Change

Our sparrows did not return this year. Their little brown house is empty and still. Only the wind shakes it now.

Last year at this time they were busy caring for their young. She, flying off to find food, and he, standing guard outside, darting off when she returned.

I wonder about them, the generations they hatched and raised while we looked on. And I wonder about their offspring, all grown now, and where they have settled, if they’ve found a shelter as secure as the one we provided for their parents.

Sparrows mate for life. But, it’s easy to get complacent, forget that things change, and sometimes, all we know is upended.

***

In high school, I opted for a class in Earth Science rather than Physics.

That year, I learned to recognize cloud and rock formations, and sat aghast as the teacher explained that earthquakes and volcanoes are constructive forces. How could that be? Surely, he had to be mistaken, considering the devastation, loss of property and life that came from such upheavals. But, no, he said. From a geological standpoint, these seismic shifts and eruptions are the earth’s way of adjusting, releasing pressure, remaking itself.

***

As millions fall prey and succumb to a novel pathogen, I struggle to remind myself that what seems devastating may also have the power to force long overdue adjustments and remodeling in thought and habit. I struggle hard.

***

The sparrows we grew to love and expect every spring will not be back. But a lilac bush, which seeded on our front lawn, is flourishing.

Everything has changed.

“The earth spins, cells divide, souls entwine…
…we grieve and grieve and somehow live again.”
(From an untitled work in progress.)

©2020 All Rights Reserved

Here and There…

There’s a bird in the neighborhood on a frenzied calling streak. I’m familiar with most of the feathered fliers nearby, the way they look, their habits, the sounds that rise from their throats, but this one is new to me.

***

I’m wrestling conflicting plot turns in my latest project. Part of me wants to disable a major character with a stroke (let’s call him Character One), in order to push another major character into taking a risk she would not ordinarily take (we’ll call her Character Two); and the other part of me is resisting, afraid the stroke will seem too pat, too manipulative. I mean, it’s not as if I haven’t set it up, laid numerous hints that Character One’s condition is fragile enough that such a thing could happen, but really….  Then, of course, I wonder if I, or anyone else, for that matter, will believe Character Two’s willingness to put herself in harm’s way if he doesn’t have it.

It’s a conundrum.

***

Lately I’ve been particularly irritated by the phrase, “Ordinary people,” particularly when it’s employed by politicians and media personalities.

If ever there was a way of creating a divide—no, a chasm between groups, designating one as special, the other not, it’s that.

We were all born pretty much the same way. We all need liquid and nourishment to survive. We all process that nourishment via the same route (some with medical modifications). We all have vulnerabilities—flesh that can tear, bones that can break, organs that can wear and malfunction. We are all constantly fighting and adapting to microbes we can’t see, or worrying about surviving weather that is worsening and becoming more severe and destructive.  We all depend, to varying degrees, on assistance for survival. In the most fundamental ways, we are ALL ordinary.

Still, the other night, I heard the host of a late night news show say that the flag-draped casket of our recently deceased past President was going to lie in state so that “ordinary people could walk by.”  Why not simply describe the people attending as, “mourners?” Why even make a distinction?

I know there are people with unique abilities and gifts who merit recognition and honor for their heroism, contributions, innovations, selflessness, and brilliance. But is it really necessary to spotlight their accomplishments by calling everyone else ordinary?

***

Clues notwithstanding, I don’t know if I’ll be happy if I let Character One have that stroke. But I know I won’t be happy with Character Two’s motivation unless he has it. Would more clues help? Or would they stick out as laughably obvious?

***

Sadly, that bird stopped singing. Maybe it was resting here on its way to its winter home. I hear they are expecting record snowfalls in some areas down south, while here in the north, it is crisp and sunny.

So, I think I’ll take advantage of this spell of indecisiveness and go for a walk. Maybe I’ll hear other bird songs…undoubtedly ordinary to their own kind, but to me, nothing short of miraculous.

©2018 All Rights Reserved

 

 

Rental Property

House Sparrow male feeding young-4

(From Beyond Willow Bend, 2013)

My late father-in-law built a birdhouse for our yard. It was a simple thing—a box, painted dark brown, with a peaked roof, a hole, and a peg.

My husband hung it near the garage and we kept watch. Maybe birds were put off by the smell of paint, or the location.  Who knew. Whatever the reason, it was ignored. No birds flew around it, landed on it, or looked inside.

Then, one year, during a fierce storm, it was knocked off its hook. My husband found it in pieces on the lawn—walls scattered, roof upside down—and lovingly reassembled it, overbuilding,  as he does with every piece of furniture he makes.

This time, it was hung in a more sheltered spot by the garage, from a hook that was deeply implanted, better able to withstand our midwestern gales.

Spring came, and, again, we kept watch, encouraged by the interest a mother wren showed in one of our other birdhouses—that one, hung from our house, a gift from a friend. She quickly took up residence there, and busied herself with building a nest, laying her eggs, and feeding her hatchlings.

Her activities kept us entertained for a month or more.

But still the brown house was vacant.

Then, three years ago, at the first sign of spring, a male house sparrow perched on the peg of the brown house. He sat for a minute, then flew down to the lawn where he pulled up some pieces of dried grass. A minute later, he returned to the peg, his beak stuffed.

Finally: tenants. We celebrated and joked about shoving a tiny lease through the hole.

The sparrows stayed all summer, and their fledglings stayed, too, darting in and out of the house well into fall, until the first hard freeze.

The following spring, they returned and settled in.

My husband thought it might be a good idea to clean and check the house for rot before winter, so he could make any repairs it needed, but the sparrows didn’t give him the chance. By the time they took off for their winter home, the first snow had fallen.

And, of course, before he could get out to inspect the property this year, they were back again—earlier than before, seemingly, with the whole family—or mispocha, as we say in Yiddish.

I love birds, but know little about house sparrows.  I can tell you that they have managed to multiply and thrive despite the West Nile virus that wiped out our blue jays and crows. And I can also tell you that they have particular tastes; and once they decorate a house, it’s theirs.