inspiration: birds, my teachers from on high

IWROTE A PIECE FOR ‘PARADE’ MAGAZINE this week about birds, and how many things these avian messengers have taught–and continue to teach–me. It’s a theme in my new memoir; the birds that visit me are among the book’s leading characters, in fact. Sometimes their arrivals are unfortunately abrupt, like the one, above, who bounced off a window one day last year, but had a soft landing in Jack the Demon Cat’s outdoor pet bed on a chair on the porch). Bad news, good news, huh?

Fortunately, Jack was indoors, where he is confined by day, as all cats must be for songbird safety. What I wrote in “Parade,” in an article entitled “Flying Lessons,” included things I’ve learned from birds, like when to move on (think: migration); how to stand on your own two feet (what other animal but humans, and birds, has just two?); to always have a Plan B; and to believe in magic. (You’ll have to read the article, or better yet, the book, to “get” the last couple of ideas. The bottom line: in my new life I am a bird whisperer. No kidding.)

That black ribbed thing in the middle of the pet bed in the photo that looks like a sock is one–filled with catnip, for Jack, not the incoming birds. Don’t think the Red-Eyed Vireo (I think that’s who it is) was interested. We sat together for maybe a quarter hour before he said goodbye and flew off. Primitive mankind thought that birds brought the thunder and the rain, but I think they bring much more than that, and even wisdom.

Go read the “Parade” article, either in your Sunday paper on on their website. Or read about how birds–“twice-borns” like myself (they are “born” as eggs, then hatch; I took a slower route than egg-to-chick to my latest “life”)–and other twice-borns like snakes and frogs have helped me find my way in my rural life here. I thank them all, and nature in general, for its rich teachings and constant inspiration.

(Note: FTC requires that I say that any Amazon links yield a small “profit” for me, which I use to buy new books for my blog giveaways.)

CategoriesBook inspiration
  1. Anne says:

    I will be reading your bird article shortly. I, too, have been connected to birds my whole life. As a grade schooler, I would carefully cut the “Birds of Iowa” out of the local equivalent of the “Parade” magazine and paste them in my scrapbook–silly because they put the same birds in every year! I finally caught on.:) Here’s the bird whisperers everywhere!

  2. Sophia says:

    This morning I am sitting for hours observing the 8 varieties of birds filling our backyard with drama, (stories I long to understand). Two families of chickadees are building homes in the houses we just erected 2 weeks ago.
    I said to my husband, after breaking away for breakfast, that it was far more fascinating to watch our new joyful companions, to listen to the varied choir, than to break away to daily “chores”. His reply, “why would you?” (break away) “what else could possibly take you away from this backyard domain”?
    So, I am sitting…for hours in this wonderland and thought of you, Margaret, enjoying your “avian messengers”. I like the “oneness” that nature brings, that arrives with spring, when no matter where we live, we (who love nature) all join together in celebration. We are all singing down deep in our souls with the chirps.

    Thank you, Margaret for writing so eloquently of nature.

  3. Sandy Wilson says:

    I just read your article “Flying Lessons” in the Parade magazine that comes in our Kansas City Star newspaper. Loved it, it is great to know that I am not the only one listening to the birds, nor the only one they are “talking” to!

  4. Tricia says:

    The Parade piece is lovely — a great tasting for your beautiful book so I hope the hordes rush out to buy it. Happy spring!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Tricia, Sandy, Sophia, Anne. I am so happy to “meet” others who are similarly moved by these amazing little creatures. I feel like they have been my companions for decades here while I made the garden, entertaining me (and sometimes dive-bombing me when I get too close to a nest!). I hope you will come back and say hello again soon.

  5. Mary Farrand says:

    This is my first spring to be living in a town or residential area in over 20 years….I am sure that the birds will be here, showing me new and different ways of nesting, feeding and entertaining…..I will be interested to see which country varieties I have seen in the past have adapted so that I can enjoy them here in town.

  6. Deborah says:

    Since the day I bought your book I have wanted to respond in someway. It wasn’t until now, with this article that I took the plunge and decided to write. The article of course grabbed my attention because I am a bird photographer (deborahkunzie.com), first and foremost. Then the owner of a technology company. It was your statement of a “bird whisperer” that caught my eye again as that is what I have always called myself. Others as well.
    Your writing, your book, your wit is contagious and I want to thank you for sharing what you do with us. I was in the process of doing much the same as you did, leaving the “stuff” behind when I came upon your book in a very particular way. In fact I wrote about a couple of weeks ago on the site I am using as my own private sanctuary if you will.
    The link http://tikibarliving.com/?p=30. Not trying to use this space as a marketing gimmick, that’s not what I am about. I am just amazed at how many similar things you wrote about in your book aligned with my own life. Thank you and keep up the great work!!

