Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Here's One for the Birds (and a little fun)

One day last week, I was preparing to exit the parking garage at the pedestrian alley when I heard some rather loud chirping. I watched as four or five sparrows flew down at the foot of the stairs I was descending, with two of the little birds flapping their wings at each other and all of them chirping. Only it wasn’t just chirping; there was an edge to it. As I looked down at it, I couldn’t help but be transported back in time to elementary school, hearing the chants of the little group huddled around two pint-sized combatants in a heated playground dispute. I stopped on the stairs, sort of mesmerized, incredulous that these little guys would need to fight about anything, when an employee of the hotel’s valet parking staff walked right up to this little cluster of avian beings, stood over them and exclaimed, “Stop fighting!” He waved his hands, and the tiny birds flew up as a group, travelled maybe five yards to my right, landed and continued their little rumble, apparently picking up where they left off. (If I understood “Sparrow-ese”, I could speak with more authority on that point.) It would have been amusing to hang around and watch how it all ended, but I had to get to work. Somehow, the specter of being labeled as one who enjoys watching bird fights also propelled me out of that alley and onward to my office! I didn’t notice any birdie bodies when I returned after work, so apparently it was not a fight to the death.

I’ve thought about it off and on since then, especially in light of another “bird” scene I encountered on the way home.

I have mentioned before that I live in a very rural area. The directions to my house include the words, “turn off the paved road”, which I think, in Jeff Foxworthy’s terminology, could mean that I am a redneck. But I digress! One afternoon, also last week, perhaps even the same day, I came around a curve to see the carcass of some unfortunate creature that had not managed to subdue the motor vehicle with which it came in contact, and had not made it across the road. I noticed that the bird picking at it was pretty large, and moreover, not too impressed with my Forester as it approached. As I drew a little closer to the scene, I realized the bird was a vulture. Almost immediately, my gaze arose and I saw that two additional vultures occupied the tops of two fence-posts demarking the boundary of a farm or horse boarding facility on that road. The vulture on the road looked once more at my vehicle, and slowly turned away from the dead prey and sort of nonchalantly meandered back toward the opposite edge of the road; and simultaneously, as if on cue, the other two also turned their backs! I don’t think I’ve ever been so disrespected before; especially not by a bird!

Even my beautiful parakeet back in Orlando never deliberately turned her back on me; even the first year I had her, before I discovered the handsome and wizardly looking creature I called Gandalf was actually a female, she never did that. She pecked at and nibbled on my fingers when I tried to get her to perch on them. Eventually, she grew so tame that she would ride on my shoulder or on my belt. She used to let herself out of her cage when I got home, and she would fly to the tops of the drapes. All I had to do was hold my hand up and she would fly to it. She forgave me for bringing home the German Shepherd puppy, although she stopped coming out of her cage after being chased around the apartment and losing a tail feather one afternoon when I was in the shower. She even forgave me for never finding a suitable female name for her, and became known after that simply as Bird. But she didn’t live long after we moved to Tampa. I found her lifeless body in the bottom of her cage one afternoon; I was so upset, a friend had to bury her for me.

