Friday, May 29, 2015

Almost a cardinal sin

I was trimming a bush today - you know, those evergreen ones with the hard little leaves with a half dozen needle sharp points to do you in - and taking great care because I knew there was a cardinals' nest in the center of the bush.  For years now, smart birds, usually mockingbirds, have been building there, realizing that even my ornery cats aren't going to expose themselves to lots of excruciating pain trying to maneuver through the bush to destroy the eggs or the baby birds.

Unfortunately, upon the first or second snap of my clippers, two startled baby cardinals plummeted out of their nest and through the bottom of the bush, hopped a half dozen hops, and then made what I believe was the first flight of their life.  Mamma and Poppa bird materialized out of nowhere and started making warning chirps and circling the cardinal Wright brothers.  (Or sisters.)

I observed the commotion for a time, and when it appeared that the little fellows had the ability to fly short distances and attain sufficient height, I assumed all would be well, even though I'm certain flying lessons weren't scheduled that day.

Continuing to trim, I glanced over my shoulder at some point and saw Tiger, one of our three city cats, stretched against the chainlink fence, paws above her head, like she was going to leap or climb up the fence - something she just might be able to do but something she wouldn't do.  Would she?  Raising my gaze a few feet, I spotted one of the baby cardinals sitting on the top rail of the fence, three feet from my cat's paws.  Tiger was poised to pounce and all of a sudden I saw me spending weeks agonizing over the fact that it was my fault that the baby birds had exited their nest prematurely and one of them ended up as Tiger's brunch.

Momma and Poppa Cardinal were swooping like the Red Baron, screaming out warnings to the clueless chick. I dropped the clippers and grabbed Tiger by the scruff of her neck and carried her to the patio.  Simultaneously, the baby Cardinal, already sporting a little mohawk-looking cardinal peak, took the longest flight of his (or her) life, managing to wing his (or her) way across the back yard to the top of the fence on the other side.

Catastrophe avoided.  As long as both birds kept moving and I kept an eye on my cats.  Which I did and was able to feel completely at ease when, after a few minutes,  I noticed that both babies and both parents had made it to the stand of trees at the edge of my back pasture.

Later, I encountered a pouting Tiger in the basement.  Already the most standoffish of the three, she was, at this moment,  particularly perturbed by me.  And I knew it was because I had intervened on behalf of the baby bird.  And I'm sure Tiger couldn't understand why I had chosen to preserve the bird as opposed to allowing nature, and her cat instincts, to take their course.

So, I chose to tell Tiger the story of how she and her sister Gracie and brother Rocky came to have the life they've had for the last eight years.  How one late afternoon in July, we had discovered some evil people in a Toyota parked on a country road and reaching into their trunk and throwing things out.  And those "things" were Momma Kitty and her three kittens.  And how they had hit the ground running and disappeared into the woods.  And I told Tiger, pulling her toward me and scratching her behind her ears in an attempt to smooth things over, how the four of them were on the side of that dirt and gravel road the next morning.  Looking like forlorn little hitchhikers, flea-bitten bags of bones, hungry, thirsty, and near death.  And I told Tiger how we had rescued them and slowly nursed them back to health, and, except for maybe stepping on the toes of their cat nature a few times over the years, how we had given them a chance for a pretty doggone good life.

And, Tiger, I said, that's why I saved that baby bird from you.  The same reason I saved you.  To give it a chance for a good life.

Of course, Tiger didn't really care.  She pulled away from me, walked over to her water bowl, got a drink, and then disappeared through her cat door, tail high in the air and twitching with agitation.  Leaving me sitting there without even a glance over her shoulder.  Not even a bored yawn or dismissive gaze.  Out the door and into the yard.  Gone.

Probably to try to hunt down that very lucky little bird.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Brothers on the beach

Soon, four months will have passed since the day I lost my brother.  He was granted 727 months on this planet.  Right now, the four months without him seem more of a lifetime than the 727 months with him.  I can't explain that.  Let me just say that missing someone appears to be more time consuming than not missing them.

I suppose if I were to scrutinize my writing, and apply labels that I so often see applied to other people's writing, I would probably fall into the scurrilous category of sentimental writing.  I don't think that I ever understood what a critic was trying to project when he or she labeled someone's book or poetry or newspaper article "sentimental."  What I do know is that it isn't intended to be a compliment.  I've heard the use of sentiment described anywhere between a pejorative and a cardinal sin.  So maybe that's not really a good thing for me, if you subscribe to the indecency of sentiment, especially when the next most used tool in my writing belt is sarcasm.   If sentiment is my hammer, sarcasm is my saw.

Regardless, here goes.