  7. Barbara says:

    I have just finished reading your book. I enjoyed it thoroughly, particularly the parts about the birds as I have a pair of cardinals nesting in a tree just outside of my second story window. That’s the good part. The bad part is their frequent attempts to fly through my patio windows and door! I fear cardinal concussions!

    I’m sorry that I’m all finished with your book because it has given me such pleasure and satisfaction this week. Thank you. But here on the Gulf Coast it is serious gardening season and I am relishing this delightful season.

  8. Jeannie says:

    I loved your article in today’s Parade. I have always been a “nature whisperer”. As a child, I thought I was odd. I tried to save all the critters I found, much to my mother’s dismay. Birds can teach us so much. We have a hummingbird that flies up to the window every year on May 4. This was my Gram’s birthday, the original bird whisperer. I don’t think it is the same hummer every year, but somehow, one always does the same dance to let me know it is time to put out the feeder. Thanks for your article and your blog. Happy Spring! I know it will get here eventually.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Mary. Where I used to live in the Bronx, NYC, we had a surprisingly diverse assortment of birds, especially during the migrations in spring and fall, so it will be interesting to see who visits your new place. Enjoy!

      Welcome, Deborah. It is uncanny the similarities; one of the great things about blogs is that we get to meet others with whom we find these commonalities. I know that has been a blessing here for me.

      Welcome, Barbara. The only ways to deter them would be to use one of the tactics in this article (window stickers, for instance, of a hawk or anti-glare materials and such). It’s also important not to have feeders near windows; lots of tips like that at that link. Hope that helps!

      Welcome, Jeannie. The hummingbirds always come here the week the bleeding heart opens. Who knows why, but that’s the first plant they come to drink from. So I associate the two, as you do your May 4 moment.

      Hope to see you all soon again.

  9. Juanita says:

    What a lovely written piece, Margaret.

    Birds hold significant spiritual meaning in our family.

    When my maternal grandmother realised she was losing her battle with cancer, she left the hospice to spend her last days at my parents’ home. Birds suddenly became frequent visitors inside their home, flying in through open windows and doors to sit quietly for minutes at a time on cabinets or bookshelves until they fluttered out again, unhindered. We took this to be a sign of God’s presence, comforting us and watching over us during a very difficult time.

    Similarly, when my husband and I had just moved into our own home last year, our beloved dacshund passed away from lymphoma within two weeks of our arrival. The sadness and sense of loss we felt for our furry child was eased somewhat by the birds which began to flock to our garden in our dog’s absence. Their arrival coincided with decorating our new lair, and so birds made it into our interior design as well. As such, they bring a smile to my face whenever I think of their meaning and calming presence.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Juanita. I would have seen it as just the same thing. They seem to be messengers in so many ways. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story, and do stop in again soon.

  10. Carol Bass says:

    I was THRILLED to run into your article yesterday in the Parade as I was just finishing my NookColor version of your book and longed for just a little more. It was a wonderful surprise. I am a bird lover as well, as my name might imply. There are so many of us out there. I love to hear of your bird visits. BTW….LOVED the pictures scattered throughout the Nook version of your book. I am so tactile and am trying to love the Nook gift I received for Christmas from my husband. Your pictures made me love it so far!! Many pleasant wishes to you today!

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Carol — I have yet to hear from anyone with a color Nook who saw the photos I added to the book at the last minute for that and the iPad. So glad to know it was a nice bonus!

  11. Ginger Goolsby says:

    It was very nice to read your article in yesterday’s Parade. I particularly enjoyed the parts of your book that pertained to the birds in your garden. In addition to being a gardner, I have also participated in Cornell’s Feederwatch for several years. Birds are such wonderful little creatures.

    Hope the article inspired a lot of new purchases of your wonderful book.

  12. Joan says:

    I just returned from Nebraska, a trip to view the mating display of the Greater Prairie Chicken and the massing of the Sandhill Cranes on the Platte River. I was primed for anything that tapped into the wonders of birds.
    One lesson I learned for sure, you have to get up really early to witness some of the wonders of the avian world.
    I really liked your piece, and listened to the sound of the Eastern Bluebird a few times. I will be looking for them this spring here on LI.

  13. Marie says:

    Margaret… I love the “Parade” article. I give presentations about garden birds to local garden clubs, etc., and often use the phrases “think like a bird” with regards to how to attract them, so one might truly enjoy their beauty, even for the short time many breeders are in NH. However, you’ve given me a new twist… perhaps, in closing remarks, I will add that the winged souls have something to offer us, as well.
    Thank you, teacher. I love hearing from you.

