The Birds


There’s a scene in Steel Magnolias, when Ouiser Boudreaux (Shirley McLain) explains why she has taken to gardening:

“Because I’m an old Southern woman and we’re supposed to wear funny looking hats and ugly clothes and grow vegetables in the dirt. Don’t ask me those questions. I don’t know why, I don’t make the rules!”

I may have been raised mostly in the Midwest, but those raising me were Southern Women through and through, and I can tell you, there is great truth in that statement. The urge to grow things seems to be stronger and stronger now that I am no longer growing chidren. But another part of turning into my mother has suddenly risen out of the cultural DNA and surprised me more than a little bit.

Birdwatching. Or Birding, as those of us with the binoculars around our necks call it. A line item in the budget for bird seed. Online searches for the best recipes for hummingbird nectar. An entire library of bird books tucked into pockets in my car.It is possible that I am a member of a Facebook group devoted to birding in Kansas. I might be able to identify a dickcissal and a Swainson’s thrush.

I’m not sure what is happening here. Until recently the only bird I paid much attention to was a Jayhawk, and I mean the kind that shoots baskets. Then I got to worrying about the birds in the rotten winter and put out some birdseed in my Mom’s old bird feeder, and bought another one for the smaller seeds that attract the cute little ones like finches. And they started coming in flocks! Then I got to wondering what they all were, and my husband bought me a guide, and a cute little book where you keep track of what you see (and you know how I love lists). The next thing I know, I’m filling in the book, wandering around looking up into trees and across ponds. It’s like a giant treasure hunt.  Do you have any idea how many different kinds of ducks there are??

Looking for the birds has some interesting side effects. The best one, I think, is that I have changed the way I move through time and space. I look up, way up, and watch for color and movement high in the trees. I notice patterns in feathers and unique small features in animals I have been sighting my life, but am now actually seeing. I didn’t know that birds had different colored eyes. I slow down and take my time. I pull over if something interesting catches my eye. When I get home, I stop in the yard and watch the birds play in the water and dart back and forth between the flowers and feeder. The day and its stress fades away while I quietly join in the evening rituals of my feathered neighbors. I’m a much nicer, relaxed person when I go inside.

I am fascinated, not just by the birds but by the color and light playing on leaves, the incredible grace and patterns of birds in flight. And the songs! I’m sure the birds have been making all these wonderful sounds all my life, but I wasn’t really listening. I have discovered how many “wild” places are hidden in and around my usual city travels, even near the heart of the city itself. I have added new birds to my list on the way to the grocery store, and I’ve started taking route to and from work that can include a stop by the creek and pond to see who is migrating through today. They are hundreds of little pocket nature parks, even when they are actually just empty lots. Tiny gifts from God through nature and everywhere, if I will only slow down a little bit and look for them. You can’t see the birds if you are ruminating over the past or distracted by the future. God’s gifts of creation exist in the moment.

I am beginning to understand my mother’s wisdom as she dug in the dirt and looked up into the trees.  I don’t have ceramic bird statues or guest towels embroidered with cardinals on them, but it’s probably only a matter of time. I do have a big floppy hat, binoculars and the bird books. I don’t know why, I don’t make the rules.



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