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.
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
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
They came before the sunbeams pierced the darkness. Two sets of heart-shaped foot prints lead to, around and then away from the small hills of corn I placed at the woodland’s edge, an offering to the wild things to gather strength and sustenance during an extended period of subzero temperatures. No remnants of the corn’s golden shell remain. To see my small hills of goodwill consumed fills my heart with joy.
From the size of the tracks, I decide it’s a doe and her off-spring from last year. Others have come, too; a rabbit, a field mouse, and several crows but it’s the deer tracks that take hold of my imagination. It’s safe for me to assume the doe is eating for two or three. The burden of nourishing the new life in her womb and her own life is greatest at this time of year. The shrubs and forages they have been eating over the long winter are depleted and spring growth hasn’t begun. It’s truly a time of life or death for some in the herd.
Soon her instincts will cause her to drive off the yearling. She does this to focus all her energy on raising this year’s vulnerable fawn(s). The yearling’s old life will come to an abrupt end. I’ll probably see it wandering around the fields looking lost and confused for a few weeks. Independence will come at a high price for some, crossing roads safely is a skill taught by experience. Others will adapt well to this time of transition, venturing out into a new way of living without hesitation, being an example of gentle strength and resiliency for all of us.
The thoughts of the big changes ahead for the yearling stayed with me as I walked on. The enduring trust the doe placed in her instincts is indomitable. She has clear knowledge that it is a lesson she can’t teach her yearling. Trusting its instincts is something the yearling can only learn by being driven off to live a new way. Nature reminds me of life’s continual cycle of renewal. Harsh as that may be at times, life never gets old.
As the years pass, I am beginning to understand that life doesn’t grow old. I do. And if the aliveness in this old life dies away, I will find a new way to live alive.
Note: The photo in the featured image is of an unusually friendly yearling that seemed to find comfort hanging out in our yard and around the horses last summer.
There is this sound tree leaves make when autumn winds brush over them with broken brisk strokes. It happens at the time leaf edges curl inward like the crest of a wave, the stems in between letting go and hanging on to the branches. If I close my eyes it doesn’t take much imagination to see myself sitting on a sandy beach listening to the motion of the ocean or the bank of an old river rolling with laughter. I hear the soothing, calm voice of water and instantly my tight thoughts unravel. I call this phenomenon tree water.
Sitting on the porch this morning, the sound of tree water from the little patch of woods in front of our home rushed into my ears and flooded my mind with wonder. Indigenous people teach water is life, the Peoples’ first medicine. For me the meaning of that teaching goes beyond physical well-being. Water creates a spiritual thirst for connection, a non-verbal intercommunication of belonging. For many of us, all we need is to hear the healing sound of water to feel the powerful peace of belonging.
The wind stops and I feel merged with Spirit. I am left with this strong desire to participate in life. I belong to something much greater than this world. I am like water, everywhere. Together we heal. Apart we lose heart.
“I believe in God, only I spell it nature”. ~Frank Lloyd Wright