2017-08-06 / Family

Nature Eternal Source of Solace and Hope


Every morning, I get up, wander out to my desk is, turn the computer on, and decide what’s for breakfast while I wait for it to boot up. Then it's a quick check of the morning's news and the weather report. And if I'm not careful, some of what I read can, and often does, set the tone for the rest of my day. So I generally steel myself against it, because it's an awful long time from 7 a.m. to whenever I decide to go to bed to feel bad about something I can't do anything about.

Sometimes, though, just when the information begins to cast a pall over what started out as a good day, I hear it, the unmistakable almost plaintive little cry coming from just beyond my kitchen window. And there, clinging to one of the perches on the birdfeeder, talking to whomever or to whatever will listen, is Emily Dickinson's "thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all." In this particular case, it's a goldfinch, and a male at that, resplendent in his almost fluorescent yellow summer finery that brightens even the dullest day.

Now, the goldfinch is not what you'd call a large bird. It's rather diminutive actually, measuring no more than four or five inches in length, if that. There may not be a lot to it, but what there is sometimes makes the difference between a rough start to the day and a cheerful one that engenders solace if not outright hope. It doesn't even matter either that, as with many bird species, the female is a dowdy little thing. For despite her nondescript olive-brown color, which causes her to blend in more with the landscape, she makes the same sounds as her mate and is nonetheless a welcome harbinger on an otherwise lackluster morning.

Goldfinches are not rare birds at this time of year. They're pretty much anywhere there's a feeder hanging, and how they eat is nothing short of remarkable. They grab hold of a sunflower seed with their tiny claws and hold it in place while they peck it open to get at the kernel inside. It's not just any seed either, and they spend a fair amount of time sifting through the lot, letting the undesirables fall to the ground until they find the perfect one. That's rarely a problem, though, as the squirrels, chipmunks and wild turkeys are always more than happy to clean up the mess.

It's encouraging but not entirely surprising to see more and more people getting back into nature. From stepped-up environmental efforts to expanding the use of local green areas, it's reassuring to know that our link to our origins is still strong and its attraction still a powerful force in many lives. There is so much in nature to draw solace if not hope from, and a distinct dichotomy between the unspoiled realm and the world that human hands have shaped, all summed up quite brilliantly in the smallest of creatures. For what is hope but the constant albeit weak flame that flickers eternally in all our souls, the "thing with feathers...that kept so many warm?"

As a summer storm approaches, as the skies darken and the wind kicks up, birds speed across the lowering sky in search of shelter. And in winter, it's not unusual to see a few at a feeder, their feathers covered in snow, their bodies puffed against the cold, the lure of the food more powerful than the gale.

Goldfinch or chickadee, cardinal or sparrow, those things "with feathers" remain part and parcel of however we choose to make use of the less-trodden places. No matter where I happen to be, some species of bird is sure to be part of the experience, even if it is just the ubiquitous little house sparrow that skitters across the shopping center parking lot or the robin yanking earthworms from the lawn. None ever fails to inspire me with the hope the poet so eloquently attributes to their kind.

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