Sunday, July 09, 2017

Fledgling on the ground

There's a fledgling on the ground. A baby cardinal in the grass, stretching its wings, but managing only a big hop forward on the grass, not flight. It's brown, not easily seen--through orange enough and pointy enough around the beak and head that it is distinctively cardinal. I saw it first because the bright adult male swooped down with food to share. He's hanging out nearby, in the mulberry and slippery elm and weedy trees that separate my yard from the alley. Chipping sounds are everywhere --hard for me to determine where they're coming from--and sometimes I heard the clear call of the adult male. He seems, to me, concerned, worried, as am I. He's the leader. He's persistent. He will solve this thing.

This patch of mown weeds and grass does not seem a dangerous spot, though a cardinal egg met its demise here a few weeks ago, I'm not sure how. Now there are other birds flying in and out of this patch of grass, many of them brownish, not-yet-adult cardinals, though it's hard to tell. Their heads in profile give them away, but the orange and red that give them their identity are not yet out.

I've watched for ten or fifteen minutes now, and that fledgling has finally gotten out of the open and disappeared into the weeds by the fence. I swear that little gathering of other young birds a few minutes ago provided cover, their meet-up on the grass urged the little one forward into safety. The anxious calls have ended. But I wonder, what will this fledgling's fate be on this quiet Sunday in July?

Bringing up children is the great drama of our lives. We leave our parents' nest, we fledge in the grass, succeed or fail, and repeat in the next generation.

My contemplative journey this Sunday morning began with opening Mary Gordon's "Reading Jesus" to the chapter on the Beatitudes. I went from there to a writing exercise on who has influenced my life and whether that influence was expansive or constrictive. My notebook now has notes about parents and spouse and a teacher, but this question could just as well lead to ruminations on sons and a daughter. The running themes are compassion and kindness, alongside courage and restlessness.

Sparrows and other small birds are now fishing goodies out of my gutters, in-and-out activity that makes a distinctively aluminum sound. There is so much life to watch here in my backyard, more than other places, perhaps, because I am careless about cutting down weed trees and cleaning out gutters. I am content to sit and watch and mark the presence of abundant life.

Which brings me back to Mary Gordon:
Mourning is not a moral act. To mourn is to mark. It is, in this, related to the artist's work. A kind of making. A making of something of the nothing caused by loss of the beloved. It is simply an act of deep human connection. ... It is, once again, a refusal on Jesus' part of the straight and strictly defined in favor of the deep movements of the heart.
God's eye is on the sparrow, and the fledgling cardinal. And God cares for my heart, my human, troubled heart.

Peace to you this Sunday morning!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sunday evening

For the last several weeks I've been watching a pair of cardinals who have claimed my back yard as part of their territory. They have built a nest in the cascade of Concord grape vines staked ten feet in the air on a rusty post next to my patio. The nest is well hidden. It is only because I spend time out there, morning and evening, that I know it's there. I looked for it only after seeing both male and female fly to perches near the nest, hop to the top of the vines and dive in.

I suspect from the goings and comings of both birds that there are babies by now. A couple weeks ago the story was all about the female, pulling strips of bark off a branch on the fence and flying into the tangle of leaves to wind each strip into the vines to secure her nest. A few days later I found one broken egg in the grass, with purple-gray spots on the shell, just like the picture of a cardinal egg that I'd seen when I looked up cardinals on Wikipedia. Last week I saw mostly the bright red male flying across the yard, perching on the pole that holds the hanging baskets of marigolds. From there it was a short flight upward to the post that holds the vine. Silhouetted, you could see the food in his mouth. He'd dive in. There'd be a rustle and a flutter--the female taking the food--and off he'd go again. This morning it was both birds flying in and out--hauling in bits of seeds and whatever else it is baby cardinals eat. I suppose I should scatter sunflower seeds on my back steps--it's what my Aunt Clara would have done. But then you have the challenge of keeping the squirrels away. Clara would sputter at them, but it didn't help much.

I've just finished reading Mozart's Starling, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. It's a good read, with chapters on linguistics, music, natural philosophy, Mozart, Vienna and a pet starling named Carmen. It made me listen more carefully to the birds in my backyard. I can't say I know much more about what I hear than I did a week ago, but I have a new sense that birds are not only chirping--they're listening. I can pick out the cardinals better, not just their pretty territorial boasting, but also the male and female chip-chipping at each other, one in the lilac bush, one near the nest, just to stay in touch. A couple nights ago, a multi-sentence fuss went out from the under the grapevines when I pulled out my chair and settled my candle and notebook on the table. "She's there. She's there. Want to be sure you know—she's there. Careful."

Every now and then I get out of my aluminum chair, step closer and look up at the nest from underneath, ducking my head under the umbrella of vines and trying to pick out which patch of grey brown is the actual nest. I can see it, barely, but it's above my head, so I can't see into it. I'm curious, but I don't need to know. I'll mind my business so that they continue to mind theirs. They are that kind of neighbor. .

I'm sitting in the backyard as I write this. It's growing dark. Since it's July 2, there are fireworks popping in the distance and the noise of traffic a few blocks away. I just watched the female cardinal come and perch next to the vine. I heard a soft chipping sound coming from the nest. For a minute I thought it might be the babies. I stared and listened hard. Then--a flash of bright red--just the male taking his turn at bringing food to the family. He flew off and she went in next.

So much going on. So many sounds. Such peace.