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For the Birds

For the Birds

    We've had cardinals in our yards in each our three homes over the past fifty years.  But only once did a bishop deign to visit our living room.  Humming birds regularly buzz to our front porch in Vermont, not because they are friendly, but because we have sweet water to entice them.  A black-capped chickadee thought to take residence in the birdhouse Marie White gave us.  But the back garden apartment must have been too crowded, or too open to the assaults of sparrows, because the chickadees left and wrens took the rental. 

    This past week a family of finches found attractive the ornamental wicker basket with which Barbara decorated the front storm door. She just wanted to add a festive spring touch.  But the finch family, oblivious to the wanton swings of storm doors in the hands of eleven year olds and one careless seventy-one year old, threw caution to the winds and have begun leafing their nest inches from our main entrance. They are likely to scare the you-know-what out of the mailman tomorrow when they flutter as he tries to drop the mail through the slot. I would love to see whether or not a little bird can scare the U S Postal service worker from his appointed rounds; but we shall be doing some flying ourselves, by way of a big German bird, Lufthansa by name, to Frankfort and thence to Rome.

    I've been leafing through the Class of 1953 50th Reunion booklet.  We mark our golden anniversary in a couple of weeks.  In the booklet, two classmates celebrate their time on earth with a paean to their birding expeditions.  "Birding," for those of you who suspect it may be akin to shooting pheasants, is the equivalent of a rifle-less safari.  The object of the hunt is to see how many different birds you can sight.  One of my classmates has toured the world, including the Amazon jungle, in search of rare birds.  His hunting equipment consists of strong binoculars and a colorful encyclopedia from Audubon.

    Birding has never been my passion and I'm not likely to take it up in the near future, unless I run out of things to write to you.  But I did spend a few afternoons in Woodside Park in the spring of 1945, long before anyone worried about ticks in tall grass.  I was pursuing an Eagle (Boy Scout award) and had to pursue chickadees, et al., in order to earn what was in those days a required merit badge, Bird Study.  Many Scouts trying to fly to the aerie hated that merit badge.  I enjoyed it.  To this day I can bore you with the details of my sighting of a red-breasted grosbeak in Joe Tooher's front yard.  And the chickadees, oh the chickadees, would come within inches of my outstretched hand if I would stand motionless for a minute or two.  In that moment I began to see how it might be that sparrows alighted on Child Jesus' fingertips, as was depicted in the painting in the Sunday School Intermediate classroom.  There and then in Woodside Park I stopped envying St Francis.  I may not be able to match my classmates in their recognition of bird calls, but I can spot an oriole's nest and tell the difference between a male cardinal (the non-ecclesiastical type) and the female.

    In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus bids us look to the birds of the air, how they couldn't care less what Alan Greenspan predicts, because their food will be there when they need it.  What Jesus didn't tell us (and there are a lot of things Jesus didn't tell us, a few of which I'm going to ask him about when next I see him in the pastures of heaven) is that birds, besides being eternally trustful of God's mercy, are often downright dumb.  Just think, building a nest on our front door. 

    No need for us to shake our heads at our flying friends' foolishness: in my experience, mostly with myself, but sometimes with you, human beings can be very dumb and only faintly trusting in God's mercy.  Chalk one up for the birds.

    The red letter words, about looking to the birds for wisdom, endure, finches notwithstanding.





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