A Pair of Blackbirds

Before you read any further, I will tell you the moral of this tale. There is so much right in front of our eyes we just don’t see because we are busy looking for something else. I stumbled onto this discovery now that the blackbirds have gone. This is a soaring bird story that begins with bears and bird feeders. On my side of the mountain, bears compete for the birds’ food. Paws up for a fast, fatty protein shake, and the birds have nothing left. And no one wants to attract the bear population, so residents in our community are encouraged to bring in the feeders.

I have missed the bird feeder activity in this new home. I consider birds more than passing visitors. Bird song and dashes of color have the power to lift my heart and pull my attention away from fretting. As we entered deeper into winter the only winged sightings in my new world were a pair of blackbirds. And they were daily visitors, the only sky dots in the horizon I could count on seeing from my work space. I somewhat begrudgingly began to anticipate their appearances, and on some days I could be swept up in their flight patterns. On occasion three or four blackbirds appeared high above the hardwoods and pines, dipping and swooping, and I imagine working together to find a meal or two.

Drawn to the neighbor’s chicken coop, the birds with huge beaks, wide wing spans, and a bit of a ruffled appearance would strut about the fence with a high step, as though on parade. At times I felt that later in the day they intentionally joined me for my afternoon walk. While I was silent, they could keep up a running commentary with an amazing variation of crucks, gurgles, and broken door bell sounds.

The last time I had an up close encounter, Kate, my red headed border collie, and I were making a slow turn of the town park, a place designed as natural habitat for flora, fauna, and wildlife creatures. I was startled into a standing tree pose by a song like none I had ever heard, a deep throated call that seemed at the same time to be knocking and gargling. It was actually quite beautiful, like a chord from Benjamin Britten. From a short distance came a resounding response. I would not move for fear this awesome moment would pass too soon. All the while my eyes scanned the tree tops to identify the sources. After a prolonged period of no activity, just as Kate and I continued our circular path, two blackbirds merged from different trees, flying so close I wanted to reach up and touch.

Instead I returned home determined to learn more about the crows that  had companioned my winter. If I couldn’t see the finches and nuthatches, the robins and the bluebirds, I could come to appreciate the blackbirds that were clearly visible.

A click on links to learn about crows created a moment of cognitive dissonance – what I was recording in my notes conflicted with what I held to be certainly true. Several facts, however, shifted my point of reference. Crows like crowds and hang out in large extended families. They flap-flap-flap their wings, and for the most part caw, caw, caw. Ravens! Ravens are more solitary, often sighted in pairs, can entertain with graceful soaring, gliding, flights and only humans can exceed the vocal range of ravens.  All winter I had been accompanied by ravens and I did not take the time or attention to come to know them and respectfully call them by name. Though seen in larger numbers and with greater frequency in the Northern and Western states, the ravens also roost in the mountains of western North Carolina.

While raven thoughts may turn to high school literature, and Edgar Allen Poe’s dreary winter night disturbance – a visitor rapping and tapping at the chamber door, I am drawn to the Greek mythology of the raven as symbol of good luck. However, I missed the message because I failed to look closely at the messenger. I wanted to see red birds, blue birds, snow birds, and finches and nearly ignored the insistent presence of Apollo’s herald.  I would be remiss if I did not share the other reported side of a raven’s reputation for being naughty, creating annoying problems from stealing golf balls to pecking holes in airplanes wings – clearly attacking strangers inhabiting their space.

Just as I was eager to shout out a greeting, welcoming the ravens to my territory, I noticed their sudden disappearance. I surmise that they have flown to higher altitudes for a bit of nesting this spring. The bears are out of their dens, and the buds and insects, worms surfacing after spring rains, have attracted birds of many varied feathers and am I over the moon excited, but now I have an eye that will never stop scanning the skies for the jet black titled wings of the raven.

Thanks Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, my go to source for all I want to know about birds:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Common_Raven/id

common_raven_glamor

© Chuq Von Rospach

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World Within Worlds

Words are another wow factor in my life. Since childhood I have opened the pages of my dictionary with the wonder of discovery – the origin, variants of meaning, pronunciation, uses in a sentence, synonyms, and antonyms. I was clearing off a bookshelf last week, and discovered the Merriam Webster I had used since college days – its worn blue cover, the binding pulling away from the spine at the corners. Inside the cover I had at one time begun to make a list of the words I had looked up – harridan (scolding old woman), insouciant (lighthearted unconcern)….I don’t often use its pages these days because my fingers more immediately type the word in Google search and open up whole new worlds of information.

