Sandhill Cranes

img_1602-1-e1559014041812.jpgWe’ve seen them other years, stopping very briefly on their way to other destinations or merely flying over—but this year, two (and sometimes three) lingered for weeks.  The deep-throated trombone of their voices was an exotic addition to our usual local symphony, putting the normally dominate swan trumpeting to shame, and for awhile, they would even sound off like clockwork around 5 AM every morning.  Who needs an alarm clock, my husband and I would mumble groggily to each other, when you have sandhill cranes in your back yard?

I expected lots of photo opportunities, but there was one thing I hadn’t figured on, and that’s how alert these big birds are.  That was coupled with the fact that they generally feed in the open fields, where there is little cover for a hopeful photographer.  I made a couple noble efforts, but to no avail.  Off they’d flap, every time, noisily warning to the rest of world!  “She may not look like a wolf,” I could imagine them croaking knowingly to each other, “But she may be a wolf in human clothing.”  They weren’t taking any risks when it came to suspicious creeping in their direction.

On one of these attempts I discovered that I wasn’t the only one curious about the newcomers—but this inquisitive deer had a little more luck with close-ups than I did.IMG_4764 edit.jpgIMG_4766 edit.jpgFrustrating as it was to have my designs foiled time after time, I had to begrudgingly admire these giant fowl’s sense of awareness though.  It reminded me of the sobering topic we’ve been studying on Wednesday nights at church, and in particular, this verse:

“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

It would seem that we all could learn a bit from the sandhill cranes, who never seem to let down their guard, who not only see and flee at the first sign of danger but warn everyone around them of it, too.  Sometimes, instead, we’re a bit too much like the pair of twin fawns I encountered the other day (unfortunately without a camera in hand), who naively wandered out into the middle of the road to sniff the tires of my paused car.  “Look, isn’t it pretty?  Isn’t it shiny?  It doesn’t look like those wolves mother is always warning us against.  Surely it won’t hurt to take a closer look!”  All the while ignoring the frantic hoof stomping of their mother from the safety of the ditch, quite oblivious to the fact that I’d just come within inches of running them over and that someday a hunter will not merely sit there admiring their pretty brown eyes.

Hopefully, before it’s too late, they will learn, as the sandhill cranes know, that danger does not always come packaged in sharp teeth and furs, and that it’s better to be wary, listen to the warnings from those around you and do your research of the unknown from a safe distance.

And hopefully, each of us does, too.*

“[Therefore] Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)

*For more in depth instructions on how to identify and withstand the spiritual enemy I’m alluding to here, see Ephesians 6:10-18, or check out the excellent study guide we’ve been using over here called Spiritual Warfare: Overcoming the Enemy by Kay Arthur and David and BJ Lawson.

Harbinger

img_8262-e1525044489798.jpgI thought it was high time a robin put in an appearance, both in my yard and on this blog, but they took their sweet time this year.  I was hearing all sorts of sightings reported by friends and family, and I was seriously beginning to wonder if these little harbingers* of springtime were even going to show me their faces this year.  And if they didn’t, would it even really be spring?  I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that robins are about as quintessential to the advent of spring as pussy willows.

But, one bright morning this week, I heard a new yet familiar bird call through the window, and spotted a pair of handsomely erect rust-breasted worm-hunters running and hopping across the yard.  I melted a dark spot in the frosty grass sitting perfectly still until one (skeptically) got close enough for this shot.  So, just in case you needed reassurance, I thought I’d pass the news on to you that all is well, after all.  Spring really is here.

*Harbinger: “A person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another.”

How beautiful…are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

Chipping Sparrow

IMG_0928I almost missed him there on the ground.  Amidst the bark and leaves, the neutral shades of his feathers had blended in so well I literally almost stepped on him.  Then, when I did notice him just in time, I wondered if something was wrong with him.  Surely he would have flown away sooner otherwise?  But I think he wanted his picture taken.  I got within three inches with my camera before he finally took flight.  Lucky for me, he seemed quite unafraid of the big black lens!

Sparrows are good to think about, especially when you’re feeling down, or overwhelmed, or forgotten.  They are, as I found, the sort of creature one can almost step on if you’re not paying attention.  Small, unassuming, modestly attired.  Even in song, they attract little attention to themselves.  Which is why this verse is so significant:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father…So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “ (Matthew 10:29, 31)

If He sees even the sparrows, you can rest assured that He sees, remembers and cares for you.  So whatever your lot may be right now, take heart, dear friend!

Bird Identification

IMG_0476.JPG“Look, Mommy, it’s an ostrich!” cried my oldest daughter excitedly from the window.

“No, it’s not—that’s an eagle!” my two-year-old contradicted indignantly after running to see.

At that point, curiosity getting the better of him, Papa got up out of his chair to investigate.

“That, little girls,” he said, “is a goose.”

Obviously, a tie-breaking vote was needed, so then I joined everyone at the window.

“Yep, it’s a goose.”

“Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1)

 

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Barred Owl

IMG_3450I’ve heard him call the question distinctively across the lake at dusk before.  Or sometimes its from the swamp along the winding stream bed across the field.

“Who-cooks-for-you?  Who-cooks-for-you?” 

A questioning voice without face its been, echoing through the woods, a mysterious and unseen part in the rich soundtrack of our little corner of the world.  I’ve always been intrigued, but I’ve never had a chance to meet him face to face and give a courteous answer to the query.

That all changed this week.  I was on my way to an early morning appointment, coming around a curve in the road.  Suddenly the craggy tip of the dead tree at the side of the road blinked at me.

Whoa.

