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The Meaning of It All
from the April 2006 Star Beacon
The Bird Tribes
One of the most
delightful aspects about this time of year is the return of our feathered
population. Birds provide us with more than just the delight of seeing them
and their various colors and shapes, and more than their diverse range of
song. They give us a focus on our relationship to the world outside our
immediate selves and everyday routine.
Thirty-one years ago,
when I took Ornithology 461 at Michigan State University, I began to look at
the world through new eyes. I had always enjoyed the songbirds that frequented
our woodsy backyard in the suburbs in southcentral Wisconsin while growing up.
Being musically inclined, I was drawn to the different songs of the cardinal,
the rapid flutey aria of the house wren, the “cheerio” melody of the robin,
and the sorrowful call of the mourning dove.
When I began the morning
field trips that spring at Michigan State, I found it easy to learn the new
birds and grew excited at spotting them and recording them in a log. It opened
up a whole new world for me.
I look back on that year
in my life as a time in which I experienced a surge of awareness that led me
to where I am today. My interest in birds became a turning point in my
spiritual life, not only bringing me closer to Nature, but touching something
deep within my soul that had lain dormant.
We moved out West in
1978, and I left behind the abundance of familiar songbirds I had known in the
East. In the West there were new species to learn. Soon enough, my interests
moved from the avian world to the esoteric world as I began to explore the
metaphysical, and my fascination for birds evolved into a fascination for
I am still pretty much a
bird nut. This year the birds are coming to our mesa in surprising numbers and
diversity. Suddenly we are blessed with a splendid array of our feathered
friends visiting the feeders in front of our house, and in May I’ll put up two
hummingbird feeders on the side of the house. The fascinating tiny hummers
come and go throughout the day, buzzing and swooping and driving each other
away in their competition for feeding space.
They don’t appear to be
intimated by the presence of humans, so it can be a little alarming to be a
near-miss of one of these dive-bombers. Sitting on the porch during the
before-dusk “feeding frenzy” means a risk of being stabbed by one of those
beak-missiles in flight. But the tiny birds are adept at staying on course,
even in pursuit at 60 mph. The black-chinned and broad-tailed varieties of
hummingbird will be here soon. In July, the rufous hummingbird will arrive,
and then there will be competition big time. Rufous stays around only a short
time before moving on, but he sure can get possessive of the feeders.
All winter we enjoyed the
juncos (gray-headed and Oregon varieties), house finches, chickadees, Steller
and scrub jays, and a few rufous-sided towhees. Our summer friends include a
family of colorful Lazuli buntings, chipping sparrows, brown-headed cowbirds,
black-headed grosbeaks, the Bullock’s oriole, tree swallows, mourning doves,
an occasional Rocky Mountain bluebird, goldfinch and of course robins.
The mesmerizing lazy song of the Western meadowlark is a continuous delight as
is the distant call of the rock wren and sometimes at night the calls of the
great-horned owls. At dusk the goatsucker nighthawks call out “Beeert” as they
buzz through the air after flying insects.
We have red-shafted
flickers, downy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, kestrels, ravens, crows and
killdeer, not to mention the constant year-round presence of magpies. They
nest in the swamp and make a loud ruckus at times. But they keep the yard
clean (dog messes included) and sometimes, unfortunately, they rob eggs from
the hen house.
Often we see golden
eagles soaring above, and down by the river. during winter months. you can see
bald eagles. I once watched a hawk swoop down and grab one of my young
Aracauna pullets. I would never think of avenging such an act. Even though I
don’t want to see my chickens wiped out by predatory birds, I understand and
accept the cycle of Nature. Even the magpies have to be forgiven now and then
for their egg pilfering.
Watching the birds out
our large living room windows during mealtime is one of the pleasures of
living here on the mesa. Witnessing the cycle of life that goes on, even when
we wonder about the outcome of a changing human world, brings comfort and a
sense of connection to All That Is.
The birds know no
borders, they don’t care about what is going on in the political world. To
them it makes no difference whose insanity is running the country they live
in... they just know how to Be. Sometimes they get along with one another, and
sometimes they don’t. And they are much more entertaining to watch than a
noisy box plugged into a satellite or cable that never ceases attempting to
influence your way of thinking.
In the world of today we
need to find comfort and peace in any way we can, to keep from drowning in
despair. I turn to the outdoors when the human world gets to be too much.
There’s no better therapy than working in the yard or garden and listening to
a new warbler that has moved into the area. There’s nothing more exhilarating
to me than waking up to a new morning and the air is filled with song in
celebration of life itself.
Ann Ulrich Miller is
publisher of The Star Beacon.
Copyright © 2006 Words and Art
by Ann Ulrich Miller
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