something we have to relearn. My experience with the Bluebirds gives me hope.

Thanks to an environmentally conscious Uncle and his gift of a bluebird nest box, I became part of the efforts to bring their population back from the brink of extinction in the 1980’s. We banded fledglings, counted pairs and kept records on brood batches. I am eternally grateful for my early introduction to “Blue Birding”. I still have the gifted nest box. It’s nearly 30 years old and usually one of the first nest boxes of the dozen or more around our property to be claimed by a mated pair.

The delightful gentle greeting of the Bluebird’s song each spring reminds me of the worthiness in friendships. Relationships forged and fortified over time.  How together, each one saves the other. We must be vigilant of the fragile friendships we have with the natural world. I believe in the undeniable strength of our interrelatedness. It’s much better to think of ourselves as a part of the whole together than it is a piece apart. We are all living one life.

All I can say about my prayers for the Bluebird is that sometimes they are sturdy, built of wood and mounted on a high post with a predator guard.

Note: As the feature image above shows it’s always a good idea to attach entrance predator guards to help limit predation of the nest box.  Sassy kitty’s can put their paws in but they can’t reach down and get at the young birds. Remember to clean out the box after each brood has fledged. The bluebirds will build a new nest on top of the old nest material with each hatching (1-4 each season), raising the nest dangerously close to the entrance hole.

Share the Road

On a cold, rainy October night I found him coming home from an extracurricular trip. At the last minute, I swerved to miss what I thought was a crumbled up brown paper bag on the edge of the road. As I passed it I thought, “Gosh that looked like a kitten. Could it have been a kitten? But it didn’t move. Please don’t be a kitten”.

A short way up the road I turned around and headed back, parking behind the object to see if I could distinguish what it was with my headlights without actually heading out in the rain. It was indeed a kitten, an orange tabby, head drooped down, body close to the pavement. I hurried out of the car to the listless kitten then slowed, unsure if it would make a run for cover in the ditch. There was no need for fear. The emancipated kitten had little life left. I assumed it had come out onto the road to absorb what it could of the days’s heat from the pavement. Gently, I scooped the wet dazed kitten into my warm hands and held it close to my body.

Once in the car, I began delicately drying it off with a blanket from the back seat. Each wipe across its body revealed the severity of the kitten’s condition. Every vertebra in its backbone was visible, its skin loose, eyes sunken. In the car’s dim interior light I could tell the kitten could take it’s last breath at any moment. I thought, I won’t let it die alone. That’s when I heard it, the faint sound of a purr. Tears gushed out of my eyes. It must have taken all its strength to purr. That was it; I was going to do all I could to save this one little orange life! Home we sped.

I stayed up with the kitten all night, locked in the bathroom because our than, two-year-old yellow lab, Wally, thought it was a chipmunk. I fed it whenever it woke. I was honest with my children about the kitten’s condition. My son, teary eyed, kept telling me to save it. My daughter, a bit older, had no doubts that I’d try my best.

That was eight years ago. We named the male orange tabby Glow because if it wasn’t for his “glow” in my headlights I would have passed him thinking he was a brown paper bag. Glow’s feet didn’t touch the ground during the first month he was with us. He was my daughter’s real life “baby”. He was content to be swaddled in her doll blankets, taken for stroller rides around the house or snuggled with up with in her bed. I attribute his strong desire to both give and receive affection to this time of bliss.

Glow left this world unexpectedly on February 15th. The road brought him to our family and it took him from us. Our hearts are heavy with grief. There is a palpable emptiness in my day. His beautiful soul light  will be dearly missed. He was my constant companion, a keeper of my heart’s secrets, a source of great joy and forever my orange crush. We gave him  a good life and he made ours better for it.

Glow was one of those special  cats with a personality. He took pleasure from the catnip plants scattered throughout the yard and keeping the rodent population on our farm in check. When you held him, he melted into your body, gently kneading and purring in contentment. He gave abundantly of his love but demanded the same depth of affection be reciprocated whether you felt you had the time or not. He taught our family much about unconditional love, joy’s simplicity and the innate ability of playfulness to brighten your spirit.

On the road of life we pass by many opportunities to show compassion and kindness to other beings. Pay close attention to those that spontaneously place themselves onto your path. They are a special gift. This road of life we are on is meant to be shared. It’s the caring we share along the way that makes the rewards of our earthly journey real.

The Lakota have a word, Toska, which is said when parting. It is not goodbye. I understand it to mean I will see you again. Maybe that will be tomorrow, next year or in the Spirit world….. but I will see you again.

Toska Glow….Toska.