I didn’t exactly slam on the brakes, but I did come to as an abrupt a halt as was safe under the circumstances.  I looked at the clock, decided I had five minutes to spare and put the car into reverse.

He’ll probably take a scare when I back up the car and fly off, I told myself—but it was worth a shot.  And wonder of wonders, he stayed put as I slowly backed up, rolled down the window and focused my camera (that just happened to be fitted with a telephoto lens and sitting on the seat next to me).  In the back seat, small girls oohed and aahed excitedly as he comically swiveled his head back and forth.

And then he was off, winging silently through the brown forest.    And in all the excitement of seeing him through my lens, I had forgotten to answer his question.  Was that why he sat and waited there so long?

But I’d miss the sound of his silly question echoing from the woods on starry nights—so maybe it’s just as well that I forgot.

“There the owl nests and lays and hatches and gathers her young in her shadow; indeed, there the hawks are gathered, each one with her mate. (Isaiah 34:15)

O Lord, how manifold are your works!  In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Psalm 104:24)

 

Trumpet of the Swan

IMG_2925I must say that reading E.B. White’s whimsical classic, “The Trumpet of the Swan”, as a young girl did little to prepare me for hearing the real trumpet of a swan for the first time.  Up until I got married, I had barely even seen a swan in the wild, let alone heard one.  I thought it would be something like the honking of the Canadian geese that always flew over my childhood home in the spring and fall.  I had no idea.IMG_2932Then, I got married and moved here—and the swans suddenly became an integral part of our lives.  The first spring, we watched them perform their spectacular mating dances on the river outside of the front windows of the little resort cabin we called a temporary home.  They showed up at our next home, too, where they nested on the lake our neighbors had access to.  We never actually saw them, but the sound of their great beating wings and calls echoed over to us tantalizingly all summer long.  And then we moved to our current home, and soon learned, to our great delight, that the little lake our farm bordered was the valiantly defended private nesting grounds of yet another pair of swans.

Now, their arrival every spring has become something to look forward to, something to mark the advent of the season by, and their trumpeting (which, it turns out, is nothing like to the honking of geese—that’s sort of like comparing the sound of a French horn to a car horn) is something we’ve learned to miss when ice locks the lake waters fast and they depart for the winter.

This year they’re back earlier than ever.  I first glimpsed them three weeks ago, while it was still February, doing a fly over.  Within a few days, I realized that they were coming here daily, camping out on the ice, apparently staking out their territory for the season.  They’d leave in the evening, presumably to feed and join other swans on the open water of the river nearby, then return in the morning.  At first they were silent, and it was pure chance that I even noticed the two lumps of white far out on the ice, heads tucked under their wings.  Then, this weekend, a few other swans decided to come visiting—and I knew it from all the way inside the house, because the deep trumpeting was echoing far and wide across the lake and over the fields and through the trees.  IMG_2942IMG_2924I stopped what I was doing and just listened for a few minutes, thrilling to the sound.  The silence of winter was over; the trumpeting prelude to the grand symphony of spring had officially begun.  It was glorious!

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth!  Make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise!…With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King!”  (Psalm 98:4,6)

 

 

This is the Day

baby swallows in nest / rejoicing hillsIMG_8635 edit bandwOne morning a couple weeks ago I heard a great commotion of twittering and chattering out on the porch, and I ran out none too soon.  The first baby swallow had dared to fly from the nest to a nearby plant-hanging bracket, and his parents were circling the porch, excitedly encouraging him on.  By late afternoon, all four of them were gone, off to join the swooping scores of swallows that dance in the sky above our farm everyday.

It’s kind of a happy-sad thing to see them go.  Happy because that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do and I don’t have to clean bird droppings off my porch floor anymore;  sad because I’ll still miss their happy sounds, looking up to see them peeking over the edge of their nest at me, and watching them grow.  baby swallows / rejoicing hillsbaby swallows in nest / rejoicing hillsThis week, my baby turned one.  She also started experimenting in the realm of walking.  Right now she still tends to revert back to her (very skilled) version of a crab crawl after a couple wobbly steps, but I know soon enough she’ll be off and running, ready to explore the world.  These days of her helpless sweet littleness are flying by so fast.

Again, that happy-sad feeling.  The joy of watching her grow and learn and become her own little person is as great as the wistfulness I feel as I watch these precious baby years slipping away.  baby swallow / rejoicing hills

I thought about this as I watched those little birdies all fly away, and it was such a good reminder for me to cherish the sweetness amidst the chaos (because, yes, I have to admit that teething and dirty diapers are not always so sweet).  Tomorrow, next week, next year there will be new joys, new sorrows.  There will be new things to say goodbye to, and new things to welcome.  But today with it’s unique gifts, challenges and blessings will never come again.  David says it so well:

“This is the day that the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  (Psalm 118:24)

This is the day to savor the way she reaches up her little arms to be held, and the way she pops her thumb in her mouth and lays her little curly blonde head on my shoulder when she’s tired.  This is the day to rejoice in the sound of her chanting “ma-ma-ma-ma” like I’m the most wonderful person in the world and the way she squeals and giggles when she sees a furry animal (stuffed or alive).  This is the day to take videos of her trying to figure out how to put her own shoes on, and take pictures of the look on her face (very pleased) at her first taste of the frosting on her birthday cake, and write down that she said “uh-oh” when she dropped her ball over the edge of the couch.  Yes, this is the day.swallow nest / rejoicing hills

What has God given you today?  What fleeting opportunities are there for you to seize?  What precious memories are there for you to take joy in the making of?  May you find them and rejoice in them greatly!

(See here and here for the rest of the story and pictures of these swallows!)