  14. Sally Johnson says:

    I am so grateful to have found this blog and your book which I am enjoying so much.When I saw the article in Parade I felt like I knew the author. This has been a more difficult winter than usual for us here near the Lake Ontario Shore. I live alone except for Molly ,my Sheltie dog. But I feel like the birds have kept me company all winter and now there are more spring arrivals every day. Daily trips into the near by Alabama Swamp and Tonawanda Game Reserve keep me busy counting geese and swans. Thanks for reminding me to count all these blessings.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Marie, with your kind words. Thank you. “Winged souls” is a lovely image.

      Welcome, Sally. Long winter here too. I am so glad you are enjoying the book!

      See you both soon again, I hope.

  15. Carole Clarin says:

    As Barbara wrote, I too was sorry to have finished your book however, it’s one that I will read again because I’m certain I missed something-also it was a delightful read! Thank you for sharing such an important and meaningful part of your life.

    I also read the Parade article and listened to the bird calls. I can onIy recognize the call from the cardinal but I hope to someday learn to identify more birds by their calls.

  16. Lorie says:

    If you keep a lidded shoebox handy, with a paper towel in the bottom, you can put an injured bird inside, close the lid and the bird with “think” it’s night, be calm, and put energy into getting its senses back. After a half hour or so, the lid comes off and the bird will leave at its leisure. All you have to do is replace the paper towel as it will be dirtied. Of course, sparrows are not included in this rescue.
    I enjoy your newsletter immensely.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thank you, Lorie, and welcome. In the cold months I hold them next to me to stay warm, but that is a great idea. You are very kind to say hello; I hope to see you soon again.

  17. Nadine says:

    In the last 25 yrs that I’ve lived here (a Paris suburb), I have seen many permutations of the bird populations in the garden, according to size (and power, I assume), but this winter, they seem to have come to some sort of understanding. There is one couple of collared doves that I like to think are the same that return year after year. In the last couple of years though, they haven’t even bothered to migrate. A sign of global warming?
    On sleepless nights, I’ve heard birds singing at 3 AM in the depth of winter. According to one study, these days birds can make themselves heard in noisy urban areas only at night. Coping strategy?
    Yes, they are setting an example. Stay put unless you are forced to go anywhere, eat local, cope and survive. Birds are clever creatures.

  18. Carol Oldham says:

    “Be like the bird that, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.” -Victor Hugo

    Thanks for your “Flying Lessons” article.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Dawn. Yes, magic: I was often too “busy” to even notice it. Now I see it all around.

      Welcome, Carol. Great quote — thank you for sharing it.

      Hope to see you both soon again.

  19. Miriam Russell says:

    I’m one of your sister Marion’s Master Class students. Now I’m one of your fans. Your book expanded my view and appreciation for the natural world just outside my door. Your writing not only informed, it inspired my own writing.
    The Parade article reminded me that we have a wonderful family of Wrens who have already returned to our only birdhouse with their lovely songs. I think it’s a House wren, but I’m not positive.
    It’s clear from these posts that your fans are very appreciative of your sharing your garden (and house) with us.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Miriam, and welcome! Wrens (at least the ones here in our area) are such little birds…but what big voices! They have so much personality. Glad to “meet” you and hope to see you again soon. I’ll be at Market Block Books in Troy, by the way, on April 23 during farmer’s market hours. Info here.

  20. Mary Z. says:

    One of my most memorable (and oddly Maine) experiences was driving to the tiny town of Cutler, boarding a small boat with about 8 strangers and taking off for Seal Island, the breeding ground of the Atlantic Puffin. Watching from a blind, these birds were so incredible and strange looking. They were hunted for their feathers and were almost extinct. Now they’re now protected by both the US and Canada along the maritime border. (but they eat them in Norway-yuck)

  21. Lorie says:

    Sorry to bother a stranger with this observation, but I live in a gorgeous wooded area in NE above the Missouri River. Not a soul here appreciates it. We used to have families of red fox…babies every year. The baying of the foxes just delighted me. About 8 yrs. ago, one of the neighbors, who owns a construction company, used heavy equipment to bury a mother fox and her new babies and I have not seen a fox since. Early this morning, as I was walking the dogs, a magnificent speciman of mature red fox came out of the woods, walked leisurely in front of us, stopped for a minute to stare and went about his business. The dogs didn’t even react. It was just a heart-stopping glorious moment that probably won’t be repeated; it was a fleeting divine blessing. I just had the feeling that you would appreciate my experience… no one around here would.

  22. Slow Reader says:

    I loved your Parade essay this week! So much that I highlighted paragraphs, clipped it out, and pasted it in my “writer’s notebook” to remind me what clean,m unsentimental nonfiction sounds like … a true gem of an essay, like your hummingbird.

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