Praying to the Birds

“I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen.” 
-Terry Tempest Williams

I checked the lock on the back slider before I went to bed last night and through the thin glass door I see a young house sparrow foraging on the patio for bits of fallen birdseed. I can feel my heart swell in that moment. What I really wish for is to hold that sweet thing in my hand: soft feathers, covering fragile tiny bones, protecting all four chambers of its fluttering heart. 

These precious little birds begin with soft pink skin and little sprouts of feather. They rely on their parents for food until they are booted from the nest (often quite unceremoniously) to find their way as fledglings. I’ve watched these tiny birds try to balance on the feeder, digging their tiny beaks into the cylinder of seed, until they abandon the effort in favor of foraging for the fallen bits below. I could be a passive observer for hours. 

And sometimes I am.

I get a shiver when I see or hear a unique bird for the first time. Who knew I would ever keep a “life list” of birds or that it would top 250 in just a few short years. In the book I’m listening to now, the story follows the main character and how his first language was basketball and that it was also the first thing he really loved that really loved him back. I smile to myself thinking it sounds a little like me these last few years with the birds.

Five years ago I spent the bulk of my non-working time in a car in traffic. A bird in a cage. The metaphor is profound. Toward the end of my postal career I felt trapped. My body had begun to fail me and my mind was like a spinning top. It’s interesting to me what I endured during that time when I believed I had no choices.

Fast forward to yesterday. I spent half an hour watching an American coot swimming in the murky pond with its two chicks. It’s a bit like sitting in on a classroom as I watch these tiny chicks foraging for food. Their heads are still bald and the shocking orange of their feathers makes them easy to spot as they move awkwardly through the reeds. As they learn, I observe.

I spend another half hour watching the green heron fishing in the shallow water just fifteen feet from the road. I forget how small they are when compared to the great blue. They are patient creatures, waiting for their prey to come to them. Good things come to those who wait. As they fish, I observe.

While leaving. I pause as two kingfishers zoom over me vocal and frenzied. Their flight pattern makes me dizzy to watch. They land far off in the pond on separate snags. They are efficient and precise birds in every way. Not sure what the hullabaloo is all about but I’m guessing that one of them crossed a line with the other. They are usually loners and very territorial. As they tussle, I observe.

When it’s time to take Yoda for his walk this morning, I walk by a tree full of young house sparrows and finches. I’ve come a long way from identifying my feathered friends as LBBs (little brown birds) or little yellow birds. I watch as they perch and chirp, whirl and dip. As they play, I observe.

I decide to be more mindful on my walk this morning. Yoda and I are often at cross purposes on these treks, but I put my new skills to work. He’s an old dog and the world is one big classroom to him. He’s not in it for the exercise, he’s in it for the “environmental experience”. I remember the patient herons and the attentive coot parent. I watch him closely as another dog passes and his demeanor changes. I watch his tail flip and I see him pant. As he establishes his place, I observe.

The world is my big classroom too. I pray to the birds that I receive the messages and recognize with clarity the symbolism in the lessons. I pray to the birds for patience and tolerance and for the reminders about boundaries and play and the value of attentiveness.

I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love.

All that I love. And all of them.


15 Comments on “Praying to the Birds

  1. The world of nature has much to teach us, thank you for reminding me again and again. I was walking our guest dog and thinking he takes in the world through his nose (and sometimes mouth, and also peeing on everything), while I mostly use my eyes and ears. But he does stop often and gives me a chance to look around and listen! So glad you’ve flown the cage and found your freedom.

    • I love that you have a guest dog!! As I think I’ve mentioned before,.walking a dog redefines what it means to “walk”. I love the lessons though.

      Sometimes , as I am meandering along with him, he stops, as if he hears something, then sticks his nose in the air, closes his eyes and lets the wind rush in with sensory pleasures. In that moment I can only love him and what it means to be able to share this kind of moment.

    • Thanks, Gretchen. I suspect that a lot of my learning has happened on your back deck. When we can be in the midst of such an active place, still and attentive, we are the luckiest people around.

  2. I don’t always comment but I always read and check the photos. Thanks so much for taking the time to share with us.

  3. Wow, Bonnie! Outstanding writing here about birds and patience and observation. Even loving a house sparrow—appreciating the humble “invasive”. Birds have always fascinated me because they are so much easier to see than mammals and just as deeply connect us to the natural world. And, oh, your metaphor about feeling caged your last years of work—so grateful you are free to do your worshipful life now.

    • Thank you, Ann. The bird in a cage metaphor really seemed to fit. I’ve learned so much. As for the house sparrows? I feel a different kind of appreciation after learning of the Four Pests campaign years ago in China. Thanks so much for reading*

  4. And I pray you never stop writing or noticing–through the lens of the camera or that great heart of yours.

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