Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Birds A Source Of Inspiration

Birds can be a source of inspiration to those of us growing older in this constantly changing world. From all my childhood memories, it is only the birds that have not changed their personalities or appearances from when I first knew them as a gangling, tree-climbing child.

Houses we knew and loved are torn down, gurgling streams we waded in as children, picnicked by as young lovers, camped by with our families, have been filled in by huge earth moving machines. Forests we walked in with the soughing wind, woods that shaded jack-in-the-pulpits, trilliums, and hepaticas have fallen victim to the chain saw. Concrete replaces the forested beauty of the mountain valley.

My brothers and sisters, as well as childhood friends, have moved away from the North Georgia mountain. All have grayed and wrinkled and grown older with the passing years. Personality changes in us are not at all rare, but birds never change at all from the way we knew them when we were roaming youngsters learning the birds and their ways.

Recently, I visited my childhood home and was deeply moved by what I found. The window panes were shattered, the mill work was stripped, wallpaper hung in shreds and the stairs hung precariously from the second story.

Nothing was as I had remembered it as a child until we reached the front porch. There, on a ledge of a window, sat a phoebe on her nest, just as a phoebe has sat some sixty years before. No doubt she was a ten-times removed great grandchild of the phoebes I once knew. Before we left the male called out to us "phoebe-ee-eee" irritably, exactly as his ancestor had called to a mountain lass more than a half century before.

The orchard below the house where the orchard oriole sang each spring was gone. It had succumbed to a growing forest of maples, poplars and oaks.

I climbed an apple tree as a child, I remember, half-hiding myself with foliage, and watched the orioles build their green grass nest on a sloping limb. As the sun grew hotter each day, the grass nest dried to a pretty yellow. The nest was so low that from my perch I could see the eggs, bluish-white, with purplish-brown splotches. One was laid each day until the clutch of five was complete.

After a long time, counting in childhood days, five ugly little creatures hatched. I watched them grow and was disappointed the day I found the nest empty.

My dad told me that within a few weeks, when they learned to fly well, they would be on their way to South America, not to return until the next spring.

Each spring we eagerly awaited the return of these colorful black and orange birds. When they arrived we knew spring had crept into the mountain valley, over the hills, along the woods, roads, highways and gurgling brooks and singing waterfalls.

Beautifully feathered, singing birds . . . linking childhood memories with the aging years . . . a source of comfort and delight.