This is my Father's world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker's praise.
This is my Father's world: He shines in all that's fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

- Maltbie D. Babcock

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hard frost. Even the parsley has surrendered, and the leaves of the cherry tree are dropping like stones to the ground. The bird bath is frozen solid. Now come the short grey days. But after I adjust to all the nakedness around me, November ends up having its own stark beauty.

No more flamboyant colours - variations on tan and grey are the order of the day.  No more fields pregnant with the promise of corn and wheat; the remaining dry stalks bend and rattle in the wind. As Joni Mitchell so beautifully put it, "All that stays is dying, all that lives is getting out" - a few hardy birds the exception that proves the rule. Yet the sight of the sun slanting low across a once-golden field in the late afternoon almost makes it hard to mourn the summer now long gone and the autumn winding down.  Hush now, and walk quietly.  The natural world is bedding down for a long nap.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Wild Life

I love birds.  Not all kinds of birds, but most kinds (grackles, starlings, and crows need not apply).  I love their colours, songs, behaviours, and the fact that seeing one almost always makes me smile.  I like to attract them to the deck off our kitchen, because that's the best way for me to get to see and enjoy them up close. In fact, I currently have five different types of bird feeders attached to my deck railings, just so that everybody from hummingbirds to cardinals gets their preferred type of feed.  I even keep a bag of unsalted peanuts handy so I can throw them to the bluejays when requested.

I do not, on the other hand, love squirrels.  Squirrels, in my experience, are generally ill-mannered brutes and gluttons.  They do not play well with others.  Call me a specist if you will, but there it is.  I would like squirrels just fine if they were reasonable and willing to share.  The problem is that they park themselves on any available bird feeder (except for the hummingbird-specific one, of course) and stuff themselves until the food is gone. The red squirrels (so deceptively cute) are the worst of the lot in terms of gluttony.  They are extra annoying because they are also bullies, chasing away any creature that dares to trespass on what they see as their own personal spa.  I am not exaggerating - I've seen them gorge themselves, take a long sip of water from the birdbath, then stretch out along the railing as if trying to get a nap and a tan.  I'm sure they'd accept a massage if one was offered.

My family has almost gotten used to my banging on windows, waving my arms, yelling, chasing, and threatening to buy a gun with a silencer.  Almost, not quite - there's still a fair bit of eye-rolling that goes on.  No matter what I try, those little red devils are always one step ahead of me.  Yesterday I watched one chase a beautiful cardinal couple away from the feeder, and I saw red (pun intended).  I had to try something desperate.

I don't have a handgun license, so I did the next best thing.  I drove to the WBU store and grudgingly laid down the big bucks for a "squirrel-proof" feeder.  Now, I'm not naive - I've been around long enough to know that sooner or later, my squirrels are bound to figure a way around even these defenses.  I just needed to feel like I had the upper hand, if only for a day or two.  I actually got a bit of discount by purchasing a feeder that someone else had returned, not because of a problem with squirrels, but with raccoons!

Well, I took my new purchase home, set it up, and took some pleasure in watching my now perplexed freeloaders trying to figure it out in the evening.  So far so good.

As I headed off to bed a few hours later, the thought crossed my mind that I hoped no neighbourhood raccoon would come by and knock it down.  I'd rarely had any issues with coons, but for some reason I flicked on the outside light as I walked past the deck door just to check.  The sight that met my eyes had me convinced that I must be on Candid Camera.

There, packed together on the railing as if it was a row of theatre seats, was not only a raccoon, but five - count'em - five young kits.  Oh, they weren't bothering the new bird feeder; their focus was piling on top of each other to take swigs out of the hummingbird feeder.  It put me in mind of nothing so much as a gang of kids being taken out by their mother for ice cream cones.

Amidst much purr-growling, and with me urging them along with a broom, they all eventually and reluctantly left the deck and moved into the cherry tree next to it.  I hope they won't be nightly visitors, but I guess the bottom line is, if you invite wildlife into your back yard, you don't necessarily have a lot of control over just how wild it gets!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Living in Spring

The woods and trails were full of voices today, even though I was the only human in sight. If you ignored the distant hum of traffic, you could hear trickling water, a near cacophony of birdsong, and in the distance something else -- was it? -- yes, definitely a great chorus of spring peepers, no doubt rejoicing in being freed early from their lengthy slumber. And walking through a stand of pines, I noticed that even they were talking. I don't mean the familiar sigh of a breeze passing through needles, but a quiet yet distinct clicking sound. I have no idea what it was -- perhaps pine cones cracking open? All of this is to say that there is no mistaking it; spring is definitely here again.

This year is not typical. The first signs of spring were slightly less noticeable due to the mild winter we had experienced. In the past two weeks, unusually warm temperatures for March have caused spring to come on like an avalanche of greening and flowering plants. The arrival of spring after a harsh winter is generally more subtle and poignant: the first day of thaw reveals snowdrops already prepared to flower; the year's first returning robin huddles in a tree looking bewildered by a March snowstorm; clearing away dried leaves and old plant material reveals hyacinths, tulips, and daffodils already pushing their greens up through the earth. Spring usually forces us to await it with longing and comes on slowly...but come it does, no matter how harsh the winter, like the fulfillment of a promise.

For those of us who see life in such terms, the promise of spring is reflected in the spiritual world. I see the arrival of spring as a confirmation that always, even after the coldest, darkest days of our lives, a spiritual, spring-like renewal comes if we're open to it. I'm sure that is why Easter is celebrated in the spring. When we are experiencing a winter season in our lives, it can seem interminable. Yet gradually, we start to notice that there's a little more light each day -- perhaps we catch ourselves smiling or even laughing out loud at things that previously had failed to amuse us. One day we notice that we can hear about a great opportunity happening to someone else and not think, "But what about me?" We begin to recognize bits of beauty in the world where we had previously seen only dirt-crusted snowbanks. A chapter of scripture seems not empty or admonishing, but feels like what it is - a personal love letter from the Author. Eventually we look around and realize that we are once again living in a season of joy.

Some months ago, I was experiencing a winter of the soul. I didn't think that anyone else was aware or impacted; I kept throwing on my scarf and galoshes and trudging through my personal snowbanks. I scarcely realized that an unhealthy focus on self and an ungrateful spirit had me in a deep freeze, and it was affecting my work and my relationships. Yet even in that period of apparent dormancy, unseen forces were at work beneath the cold, snowy crust. Various influences begin to align themselves to shake me awake, admonish me, comfort me, encourage me, feed me -- until one day I was able to open my eyes fully and see that the snow had melted away and new growth was pushing its way through the softened soil into sunlight.

Good Friday can seem like a bleak day, but it thrums with a hidden energy. If you listen closely, it whispers "Hang on, hang on -- Easter is almost here!"