This past week I stumbled into an expanding universe of new words, and developed an enormous admiration for those that have explored the heavens as astronomers, despite odds I could not have fathomed. In the novel, The Stargazer’s Sister, Carrie Brown recreates from the nineteenth century the story of Carolina Herschel, sister of composer and astronomer William Hershel. At a very early age “Lina” falls under the influence of her brilliant brother, twelve years her senior, as he opens her mind and imagination to a world beyond what we see.

Animalcules – that’s the word that first grabbed my imagination. William delights in giving Lina vivid images of the discovery of animalcules. I immediately liked the way this unfamiliar word slipped across my tongue, and formed images of microscopic animals. I needed to know more. Animalcules – Dutchman Anton va Leeuwenhoeck’s name for the little swimmers he discovered in his microscope. After her introduction to the microscopic world, Lina begins to draw animalcules with tails and horns.. When William points out that these animalcules are “worlds within worlds”, Lina began to see in each raindrop that ran down the glass window a whole city with “its minarets and towers, its bustling populace” (17).

Herschel, captivated by the stars, had already begun his own quest to build a telescope of mighty proportions, in order to see the hidden world in the night skies. I am not sure why I was caught off guard to discover that the prevailing attitude of the times created barriers in his efforts, for he was tampering with God’s territory. We do seem to fear whatever challenges the world as we know it. I know I don’t want to ever lose the wonder of our universe, and miss seeing the “worlds within worlds.” It’s rather tied to a realization that I am not ever alone or totally on my own. There it is again -that immense web of relationships that forms every aspect of our universe.

Today’s language for what can be seen under the microscope or at the end of telescopes creates a vocabulary well beyond my claim for knowledge. Animacules – now that’s something I can get my head around. Little swimmers invisible to the naked eye, but essential to my world, mysteries to unfold. Cause for gratitude for the unseen life that makes my own existence possible.

 

Shaping My Worldview

I see my world through a lens shaped by my experiences in life. I am Mother and Grandmother who takes seriously the pure joy of these loves. Widowed after nineteen years of marriage, my pursuit of education, the teaching profession and theological studies took on new meanings. I consider my religious identity, which took root in my growing up years as a Catholic in the South, formed more intentionally in six years as a young adult living in a religious community, and emerging into ever new ways of understanding God, an essential part of who I am.

Born near the Atlantic Ocean and vacationing in the North Carolina mountains near my Daddy’s childhood home, I developed a love for the natural world. These experiences bind me to a loving creator. In addition to the world of words and books, I find great joy in mountain hiking, traditional and bluegrass music, playing notes on our dulcimer, or crocheting patterns marked for beginners. Child of the South. Nun. Wife. Widow. Mother. Grandmother. Teacher. Writer. Friend. There’s more, so much more that captures my heart, but this makes for a good beginning. How about that!

Invitation to “Come What May”

From the beginning – I have scribbled in notebooks since I was eight years old, wanting to make sense of the world through words. I thought that perhaps arriving at the just-right alignment of words in my universe should put everything in perfect order. In January, I celebrated my 70th birthday and to date I am still playing with words. Along the way I learned to love the process rather than the outcome and to embrace the questions more than the answers. Awe and discovery keep me alert and what I don’t know or didn’t realize continues to absolutely amaze me.

When my grandchildren uncovered this truth, they became my echoes. Listening to their adventures, their creative spins on life, and astute observations, I am apt to say “How about that!”. They turn to me with big grins, a shake of their heads and repeat “How about that!”. “It must be an old-people’s thing”, they say. Yes, I am elder-ing and love this curve in my life. All my life I have been nourished by writers, and now that I am moving at a more measured pace, I want to join their ranks, taking my turn at spinning the wheels of wisdom.

Welcoming the privileges of being an old lady, I am also much more willing to “let come what may”. Instead of making my to-do lists, I rely on a notepad shaped like the bottom of my morning coffee cup. I randomly scribble those things I should consider doing inside the circle – something like a daily mandala. Then I pay attention to what floats to the surface, and gives me a nudge. I like to think of this method as an organic approach to my day. My posts will be just that – an organic emerging of “come what may”.  I welcome you to join me in the wanderings and wonderings. How About That!