No, this disrespect is probably payback from a childhood indiscretion. My brother and I were probably nine and six, respectively, when our grandmother was placed in a nursing home. This place had been a house at some point in its history, and was old even then - - and it is close to fifty years ago now that this occurred- - but the point of the elapsed time is that he and I were little kids. We did not realize that our grandmother did not have all that much longer to live. For a lot of the time, she was in a room at the front of the house, so we had permission to play on the front porch or in the front yard, as long as we did not make a lot of noise, and we stayed where Mom and/or Dad could see us from the window. We would say “hi” and “bye” almost in the same breath, and then run outside. Looking back, I hope that hearing us playing might have brought some enjoyment to the residents of the home, not the least of whom would have been our grandmother. But given the constraints of the front porch and front yard, we had to find creative ways to amuse ourselves. Once, we “tracked” a faint crying noise and found a tiny, tiny kitten - - a calico- - in the shrubbery. I wanted to take it home, but Mom said “no. Put it back where you found it.” I cried all the way home. I just knew it would die without me to take care of it. Another time, we discovered these large, green pimply looking things called “hedge apples”. Due to their size, we tried to play softball with them, using fairly thick sticks we found as bats. The hedge apples were more durable than the pears in our other grandmother’s back yard, but even so, only made it through an inning or so before we would have to go looking for another “ball”. As at home, we finally resorted to playing a game requiring few, if any, implements; something dredged up from my brother’s overactive imagination. (Yes, he has always been good at making stuff up!) That’s how “Bird Prison” came into being. It should probably be noted that often, if other kids accompanied their parents to this place and they were outside for any length of time, we included them in our games; they usually did not hang around for “Bird Prison”. They would actually go back inside the home! So, folks, don’t just suspend your disbelief here; go ahead and expel it completely!

The premise behind “Bird Prison” was simple and formulaic; it wasn’t “ripped from the headlines” or well written like any given episode of “Law and Order”. One of us would be the bird prison inmate on a chain gang, using an imaginary pickax to break up rock. (My brother would supply the sound effects) The other of us would be the guard. When the guard’s attention was diverted, the ax would be dropped (appropriate clanging noise inserted here) and the prisoner would “escape and fly” (jump off the porch and run). The game was to see how far the “prisoner” would get before being recaptured by the guard. If the prisoner managed to get as far as the concrete steps up to the sidewalk beside the highway, the prisoner was said to have made good his/her escape. The roles would then switch. The game would end for the evening when Mom and Dad emerged from the home. Of course, when our grandmother passed away, we stopped going there and "Bird Prison" was closed permanently. I never won this game; he was older, taller, had longer legs and could run faster than I could.

So there you have it. From the Sparrow Rumble to the Disrespectful Raptors, I am certain I am being paid back for “Bird Prison”. Bro, I think you'd better watch out for the furtive flamingos that may be lurking around! The Avian population is out for karmic retribution!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


It is springtime in Virginia! The past few weeks have brought a fairly rapid warming, punctuated by cool snaps and violent thunderstorms; rushing, swollen rivers and the explosion of color everywhere in the dogwood trees, azaleas and my personal favorites, lilac bushes, wisteria and the Eastern Redbud trees.

I had never seen, or at least had never noticed, an Eastern Redbud tree until I visited Virginia back in 1993, not long before my husband and I were married. Everywhere along all the sides of the highways, one could see these lovely trees and shrubs, with their buds of a vibrant purplish-pink color providing a pop of color against the clean, fresh green of the emerging leaves of other trees. Bradford Pear trees with their white blossoms and almost perfect shapes and the different colors of dogwood trees join in the color concert, with the final glory being grabbed by the white, blue and lavender wisteria trees and vines and the delicate lilac flowers on spindly little bushes at the end of the drive into our property. My favorite, even though it is a tough choice, is still the Eastern Redbud.

These trees have demanded my attention - - almost as if they were yelling at me to look at them, or make note of their presence along my beaten path - - and I have cheerfully complied this year. I mentally greeted and checked off each one, with this morning’s trip into Fredericksburg being no exception.

And then, just like that, they were gone.

Oh, the trees are still there. The dogwoods continue to bloom, the azaleas are still flourishing and the wisteria flowers still hang in all their periwinkle blue and lavender lushness. But almost as if God flipped a switch during the hours I spent at work today, the Eastern Redbud’s “red buds” were replaced by fresh little green leaves this afternoon! The new clean shade of green is cool, soothing, and refreshing, and after all, green is my favorite color. But I already missed the purple-pinkness of the buds as I began my trek home this afternoon, with my non-driving focus becoming one of seeking out even one tree that still bore these little purple-pink buds. It was not until I left Warrenton heading west this evening that I finally saw a couple of them in mid-transition on the highway out of town! The abrupt changeover of so many trees at once is somehow jarring this year, and it is has left me a little wounded, a little sad, or perhaps nostalgic that another spring seems to be passing by just a little too rapidly.

