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.

Earth’s Breath

On the cusp of this new season, Mother Earth’s breath smells of tender grass, sunlight and infinite possibility. Oh, the ambitious garden projects spring pushes us to complete in the light of one day! I’ve learned much about gardening over the years. All that collective wisdom can be summed up in one sentence. Garden chores may stiffen my bones but they soften the soreness in the world.

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ~ Margaret Atwood

Saint and Angels

At the time little did I expect a slight deviation from my usual route home would have me wrestling with a Saint and hitching a ride with two angels!

The distant horizon sizzles with hues of orange and yellow as the sun burns down for the day. My five-dollar sunglasses do nothing to relieve the discomfort so I resort to looking through the slits of my lowered eyelids. Further on, I vaguely make out a four-legged animal crisscrossing the road. As the distance diminishes, I see a large St. Bernard dog. Oblivious to the angry honks and near misses of passing cars, the Saint seems to have a guardian angel sitting on his shoulder. I decide that taking the Saint out of harm’s way will be worth the slight interruption to my commute home.

I pull onto the gravel shoulder. Half my car still protrudes into the lane of traffic. In the dwindling light, the glow of my car’s yellow hazard lights provides intermittent protection as other cars zip by.

His nose hovering just a fraction of an inch above the earth inhaling the sweet essence of virgin ground. The Saint doesn’t even notice me. I pat my hands on both knees and, in a high pitched, soft mothering tone, I call out, “Come here boy! Come here! Aren’t you a handsome fellow.” Not even a glimpse my way. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was no match for the sights and smells of the impending adventure of unfettered canine freedom. Hmm. What to do? I return to my car and take the ten-minute old sub out and, like magic, I have the Saint’s attention!

The Saint lumbers over to me. Grabbing his collar is the easy part, reading his tag proved to be as infuriating as the buzz of a mosquito when you’re trying to fall asleep. A phone number is printed on the tab. Sub devoured, he wants to go where he wants to go. There’s my dog, Wally’s, leash. With a Houdini like maneuver, I manage to get the leash snapped onto his collar. I take out my phone and call the vet. The secretary has no luck contacting the owner so she gives me the Saint’s home address. I decide the easiest option is to simply take him home.

After several long minutes of trying to coerce the stubborn Saint into the back of my car, it’s obvious he’s doesn’t want to get in a vehicle, much less ride in one. OK, I say under my breath. I’ll just walk you home. By my best guesstimate, I figure his rural route address is East of our present location.

After a few steps I realize our fate is sealed. The adventure begins. His familiarity of being lead on leash is even less than that of his time riding in a vehicle. He proceeds to drag me in and out of the ditch at will. I get soaked on the first ditch detour but I’m not letting go. Stiff dry weed stalks are cutting my arms. At points he lies down and refuses to move. After catching his breath he’s off and running. I brace myself against mailboxes to hold us back from heading into traffic. I am as determined to hang on as he is to make me let go! My breath is heavy and hot, the salty taste of sweat on my lips. We tangle and untangle in the cord tethering us together like a choreographed dance between capture and escape.

Finally, as the glow of the sun’s dying embers burns out I find his house. My guesstimate was terribly wrong. After heading ¼ East we had to double back and go another ¼ West. Of course nobody is home so I confine him to the garage. Satisfied my punishing ordeal is over, I give myself a once over. Mud covers my numb arms and the constant jerking motion has given me a sore shoulder. Beneath the cool mud balm the sting of tiny cuts and scrapes works its way through the dried blood.

I am a hot mess. I mean that literally not figuratively. As I shake my head in disbelieve, a giggle wiggles its way out of my belly. The giggle quickly turns to hysterical laughter. I tuck knotted strands of hair riddled with weeds behind my ear. As I struggle to regain my composure, far in the distance, I see the faint pulsing glow of yellow hazard lights. The good laugh seems to have cured all my wounds, seen and unseen. Satisfied my Saintly mission is accomplished, I head out carrying its good medicine in my memory—laughter.

Exhaustion is setting in and each step is heavy and slow.  The smile still stretched across my face, I ask my guardian angels for protection and strength as I walk down the silent country road. The gleam of headlights gone. With a chuckle, I say out loud. I guess you never know where a good deed will lead… you…Angie.

Then out of nowhere, a car appears! The arm of its passenger frantically waving me over. I can’t believe it! Two wonderful women offer me a ride back to my car. As we drive, I recount the St. Bernard story to rousing laughter. Laughter has a way of  lifting the weight of our humanness off our spirits. As we depart I had an amusing thought. Not all Saints are angels and not all angels have wings.

“Every time you do a good deed you shine the light a little farther into the dark. And the thing is, when you’re gone that light is going to keep shining on, pushing the shadows back.” ~Charles de Lint

 

 

Unknown Territory

Here in Northeast Wisconsin, warmer weather is arriving painfully slow. Spring makes an appearance then disappears, taking her green magic with her. This time of year we experience what I call Old Man Winter’s dark white. The extended transition time weighs heavy on the spirit of many folks. As each dark white day passes, the anticipation of spring  grows green in our hearts. We know spring will come but we worry about how long it’s taking to get here. It’s precisely this “knowing” that stirs up the crazy in people.

I watched a pair of robin’s, hopping through the snow, stopping occasionally on a grassy patch to cock their heads sideways and listen for worms. Later, they were bouncing through the branches of our crab apple tree gobbling down shriveled up fruit from last season. They don’t “know” when or where their next meal will come from, yet they survive on the unknown, living life in complete acceptance of what is.

Weather, a master at teaching non-judgment and surrender, gives us daily lessons on how to release control and follow the flow. The robin’s made it look easy. Following the flow is all about the awareness of whether you are flailing or floating through this fleeting moment.  To arrive at this place of complete surrender, give up the narrow mindedness of knowing and widen your mindfulness of the unknown—explore the great unknowns.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”~ Mark Twain

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.

Holy Hive

Reluctantly, I turn up the edge of my wool hat, exposing an ear’s tender thin skin to the air’s frosty bite. I feel the white flesh turning pink then bright red as the sharp prickle travels down deeper and further into the ear tissue. I momentarily suspend my breathing as I firmly press the naked ear to the hive wall. Sealing out all the noise I can, hoping to funnel in the familiar soothing hum of the hive, hinting that winter’s wickedness hasn’t desecrated the hives holiness.

Early on in our beekeeping venture, these late-winter checks filled me with strong worry. Six years and four hives later, my faith and trust in our ability to keep bees alive over winter has grown, but with the abundance evil’s rising against the bee, I still rely heavily on God’s ear hearing the hum of my prayers.

One of the biggest contributors to a hive’s winter survival is having ample food stores. Bees create a substance in the hive known as beebread. The secret recipe is a mixture of honey, pollen and bee saliva. A process of fermentation breaks down the pollen’s protein which is indigestible in its natural state. Beebread is an invaluable high-energy food source.

Beebread is also known as “food of the Gods”. How appropriate! A bee’s life work is creating a space to unite the gifts of light with the gifts of darkness. They are Creator’s original light workers! Bees show us that when we bring our Spirit’s light into our soul’s darkness, we can make a honey of a life.

May you receive honey’s sweet sacrament. Take communion from the buds and blooms of Creator’s Divinity.

Blessed be thy bee.

Holy is thy hive.