As I stood by the dining room window, a cup of warm tea in my hand, I watched a pair of cardinals fly from one branch to another in the cluster of maple trees. The bright ruby male I noticed first; the female was more subtle, her beauty accentuated by the flecks of red in her proud crest.
My kids were doing their school work but quickly abandoned their math problems to join me in birdwatching. While avoiding homework is typical, choosing to watch for birds was an original excuse.
Surprisingly, their interest extended beyond school time. Bored by streaming shows and participating in zoom meetings, my family’s interest in our new feathered friends was piqued as well.
In our yard, the birds have always been there. Our house is surrounded by trees. We have filled the same bird feeder for years. The change was not in the behavior of the birds. The change was in us. We slowed down. We noticed. We were intrigued.
The ruby cardinal, the bright blue bird with a soft brown belly, the black and white speckled body of a woodpecker, once fuzzy in the background were now distinct in our vision. Our environment became our entertainment.
Behind our house, nestled in the woods, is a small pond. We watched as a blue heron, equal parts elegant and awkward, took flight from the pond. Slow, fluid movements of its outstretched wings seemed to zap the bird of all its energy until momentum thrust it onward. It flew over one of our flower beds, where we had placed an oriole feeder. I hoped to attract the bright birds with clementines and grape jelly. Nearby, red-winged blackbirds, perched on a tall weed in the cornfield, chattered while the blue heron continued on its flight.
One sunny day, my daughter challenged me to a game of pig at our basketball hoop. Since I was helplessly losing anyway, I decided to try a trick shot. I turned around backward and tossed the ball up with a wing and prayer.
As the ball was arching towards the hoop, we spotted something better than a game-winning swoosh shot, a pair of bald eagles. They were gracefully gliding in circular movements. The birds truly looked majestic against the blue sky. The sight of the birds conjured up feelings of freedom and strength.
While walking our dog, we heard another example of strength in the avian world. A rolling churrr and a drumming sound echoed back to us from across a ravine. Our eyes followed the sound to see contrasting black and white feathers as a red-bellied woodpecker flew from tree to tree before landing at our bird feeder. It paused briefly and then continued to take flight across the yard.
Another variety, the pileated woodpecker, has been spotted at a distance in our woods on occasion too. It is a rare treat to see the larger bird; its mocking call is slightly unsettling but still a delight to hear.
During the time of the stay-at-home order, we started to feel like caged birds. My husband felt the need to create an office in our camper.
My boys convinced me one night to spend the night in the camper. The walk to the driveway was short, but the night was long. Sleeping on a bunk bed, I woke up several times throughout the night and into the early morning.
It’s hard to be angry, though, while being serenaded by birds. First, I heard a barred owl hooting in the trees behind me and then the soft cooing of morning doves. I also heard one turkey call long before my hunters awoke. I gave up on sleep when the roosters began to crow.
Just like the long night in the camper transpired into a beautiful sunrise, this quiet time at home shall too come to pass. I have faith that we will be able to return to regular activities again. It is my hope that my children will remember the lessons they learned during the stillness of the pandemic.
When stressed, I want them to think of the tranquil movements of the blue heron and suppress their anxious thoughts with images of carefree sparrows swooping over the lake by the barn. Just like orioles represent sunshine, I desire for them to be a light in this world.
As for our country, I hope we think about the bald eagle and the freedom, bravery, and strength it symbolizes.
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