The emergence of the leaves from within the redbuds marks the passing of another season of my life; indeed, Sunday will mark another anniversary of my birth. It always seemed that the redbuds were here for my birthday, and I’ll continue to miss them this year, even as I have enjoyed them for the past several weeks. The ornamental Bradford Pear trees turned from white to green somewhat abruptly a week or two ago, but not this quickly. The weather has turned suddenly hot from somewhat chilly (for us), with few of the perfect, idyllic seventy degree days to which I have grown fond in my advancing years since moving back east from California. April showers have been in the form of violent thunderstorms for the most part, with the odd tornado here and there; I have to wonder about the probability of May flowers, as the old saying goes.

The heat and humidity are making their presence felt all too quickly; we need a few more weeks of temperatures in the mid seventies, with little humidity. We need more days with a warm sun and a cool breeze; gentle afternoons with nothing to do but laze in the porch swing and dream of another time when the first loves of our adult lives were new, fresh and innocent, and the responsibilities of life still seemed far, far away. The present moment was all there was; we didn’t have pasts to forget or sins to be forgiven, and the future was a still a few nightmares off. We didn’t have wrinkles or sagging skin, gray hair or extra stress-fueled belly fat, and we didn’t need reading glasses to see the print at the end of our arms’ ever shortening reaches.

Summer will be here before long, bringing with it the reality of the sun’s harsh, unforgiving light and heat of responsibility and I’m not ready for it. I’m not ready for the newly grown grass to wither and die, or the red clay soil of our yard to crack, just as my hair continues its slow graying or thinning and my face its wrinkling and sagging. I’m not ready to pull up a rocking chair and my knitting that I’ve recently once again taken up.

Not this year.

This year, I want to enjoy a good “beach read”, whatever that is, although I think I’ll do it without the sand in my toes and the inevitable sunburn. This is the year I’ve sent away to get a new passport and I’m finally going to plan that trip to Wales, and possibly Scotland or Ireland. I’m going to finally clean out that loft room and set up the easel, canvasses and see if those paints I have are still good enough to mix and smear on with a brush. And if they are, I’ll see if I have sufficient creative talent to make something recognizable and beautiful with them!

I’m continuing with my exercise program and newly formed eschewing of gluten, overly processed foods and all but the rarely occasioned bit of chocolate, while embracing healthy proteins, fruits and vegetables. I’m trying to reorient my night-owl persona to one more amenable to quiet early mornings. I’m paying attention to sunrises and sunsets, often commemorating them in photographs.

Most of all, I want to reestablish my personal centering prayer life, in the meditative posture that brings me into the presence of God in the same figurative way as sitting silently with the loves of my life, watching the river flowing by on seventy degree days with that warm sun and cool soothing breeze, while enjoying the vantage point of a bank replete with blooming lilac, wisteria and - - you got it - - Eastern Redbud trees.

May our Lord richly bless you in this and every season!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And a River Spills Over It

Greetings to the four or five of you that actually read this blog! It has been a long time since I have written anything, but it has not been due to any lack of willingness. Life has been busy and interesting to say the least. I’ve been in something of a nostalgic mood recently, and have touched base again with some of my past experiences. In going through some things I had stored away, I ran across a book of poetry I wrote back in the late 1980’s when I was single and living in San Francisco. I thought I’d share one or two that aren’t just really dumb with you. The muse did not stay with me for long, so hang on every word; these are collectors’ items!


Darkness falls, meeting the rising mist.
Out at sea a ship heads for port.
The seals are splashing the jagged rocks,
Oblivious to all but their sport.
A pensive ghost melody haunts the cool air,
Steamlike wisps are borne on the breeze;
As if the sun had just dropped from the sky
And submerged in the cold silver sea.

