IMG_0412Jesus said that if God’s eye is on the sparrow, won’t He care even more about each and every one of us? He says we shouldn’t have to worry when we’re bathed in that kind of attention. No we don’t need to be afraid about our needs being met. No, not at all. 

The dying birds on our place remind me. Last week a fledgling fell down in Morgen’s paddock. It fluttered up over the fence like I’d batted a shuttle cock when I hung Morgen’s haybag. A friend said that you’re supposed to leave them alone because the mother will find them again, and they will be all right. But I worried and tried setting her on a fence post, in the tree, to get her off the ground. When she fluttered into the field, I walked out and picked her up from the hay, while a redwing blackbird scolded. She felt light and warm, her wings spackled brown and black. When I set her in the tree, she closed her eyes, exhausted, then fluttered down to the ground. I left her be.

Two days ago a newly hatched sparrow dropped in front of me, naked, tiny, already dead even though what would have become wings moved. I looked up for a nest but did not see one. I stepped over it and went about my chores.

Whenever I go into the chicken shed, barn swallows swoop, exquisite fighters, skating along the air, coming close enough for me to grab. For a plain bird they are beautiful with brown cap and white breast and charcoal wing feathers, that hook into the air. I look into the tree for a nest but see nothing. But when I set the water down in the shed, I saw two baby swallows sitting on a rafter. So that’s it, that’s why they attacked me when I set a pan of feed for the roosting chicken, who is no longer roosting. I need to take those eggs to the manure pile.

IMG_0419Yesterday a pigeon wobbled on our fence, a beautiful dark gray with lighter gray mottling on his wings. He looked as ominous as that famous raven. I should have known he had the eye of a bird that someone had loved. But I figured he was ill or beat up by the recent storms. I did not want to touch him,  and called the health department a day too late, to ask if they wanted to know about a sick bird. They said pigeons weren’t on the West Nile list.

Even Bruce said they eat a special food and drink electrolytes, but that was after he had died. I could have gone to Cherry Valley Feed and bought pigeon food, or called the racing pigeon club I found on Google. Bruce said he was for sure a racing pigeon when he slipped the shovel under him, because he didn’t have a big breast like wild pigeons. “We had a racing pigeon land here when we first moved in,” he said. “I tried to feed him bird seed but he looked at me, like what is this?”

Somebody else said they had a racing pigeon land at their place, and looked up the phone number on the band. The owner said he had been gone for several years and probably had a disease and later died.

The health department said they would have animal control come by, take him to a rehab place. They said that racing pigeons on long runs, will stop and rest, and then keep going. I made sure all the water pans were full and that my barn was cleaned because I’ve heard enough stories about how intrusive animal control can be. When she called back hours later, the pigeon had toppled over and died, his head bowed, his beak open. “I’m sorry you had to see that,” she said as though I were a child who hadn’t seen animals die. I am sorry that I didn’t listen to my instinct to call them a day earlier.

35The prophet Zechariah tells the story of a woman called Wickedness stuffed in a basket used for weighing and measuring, with a lead cover. And two women with wings like storks stuffed her back inside when she tried to climb out. They slammed the lid and caught up the basket and carried it to Babylon. I am uneasy that it’s a woman that personifies wickedness here, but she is balanced out by those two women with white wings, lifting into the sky, with grace and power. I think of my own hardness of heart, my just not wanting to be bothered with these birds, not knowing what to do or how, or if there could be help. I was too full of overwhelm, and they were just birds, wild things, in a fecund world that will replace them.

People say that a broken heart breaks you open, but I say keloid grows over it, hardens it. Sometimes even though you want to stay open, stay vulnerable, in touch with your feelings and others, you can’t. That scar tissue grows. Your heart calcifies. (A friend had calcium deposits that stiffened her heart, so I guess this can literally happen.) You go numb and think it’s peace, but when someone’s mother dies or a bird falls down, you have nothing to give but irritation at the inconvenience, so you turn to prayer, venting, asking for change. All through the Bible, God says he will replace that hard heart with one of flesh. (When you think about it, a hard heart can’t pump blood, because it’s gone brittle.) I look for that promise to come, leaving it up to Him. I think of the saying, “His kindness leads to repentance,” and I am grateful for these last few, quiet, happy months, here on the farm, where thankfulness rises slowly, as I walk the dogs down our road, under a sun already risen high.   

Bruce buried the pigeon behind our shed. I couldn’t help but think about his owner wondering where the bird had ended up. I wondered if it was a favorite bird, a skilled bird, whose beauty in flying, was watched as his handler set him free to head home. I wondered how empty he would feel. 

IMG_0339 (1)A young man who had gone missing for a month, who was found drowned, well, his death shook our community. One of my former students, one of my favorites, was his cousin, so Bruce and I decided to attend the wake. I wasn’t sure if I should go because I was merely his cousin’s teacher, but on Facebook I read my student’s hurt and wanted to give him a hug. His cousin had gone missing for over a month, until he was found in the Rock River. As soon as we parked, my own tears welled up.

His father greeted us, said that we don’t know God’s ways, that we only see through a peep hole in a door, but that God knows what He is doing. It wouldn’t be good if we knew the plan because we might mess it up. I stared at his brown tweed jacket, hearing words rise from a faith that I felt too, standing by a casket. He said that he would see Antonio again, that death was not the last word. I gave an awkward hug because I was a stranger. But what grace he offered, what grace.

If you’d like to purchase my novel, The River Caught Sunlight, click here.

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