Early morning on the beach is my favorite time.  It's a great time to walk:  the waves break more gently; the gulls and waders and shore birds scurry and swarm in anticipation of breakfast.  Squadrons of pelicans soar overhead to their daily destination somewhere westward.   People are more scarce but more alive.  So I followed the pelicans and headed west where Destin rose like a mirage in the middle distance.

A lady popped out of her condo with a dog on a leash.  As she neared, I could see the wizened muzzle of the old pooch and I thought how the older a dog gets the more special he becomes.  The old fellow may have looked at my wizened muzzle and thought the same thing.  Like myself, he was still game for early morning beach exercise, even if it made both of us pant a little.

A couple strolled leisurely just at the edge of the water, perusing more than walking.  Speaking softly in the way that only people who have earned the gold standard of comfort with one another can speak.  Even in silence, they communicated.

A gentleman sat in a sling-type beach chair, puffing hard on the last couple of inches of a fat, aromatic cigar and laser focused on something intriguing in the vast emerald waters before him.

But what caught my full attention was the sight of two brothers walking toward me.  I guessed them to be five or six years apart.  The older one was probably 13 or 14...the younger, maybe 8 or 9.  Definitely brothers...similar facial features, same hair color.  But those details were dwarfed by their brotherhood.  Their closeness.  An obvious emotional bond, supported by genes and blood but fused by love.  No way,  you say.  No way could you see all of that in the ten or fifteen seconds you had to observe them.  No.  Way.


The older brother had his arm around the shoulders of the younger boy who sported a set of earbuds  but was still dialed into his older brother's excited stream of chit-chat.  Theirs was a comfortable embrace:  simultaneously protective, comforting, loving, and, for lack of a better term:  natural.  They marched along in quick time, the older boy subconsciously shortening his steps to compensate for the younger one's shorter legs.  Their eyes virtually shone with contentment.  Whatever they shared was good and fun and full.

Needless to say I pushed fifty years aside and imagined myself in the role of the older brother and my recently lost sibling in the role of the younger one.  For just a few moments, it was 1960, and me and Buddy were on Daytona Beach under blue skies and a much younger sun, and we were walking together connected at the hip planning our day of battling the waves, building sand castles, and looking for shells.  We were talking about things that made sense to only us.  Things that were uniquely sibling proprietary.  I had my arm around his shoulders and we were close.  And, for those few moments, I had a brother again and I felt his sunburned skin and I saw his tousled blonde hair and I heard his excited jabbering.   I shortened my steps so that we could travel down that beach in brotherly synchronization.  I didn't want to lose the rhythm, the sweet cohesion.  In 1960, life had no limits and time had no boundaries.  And brothers were forever.

But back to this morning....

I turned when I knew the two compadres were well past me and took a quick snapshot.  I wanted to remember this morning.  And the moment.  As they faded into the distance I had some hopes and prayers for them.  I hoped the older brother never got tired of putting his arm around the shoulders of his younger brother.  I hoped  the younger brother always felt good and safe and uplifted in his older brother's presence.  I hoped  the connection they had on this beautiful, sun-filled morning on this wind-swept beach would be carried away with them wherever they went and whenever they needed a memory.  I hoped that nothing would ever come between them, that they would never feel self-conscious in displaying love and affection, that they would always be best friends, that they would always put all pettiness aside.  I prayed that they would remember this day forever and that God would give them at least another  727 months together.  At least.

It was a good walk with an unexpected but well appreciated God gift.

 Call it sentimental if you like.  But you know what?  Sometimes, doggone it, just sometimes,  you just flat out miss yesterday.  And the ones you love.  Especially those you loved and lost.  Sometimes sentiment is the best tool in your writing belt because it lets you build the memory to your specifications.

But sometimes you just miss your brother.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Moths spiraling to a flame have nothing on people being drawn to the ocean.  I suspect if I could finally grasp what pulls us to the sound of the surf collapsing against the shore, waves curling and white capping on themselves,  I would have yet another of those intriguing little puzzle pieces that I hunt like buried treasure.  What it does to us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, stare out into that vast infinity of water, straining to see beyond the horizon, as if something we lost - or something we gnawingly anticipate - will suddenly appear along that picture perfect straight-edge. And solve a mystery.

On my walk this morning, I saw a young lady in a state of complete mesmerization.  I'm certain she was without and within thought simultaneously.  There was no ocean and there was nothing but  ocean.  There was deafening surf and sheer silence.  The sense of physical paralysis while hurtling through our solar system at a thousand miles an hour.  Absolutely everything in the midst of irretrievable emptiness.

I know nothing about this solitary human being.  I could virtually write one hundred and one stories about her...change her age, her marital status, children or childless, a marine biologist with a slight lisp or a newlywed who just awoke to discover she had married a stranger.  She is every-woman and she is one woman.  She is body and she is soul.

