And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)
We had lived in our house for almost two decades before I took serious notice of our backyard and what was going on there, un-enjoyed and unappreciated. I can blame the first 10 years to working too hard and not taking time to notice much of anything but the necessary. The remaining years were swallowed up with chronic pain that drained my energy and muted the vibrancy of both color and sound. But true to Romans 8:28, that same debilitating pain brought me good. For the pain caused me to be still, and with that stillness came the discovery of God’s nature gift in my very own backyard.
One spring morning, without any particular reason that I can recall, I poured my first cup of coffee and headed out to the patio. I settled into a glider chair and began watching the sun rise between two tall trees just over our back fence. It was a spectacular orange ball rising as if out of an orchestra pit to lead all of nature in celebration of the new day. It was nothing short of glorious.
Our river birch, my favorite tree, was alive with birds chattering noisily, flying about, just happy to be alive, it seemed. Straight above the back stretch of fence standing on utility wires were more than a dozen doves – silver beauties, calling out with a chant-like sound. I was caught by all the beauty and the cacophony of sound; my senses were being as heightened as if I were walking through an art museum. My first reaction was that of shock: how could I have missed such wonder all these years? On that glorious morning brought quite by God’s grace, I began a ritual that held until the grey skies of winter.
I began recounting my discoveries with my nature knowledgeable son-in-law. I told Mark I was especially attracted to the sounds of the doves and thought they were making different sounds in the morning and afternoon, but he told me I was hearing more than one species of dove and he directed me to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology “All about Birds” website, where it would lead me through identification of birds by description and sound. (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds.) The regal silver doves who were calling out mostly in the morning were Eurasian collared-doves. The ones I heard more in the afternoon were mourning doves. The sound of the collared-doves was “coo-coo’-rah, coo-coo’-rah,” which I decided sounded like “Praise Je’-sus! Praise Je’-sus!”
I noticed that one of the Eurasian collared-doves had a damaged wing. There was a chunk of feathers missing and when the dove flew, he would beat the air really hard to lift off. I watched for him every day, claiming him as a favorite. Once when he and his mate were on the ground feeding on bread crumbs, he sheltered her with spread wings, facing a mockingbird that had joined them. He didn’t call out or attempt to chase away the mockingbird, just stood guard over his mate while she ate. She never looked up; such was her trust in her mated-for-life partner.
Mockingbirds are not known for friendliness, but one befriended me. Every morning, as I settled in, he would appear at the edge of the roof overhang and then fly down to stand about four feet in front of me. There he would turn his head to the side as he looked me over, strut back and forth, and then look at me again. I would wish him a cheery good morning and shortly he would be on his way – an almost daily and delightful occurrence.
One afternoon, I caught sight of a baby mockingbird in our young Harry Lauder walking stick tree, rising only five feet from the ground. I couldn’t hold back a soft “ohhh.” The baby must have belonged to my mockingbird friend because I was allowed to watch their interaction only about 10 feet from where I was sitting. Because there was no nest in the little tree, I suppose flying lessons were going on. This was my gift from the one who checked me out every morning; my unobtrusive lingering, quiet and alone, gained trust. I quietly stepped away to grab my camera, but the clicking caused Baby to call out and that called back a screeching parent. Trust had worn thin: Enough! Don’t push what I’m allowing you! I know not to mess with a mockingbird, so I came inside and left them to the day’s business.
I began journaling on what I saw every day: a Papa Robin searching for worms on a ground wet from the previous night’s rain, walking busily about. Then, fertile area found, he would tug, tug, tug. I wrote of hummingbirds and my discovery that these little jet-birds of tiny beauty make sounds of whirring, chipping, or buzzing. I enjoyed their weaving in and out of our trellis-woven red honeysuckle, drinking from one deep-throated bloom and then another with their long needle-like beaks. I found one little green hummingbird that drank nectar with his tiny legs and feet dangling, rather than the usual posture of pulling legs close to their bodies when they hover in mid-air to feed.
My intrigue with the backyard led to our hanging several bird feeders, including a sock feeder for our finches. A mesh bag of about 18 inches and the diameter of a man’s sock, the feeder allows finches to hang directly on the cloth bag and feed through the holes, sometimes while hanging upside down.
There had been a purple marten condo in the backyard for quite a while. The year of my fascination, there was only one purple marten in residence, but here’s the neat thing: it shared an apartment on the back side with a sparrow! I understand that’s unheard of, yet there it was.
There were many martens living in nearby yards and they would eventually gather overhead on the utility wires. They would shoot off into the sky with such a rush it looked as if Mother Nature had sent them forward with the fanning of her apron skirt. I watched as they soared across the heavens, doing what looked like a swimmer’s breaststroke and gliding forever before the need for more wing-fluttering power.
While the birds provided the action, they were just part of the beauty. Blooming things were all about. Over to one side in a neighbor’s yard standing regally above the fence were golden sunflowers on 10 to 12 foot stalks. The striking red male cardinals and Goldfinches particularly loved the sunflowers and sang out mightily. To the other side was a row of white crape myrtles peering over from another neighbor’s fence for a look into our yard. The color to either side of me added to our own treasures: the river birch reaching high into the sky, the lazy limbed redbud that the doves preferred, the funny looking walking stick tree, a young white cherry, the lush red honeysuckle, and two deep red floribunda rose bushes, always heavy with blooms.
After I began considering the patio my favorite room of the house, I added pots of Lantana to attract butterflies. They also seemed to attract my mockingbird friend and he would clumsily land in the branches that were too weak to hold him up. It was a funny sight as he spilled about trying to gain a respectful perch. I didn’t mind that he broke a branch or two because his attempts were an amusing performance.
The Harry Lauder tree is not a common tree and it is worth describing. We found it in a Farm Bureau magazine and had to search to find one for ourselves. Harry Lauder trees will grow to about 10 feet tall with the same size of spread. They have very thick foliage that has a wilted look in the summer — not very pretty. The payoff comes when the leaves fall off and reveals tightly curled limbs, the kind that florists use to make arrangements. Their branches are stronger and darker, with more involved twirls and turns than twisted willow trees.
I learned the longer I lingered on the patio, the more splendor unfolded and the more interesting the detail became. I love to watch the dance of the leaves of trees and plants on breezy days. Then, when there isn’t a hint of air’s stirring, I sit in wonder at how something as light as a tiny single leaf suspended on a cord-like stem high in a tree can fail to move at all, but it happens. It’s just another part of nature’s majesty.
It is all God’s handiwork, His show of miracle making, and He created it for all of us, hoping someday we would look around and experience it.
Thank you, Creator, for the pain that caused me to stop and notice what You have freely given. Your creation brought joy to my soul and lifted me above the weariness of pain. And Father, thank you for the blessing of healing that eventually came. In Your always perfect timing, You took my pain and left me with many precious lessons. I give You all the praise and glory! You are an awesome and loving God! I love you, Father.