Beneath where I stand on the dark craggy shore
Lies a structure succumbed and unnamed.
Beside it are skeletal remains of a tree
Which the forces of nature have claimed.
This stark silhouette to the twilight sky
Reminds me of love long since past.
A great gardened mansion, it fell being built;
And I fled from its gables aghast.

I walk down alone to the cold windy beach;
Second guessing decisions I’ve made.
Pulling my cloak close around me, I shudder inside
And a quivering confusion pervades.

When I embarked on my quest for Fulfillment and light
Did I relinquish my claim on romance?
Did I really believe that the search for my Self
Meant I could no longer join in the Dance?
Why doesn’t God answer my prayers anymore?
Were my dreams just some fanciful flights?
If they were only imaginings of an unworthy mind
Why were they sent to me night after night?

I’m loath to believe I’m to stay all alone;
There’s so much within me to share.
Yet it seems that my destiny is found in between
Little breaks in my dark solitaire.

The breeze has combined with the thickening mist,
Covering me in a light weeping rain.
The seals are still playing and splashing the rocks,
Oblivious to me and my pain.
As I hear them, I smile and chuckle inside;
They don’t question the lives that they lead!
They just swim in the sea and dive from the rocks;
Trusting God to provide what they need!

I return to my ship and head back to port,
Strangely calm from the voyage tonight.
In a few quiet hours the sun will ascend;
Somehow things will again be all right.


“Why do you not love me now?”
She asked to no reply.
“Did you ever love me, then?
And if you didn’t, why?”

The question hung as if ‘twere limp
And lifeless in the air.
His facial muscles still and calm;
His eyes just blankly stared.

When he finally moved to speak,
She inhaled a breath of knives.
He told her, “I won’t make a move
Which will ruin both our lives.”

“That wasn’t what I asked,” she cried.
“Don’t put me on a shelf!”
To this he turned and whispered soft,
“You did that to yourself.”


Running down the darkened hall
Behind a bouncing dot of light,
My mind shrieks as it recalls
Other runs on other nights.

On either side are many doors
Some stand open; others locked.
A pool of light spreads on the floor
‘Neath the one on which I knocked.

It opens slowly on its own
“Do come in,” a voice invites.
“You’ll find in here a safety zone.”
From the bait I take the bite.

The room seems warm and is furnished well
Richly dressed in fine brocade.
It has a faint magnolia smell
And old Southern lemonade.

While I admire a doily made of lace
And a Swiss-made cuckoo clock,
In the mirror I see a fleeting face
And the bolt turns in the lock.

“Please wait!” I cry and rush to find
There is no doorknob there.
But I shrug and think, “Oh, never mind;
I’ll relax here in my chair.”

But I discover as I turn that I
Am now in another room.
A bed of stone now greets my eye;
Like one found inside a tomb.

From somewhere far beyond the door
I hear a wicked laugh.
It pierces deeply to my core;
Have I met my darker half?

I hear my voice scream, “Let me out!”
And feel a wind both cold and brisk.
It seems safety doesn’t banish doubt
And it carries its own risk.


I’m a hopeless fan of sunsets
They’re so beautiful to see
I’ve not encountered e’en one yet
That failed to humble me.

They’re stunning when high-cloudy skies
Make purple and orange hues.
Rivaled only by the next sunrise
With its shades of rust and blues.

For me, the mountains are the best
For viewing our Father’s show
When the sky’s reflected on the crest
Of a soft, new-fallen snow.

There’s a quiet, calm serenity
As it sinks behind the ridge
And gold magic clothes the City
As it silhouettes the Bridge.

Somehow deep within my soul
There’s a wistfulness it seems
As the sun’s now just a glowing coal
And I’m lost inside my dreams.


And as the rain softly falls outside, making the rivers that much more swollen, I’ll retreat to sleep and get lost inside my dreams. Wherever you are tonight, stay safe and warm and dry! Next time, I promise to post something relevant!