And for several seconds...a minute or two...she is one with all.  The only thing that separates her  from the sand between her toes, the salt water licking at her feet, the wind buffeting her face and stirring her hair, the distant clouds slipping down to taste the ocean...the only thing that separates her from the inhalation and exhalation of God's the density of the atoms in her body.  How tightly packed they are.  How well held together.   Change that one simple thing and she becomes the sand and the sea and as subject to being blown about as a stray gull feather.

And that oneness, that kinship,  leads me to believe that perhaps what we seek where the sky meets the sea...or that mystical square footage just beyond the range of our eyes... is actually what we seek within ourselves.  What we anticipate outwardly, we simultaneously ruminate inwardly.  The rhythm of the waves is the rhythm of our body...the blood coursing through the one hundred thousand miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries.  Thoughts skipping about our brains like shifting winds.  Each breath its own wave curling over itself and receding to make room for the next.  After all, there are more atoms in the human body that the combination of grains of sand on the planet and stars in the universe.  Doesn't that count for something?

Sea.  Meet me.  We are not so much different.  We can hang.

When we find that unique peace in those moments of magnetic connectedness, as I suspect this random lady did...when we get our souls into the eternal rhythm of God's breath, when we define that space just beyond the horizon and, for at least a few seconds,  meet the mystery face to face...isn't that the ultimate healing?  Whether ocean side or in a quiet forest or beneath a brightly stitched night sky, when we lose ourselves, do we find ourselves?  Could that be the coveted goal of our outward search and our internal quest?  Could that be peace, love, and joy all rolled up into one?  The T?  I suspect so.

I hope that random soul found some of that this morning.  Especially Truth.  I am in her debt now for she blessed me with fresh thought, renewed awakening, and a nice little glimpse of heaven.

 I pray she got a good solid look for herself.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Lost and found

Last week, there was a day of lost...but not found.  A friend and I spent an entire day looking for a lost calf, slashing the pasture in straight lines and diagonals, from behind the wheel of an ATV and on foot.  We were convinced that we searched every square foot of a 30 acre field, the ground obscured by red clover a foot high and spring grasses up to the knees.  Undergrowth that could easily conceal an eighty pound newborn calf.  We crossed the hot wire in several areas, around the pond, to the edge of and into the woods, into the bottom. Thinking that a newborn could stumble over the low voltage without missing a beat.   It was a great day for looking - blue skies and slight breezes - but not a good day for finding.  As the day wound down,  we conceded that there was nowhere else to search and were required to accept the "coyote theory."  That some time the night before, coyotes had slunk up from their dens at the river and dragged away the defenseless calf.  Not a pretty picture but one we had to draw.

A short back-story on the missing calf.  My friend had put the mother up in the barn one evening since the weather was calling for flooding rains and possible tornadoes.  She was close to giving birth and he didn't want to take any chances of her or her newborn getting injured.  The problem was:  he didn't know she had already given birth that day.  When he released her from the barn the next morning, her older calf ran up to her and started suckling, confusing the momma cow into thinking that her older calf was her newborn.  So momma cow didn't venture out into the pasture to try to locate her new calf.  Letting that job fall to my friend and me.  And we failed. But not for lack of trying.

It's a sad story, but, during the search while my aching feet and legs covered acres of rolling land, I had plenty of time to think.  And the story that came to mind was the parable that Jesus told about the lost sheep.  And how the shepherd left the ninety-nine to go in search of the one.  And of the great joy upon finding that single one out of an even one hundred.

I've never admitted it, but I'm not sure that I ever fully understood the parable.  I guessed that it was a simple concept but, as usual, I was always looking for something else...something hidden in the undergrowth.

I felt many things during the search.  Frustration ranked pretty close to the top of the list.  Hope was embedded in there somewhere.  Futility crept in every so often.  But, strangely, each and everything that I felt was wrapped in something else.  And that something else was love.  Love for life in all its forms.  Love for the calf that I had never laid eyes on.  Love for things in need.  And love for the connectedness of all things under the sky.

Maybe that was all Jesus was saying when he talked about the lost sheep.  That it isn't about the sheep at all.  And not really about the shepherd.  The search, though.  That's different.  Because the search signified a caring heart and the recognition that all things are precious.  And worthy of effort.  The search was, and is, an extension of love.  My search said that something was important enough for me to leave my regular life behind - to allow the ninety-nine other things that were orbiting my existence to stay suspended in orbit for a little while - while I expended all my time and energy and, yes, love, on something else.  Something that needed me.  Something that couldn't help itself.

And though I didn't find the calf or experience the joy of locating something that was lost,  I found one more little universal puzzle piece.  And, snapping it into place with a satisfying click, I became just a little more whole myself.