Yesterday, I watched with delight as mama junco flew in and out of her nest all afternoon, attending to her tiny hungry babies who are beginning to find their voices. I scattered some sunflower seeds nearby, but not too close. All seemed well with the sweet family until just after dark when a loud thud sent me running to the front door, whereI discovered a neighborhood cat posted below the basket. The thud was undoubtedly the sound made by the cat lunging at the basket. I shooed the cat away, but there was no sign nor sound of mama junco. In the nest, tiny hungry beaks reach upward, waiting for mama to come. I had a difficult time sleeping.
Today, my heart sunk when I opened the screen door but didn't hear the sweet morning song of mama junco. I peeked into the basket and discovered all four babies dead in the nest.
In the wild, even without domestic cats in the mix, hatchlings have a relatively low survival rate. That fact, while not particularly comforting, helped to contextualize the task of burying the baby juncos this afternoon. I buried them in honor of their wee but important lives, and because I needed a ritual to honor my unlikely friendship with their mama. I dug a small hole and laid them beneath the tall Doug Fir closest to their nest, where many other beloved wild and domestic creatures also rest. I decorated the grave with the best bloom from the camellia bush, and feathers I found nearby; perhaps, their mama's.
I said a prayer of gratitude for the babies having died together, in their cozy nest, rather than in the jaws of the cat. And another for that sweet mama junco, who made her home at the entrance to my home; whose beautiful song came in through the screen door; and who taught me a much-needed lesson in acceptance. God bless the wild teachers.
As I moved along the walkway toward my front door I heard mama junco's soft, syncopated trill. I called back to her with the amateurish clicks I've been making to imitate her song. I wonder what she makes of my silly sounds?
I saw her hopping along on the ground, very close to where I stood. She then flew up into the camellia bush, and onto the edge of the basket where her nest resides. As she perched there for several seconds, it appeared to me, our eyes met. She turned and peaked into the basket, then flew back into to the camellia bush.
Whether real or imagined, I interpreted this as an invitation so I quickly peeked into the basket. Mama watched from the bush. The wiggly little mass doesn't yet resemble birds, as eyes are still closed, but tiny beaks and some light feathery fuzz is visible. What a gift, to witness the magic of new life taking form just outside my front door. And a strong metaphor, too. Thank God for the wild things who teach us so much.
We have Dark-eyed Junco babies! Eggs were still intact yesterday afternoon, so the chicks must have emerged sometime today. Mama was peeking out of the nest when I approached, and watched from the Camellia bush as I peeked inside.
Discovered the reason a sweet little junco has been chatting with me through the screen door. She's made a home in my mail basket, behind the beautiful camellia, right beside my front door. I am honored.
A few months before graduating from Montessori training, in 1988, I travelled to Texas during Spring Break to interview for a teaching job I had no intention of accepting. That trip, which I regarded as a lark, profoundly changed the course of my life. During my school tour I met Rosa. We locked eyes, exchanged silly facial expressions, and simultaneously burst into the first of many uproarious laughs we would share.
Later the same week, I met the man who would become the father of my son and my partner for more than a decade. And a few months later, I found myself building a new life in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas, thousands of miles from my Oregon friends and kin.
Rosa and I became fast friends; her house felt like home. Most of what I know about parenting, I learned by observing her with her two young sons. She demonstrated the necessity of nurturing one's own creative and spiritual life while raising children, and she taught me where to find drinkable box wine (standards were lower in the 80's). We traded clothing and trinkets and secrets, and we shared ritual and ceremony.
Following that year of close kinship, despite only having been in the same physical place at the same time on a few occasions, our souls connection has only grown stronger. Fast forward 33 years, today I opened my mailbox to find this beautiful piece of art, infused with the magic Rosa brings to everything she touches. Tears flow as I type this, with deep gratitude for the woman who is my soul sister in every sense of the word. I love you, Ms. Rosa.
On my heart today: My great grandmother, Hulda Swensen Mordal. In this photo from 1997, Gram is holding my son, Elliott, age 2, her great great grandson. At that time, Elliott was close to the same age as Hulda's daughter, Thelma, when she died from Influenza during the 1918 pandemic.
Thelma died in Hulda's arms, a heartbreak I cannot wrap my head around. I wonder how she might have responded to the notion that the deadly virus that killed her daughter was really just a "hoax?" Or to the idea that a potentially life-saving vaccine to combat the virus was a "conspiracy?"
Perhaps there's something to be said for those simpler times, before television talking heads, evangelists, and internet gurus built their megalomaniacal fortunes on the denial of individual choice.
I believe we all have the capacity to hold opposing points of view with tenderness and love. To label my decision to be vaccinated a "hoax," or your decision not to vaccinate a "conspiracy theory," is to deny both our individual humanity... and our right to choose.
I think we can all do better. I know I can do better
Many years ago while berry picking with my gram, I asked if she believed in God. She was quite for a long time before she replied, "God is in the blueberries."
I feel fortunate to have grown up in a family where religious doctrine was rooted in a notion of God as all-encompassing and benevolent, rather than human-centered and judgmental. On this beautiful Easter Day, may the Creative energy in the universe, regardless of what name you call it by, bless you with the hopeful promise of transformation.
I have been thinking a lot about the big, essential work of transformation. Flexing, bending, re-forming ourselves around temporary circumstances.
Amidst a steady stream of stories illuminating the potential viciousness of humans, and our desperate attempts to override the laws of nature, Nature herself invites us to connect with our better essence. We can learn transformative strategies by watching how other creatures do it.
Last fall a caterpillar teacher took up residence on my dining room table, and got a front row seat for the transformation show of a lifetime. I learned so much watching the stages of metamorphosis, against a backdrop of human-created social injustice and viral chaos.
Now I'm writing the transformative story of Fred, the Monarch, a powerful metaphor and lesson. May my heart, and yours, open to receive the wisdom and infinite hope of bees and butterflies, trees and rocks. God bless the wise and gentle creatures who come to teach us how to live in harmony with nature.