I really like birds. It’s always a thrill when we drive, to see a bald eagle in a tree – sometimes, when they have decided to nest near the river, we even see them flying right over our house. In our back yard, we have seen hawks and owls and of course geese and ducks, but also more than a couple of dozen various species of birds as they take up residence for a time in our big spruce trees. Right now, the blackbird babies are at the age where they act like teenagers after school, and are continually hungry and squawking. And like human parents, the adult birds seem to take their entire lives for a while searching for worms and bugs and such, and then flying quickly to the hidden nests, where there is a huge noise as the babies fight over who gets the delicious morsels. Some evenings, it’s almost hard to sit outside, with all the bird-yelling going on…
One thing I have come to believe, however, is the phrase “birdbrain.” Now, I’m sure there are some species of birds that are highly intelligent, and I know of some that even know how to use sticks and other items as tools to get food out of stuck places. However, there is also a huge contingent of birds that are just plain stupid. No other workable description. Yes, they are often pretty and colorful, but most are just pretty lightweight in the gray matter. When you only have a brain the size of a peanut, there’s not a lot left over for reasoning or much other than imprinted instinct. After all, an arctic tern will yearly fly a migration that is between 40,000 and 50,000 miles. That’s not rocket scientist thinking. You’d think you could find a place a little closer!
The other things that birds often do, is, on a nice sunny day, to see a nice grove of trees, and fly as fast as they can toward them, and suddenly find themselves on the ground because instead of a tree, they found a window that reflected the tree. As I work in my office, it’s not uncommon to hear a “boing!” or a slam against the window, and then watch as a dazed bird flies off. You can almost imagine the conversation it has: “What was that? It sure looked like a tree! Man – does my head hurt! When I heal up a little, I’m going to try that again…”
Unfortunately, this past week, Cheri went outside early in the morning, and found an actual crime scene. Apparently, around dawn, the early bird did not catch the worm – instead, it caught a full-force crack in the head from the dining room window, and then fell about 12 feet to hit the brick patio below. Not a good mix of unfortunate experiences. To quote another bird saying – it was dead as a dodo. Now, they don’t always die, especially if they crash on the soft grass, but this was a real proof of survival of the fittest, or at least, the not-dumbest. Cheri, being in the medical profession, was able to do a quick examination of the bird body, saw no breathing, no movement, and little legs kind of sticking out the way that little bird legs ought not to be positioned. She called time of death at about a couple hours earlier, and then with all dignity and care, took a paper towel, picked it up, and threw the body under the tree – in her words, “So a cat wouldn’t get it.” I didn’t take a lot of time trying to explain that cats can easily go under trees, but that was the gist of our first bird funeral of the week.
Yesterday, once again Cheri went out to our gazebo to close it up before we were to get a good 100 drops of rain, and as she looked out the window, she noticed a little brown shape on the lawn. Going out to investigate, she discovered a little baby black bird, just sitting in the grass, looking kind of dazed. It was big enough to yell for food in the nest, but not big enough to fly back to the nest after it dropped a good 30 feet to the ground. Actually, there are very few things with less brain capacity than a bird, unless you are talking about a baby bird. Cheri left it there, with the idea that perhaps the parent would come and rescue it, or it would have the sense to hop over to under the tree, where it would probably find the graveyard of other dead birds, tossed there by a nurse practitioner.
A couple of hours later, Cheri checked on the patient, and the eyes were closed, it was lying on its side – once again, the paper towel was put in use, and once again, the body was not interred, but rather “in-treed,” as it flew its last flight under the big spruce tree. Back home for all eternity. It’s a bit disconcerting, because they always say that deaths come in threes, and so we are kind of waiting for the next tragic incident.
I’ve done tons of funerals, and been witness to many many different deaths of humans, so death doesn’t disturb me too greatly. However, there is a pang of sadness to see a dead or dying animal. I know it’s the normal course of things, but they seem to be innocent. I always have to repeat to myself that the reason God makes so many little animals is so that at some will survive. It’s just a reminder that our world can and is sometimes a hard place to live in – especially if you are just a dumb little bird. Or a dumb human being, too, I suppose.
So, we didn’t really have a bird funeral – different than when one of our parakeets or hamster or turtle were to die when I was little. Then, we would get a Velveeta cheese box, fill it with Kleenex, place the body inside and go down to the edge of the big sandpile at the end of the street, and bury the animal there – with someone saying a few nice words about the dearly departed. That’s how we first met death, and dealt with ritual. I thought a bit of what a bird funeral would look like, but I don’t want to have to dig up the entire lawn to bury little bird bodies all the time. I suppose we could have sung, “I’ll Fly Away,” or even “The Wind Beneath my Wings,” but frankly, we are just not going to take that kind of time, printing up funeral brochures and setting up lawn chairs for the service. Instead, it more like ashes to ashes dust to dust, and from the tree to under the tree. And it is true, and this I say totally seriously, that God’s eye is on the sparrow – even one that falls or hits the window – and I know God watches over me – and you as well.
For that kind of heavenly, holy intentional love, we should live this day in gratitude. I hope you will.
Word for the day: quiescent. Pronounced kwee-ESS-ent. This is a word that absolutely is what it sound like. From the Latin quies, which means “rest, or quiet,” a quiescent person is someone in a state of inactivity, or quiet. A library is a great location for quiescence, as is a nursery when you are trying to get a baby to sleep. Of course, a partner word is “quiet” and as strange as the word looks when you just stare at it, it harbors the whole essence of a stillness, a calm, or again, an inactivity that is part of the ebb and flow of life. A nap in the afternoon is a great time to be quiescent, so please don’t call on the phone at that time. Thanks.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.