The Curved Bill and the Sentinel

This perfectly sunny looking June morning belies the intense and terribly sad news of the last two weeks. We might wonder, if we can find room for all the people filing into this train from one of the most populous stations, why can’t we find more room for peace in the greater world beyond this train car?

I thought about this while gardening and catching up after a whirlwind visit from our eldest daughter and her second born son on the weekend, flown in for a wedding from one of those big Midwestern states. Before those chores started, the dog and I had our early morning marsh saunter, the river at nearly full tide. This walk also included two distinct bird moments: a close up fly-by of that ancient bird I’ve described before, the glossy ibis. He flew across our path so close that the curve of his bill was in sharp focus. I suppose it’s fitted just right for pecking at small creatures in tidal mud flats, but, well, it’s a bit strange.

Only fifteen yards further down the path we startled into action one of the many sentinels posted in the high grass this time of year: the Bobolink. A fat bellied, sassy bird, sporting his patchwork black, white, and yellow, he elevates up and away noisily when you approach what his probably his young family. But if you gaze across the grass, you’ll also see many simply sitting on a tall reed of grass: watching.

We need these birds of beauty, form and function. We need to see them about their daily business of quietly looking for food, providing for young, watching out for the neighborhood, flying in their freedom. Their lack of conscious thought or self-awareness as they do these things does not make the doing of them less important or instructive for us. Yes, birds in a meadow are physically removed from the troubled places and rawness of much of our lives. But can’t we wonder, just for a moment, about our reaction to difference while we guard, as a sentinel would, precious life?


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