It’s a little late for me to be getting out in the backyard.
A busy day, too much to do. My wife said not to bother but I’m here anyway. I have the hose and two bags of seed plus what’s in an old popcorn tin which came from a place I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter that it’s near dark and the birds are all but asleep. They’ll need to eat tomorrow.
As a child I spent most of the summers weeding my grandmother’s garden and watching her call the birds.
Her beckons were wordless but sung instead, each chorus unique, drawing to the telephone wire which ran parallel to her yard the robins and cardinals first, then the jays and the mockingbirds, the Bobwhites. She called the sparrows and purple martins last. The chirps and whistles from her wrinkled lips came to me as the language of angels. Perhaps it was. My grandmother loved this land and every creature upon it, but the birds presided over a loftier place in her heart. A bird’s wings carry it closer to God than any of us could ever reach. She once told me that when we are wearied and spent and our voices grow small, the birds will carry our prayers to God’s ear.
Though I’ve never quite developed my grandmother’s talent for song, I take great care of the birds in and around our wood.
They are fed and watered without prejudice. I welcome the crows and starlings as much as the mockingbirds and finches. They sing to me and help keep the bugs away. My yard is a happy place. A safe one as well, in spite of the neighbor’s cat.
My habit has always been to check the feeders and and our birdbath every few days and replenish as necessary. That has changed these last months. I’m out here most every day now to top off the thistle seed or sow a little extra food in the grass for the doves and cardinals. I will not let the suet disappear since the woodpeckers prefer it. The same holds for the jays and their sunflower seeds, or the mealworms I set out in a barren spot among the grass for the robins and bluebirds.
Even in the rain, I go. Even on those chilly May mornings when the sun is not yet over the mountains. Even now, when all that is left in the sky are the stars above me. It is no responsibility or needful thing. My birds would get along fine without me. They would have the creek to drink from and the forest across the road from which to seek their shelter and food. They do not depend upon me, though I have come to depend upon them.
My wife watches from the kitchen window. She smiles as I scrub the bath or add a few extra sunflower seeds to the small wooden church attached to an iron shepherd’s crook which serves as one of our feeders. Sometimes she’ll bring out a bowl of the previous night’s popcorn for me to spread, or the heels of a bread loaf. She’ll tap the glass and point at the sparrow near my feet, so accustomed now to my presence that it no longer deems me a threat.
I don’t believe I’ve ever told my wife what Grandma once said about the birds.
She knows the tale of the telephone wire and the way Grandma sang but not about the prayers. It seems a silly thing on the surface. The sort of story any grandparent would tell a child in order that the world be made a more magical place. Of course birds do not carry the wearied prayers of weakened souls to the Lord’s ear. They are creatures, no more. Their songs are merely speech. Their wings may take them skyward, yet they are still earthbound.
I know this.
But I know as well that the woman smiling at me through the window was told not long ago that she is battling a form of leukemia. In ways I’m sure you will understand, that means I am battling it as well. We go through this dark world hand in hand with those we love. Many times, that is the only way we can get from one end of it to the other. We trust and fight and smile and believe. We pray, even in our brokenness and fear. Especially then.
That is why I am out here tonight with my buckets of seed. Why I will be here tomorrow.