One of the delights of living a single life in silence is hearing the change in the songs of song birds. I had noticed over the past week that the black capped chickadees had started their flocking call. Their two-note whistle, after which the species in named, is the familiar chica-dee-dee-dee-dee. I had seen a few of them in the apple tree over the winter.
The blue jays often shoot by the prayer room window in their usual hurry. When they land on the branches nearby I can watch their bobbing display. They change their tune from jeering to a sweet bell-like tool-ool. At times I hear them mimic a hawk.
There are other birds of winter—cardinals, juncos, sparrows—that will fly into my yard. There are fewer since I no longer feed and water them through the winter—a disadvantage of living in an upstairs flat. Still they use the backyard trees for social gatherings and stop-overs between neighborhood food supplies.
Lately the afternoons are filled with the chirps and whistles of the non-migratory species. They are calling to form flocks for spring mating.
I had been at my computer researching on St. Hildegard von Bingen. It is her name that I took at my Final Oblate Profession. She was a Benedictine sister, who, like most Benedictines, was in tune with nature. I had thought her music was her only gift. I have since learned she wrote extensively, and those writings included volumes on the medicinal use of plants. Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 canonized her a saint and named her a doctor of the church. There is so much more to learn about this woman who will is my patron.
My eyes were tired from staring at the monitor, and I looked out the window. The winter sky was a clear cerulean. Just below across the drive was movement in the dormant lilac bushes. The little brown birds that hopped up and over and around branches made me think of Hildegard’s musical notes.
Then I noticed a bird on the wire running to the neighbor’s house. It was a blue bird…and there on the peak of the house was another. My heart leapt with joy! Then dismay…what the heck?! It wasn’t even the second week in February, temperatures were still running below zero at night, there was neither food nor shelter enough for them. Sometimes if winters are mild, a few of the sturdier birds might stay in the area. But this winter...well, I was astonished to see the birds so early.
I left the office and looked out the bedroom window on the south side of the house. I could see the blue birds were inspecting the birdhouses. I was negligent last fall in not cleaning them—assuming early spring would be fine.
I headed downstairs, put on my boots, tucked in pant legs, zipped up my coat, and slipped on some gloves. I planned to clean out the houses. What I hadn’t planned on was traversing a snow bank nearly as tall as I was—and I stand at almost five feet. I looked over my shoulder…the blue birds were still there. I sighed and walked along the drive then out on to the road looking for a low spot in the mound.
A section of the snow bank at the west end of the yard was, I calculated, just less than four feet. If I pushed the toe of my boots into the side, I imagined I could walk up it like stairs. I had not anticipated the summit would be soft and tumbled forward belly deep, and completely hidden, behind the wall of snow. I splayed around, sinking deeper until I regained my footing. I was unprepared for standing waist deep in thirty inches of snow! The potential headline was chilling—sixty-year-old woman found in spring thaw. I started to laugh. Now what?
I am nothing if not determined. I managed to trudge my way across the yard to the birdhouses. Unscrewing the panels I removed the old nesting material. Grabbing the trunk of the small tree I hopped up and down until I was turned back the way I had come. To get back over the snow bank I had to belly slide over the top.
I headed into the house covered in snow and left white clumps across the carpet and floor. Once in the kitchen I pulled the pink cake-plate off a shelf, sprinkled it with dried fruit, smashed peanuts, and added sunflower kernels. Setting the plate on the snow, I climbed back over and slid the plate across the yard near the houses.
I must have been the comic relief to my neighbors that afternoon as I slid once more on my belly over the mound and onto the road.
Sometimes what comes as a gift, or a surprise, may also have a directive. We have knowledge of what is the responsible thing to do, though we may lack knowing what to expect in doing it. No matter how slow…just keep moving forward and all will be well.
Sometimes I think I'm more Franciscan than Benedictine. Just sayin'...
Copyright 2016 Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB
About the Author
Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB lives an eremitic life and is the author of Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, A Garden of Visible Prayer: Creating a Personal Sacred Space One Step at a Time, 2nd Edition, and A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. A freelance writer with a Benedictine spirituality, Margaret has a master’s degree in communications and is a Certified Greenhouse Grower, Advanced Master Gardener, liturgical garden consultant, and workshop/retreat leader.