• Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

Just Listen to the Birds

Updated: Jan 29

Early yesterday morning, while Mick and I walked our dog, a rosy finch flittered erratically above our heads, then came to rest on the asphalt not far from our feet. Its little chest heaved, its feathers were askew, and it looked at us as if to say, I don’t know why I can’t fly. We stopped and watched it for a moment, wondered what to do. I said to Mick, Should we pick it up? Take it to the Wildlife Rehab Center? He looked at me and said, Nature will take its course here. The thing is obviously sick.


Nature will take its course. That’s what we say about wild creatures in distress. What if that bird knew humans sometimes helped? I voiced that feeling and Mick just looked at me. He didn’t believe finches thought about humans quite that way. But I had my fantasy about it, my questioning whether birds know more about us that we give them credit for. I mean, hey, the birds around our yard wait for us to fill the feeder. They know that much. What else do they know?


Perhaps my desire for that finch to have chosen Mick and me as the humans to crash to the ground in front of is a natural product of years of employing metaphors in poetry and other writing. Perhaps it came from a wish to be chosen to care for something, to make a difference in this one tiny life. Perhaps it was just that I didn’t want to be sad over a small bird dying on the ground.


Or maybe, selfishly, it was my own bout with vertigo, which makes me feel like I’m moving around erratically, that had me so connected to that finch.


I watch birds around here a lot. We have an abundance of them thanks to the native plants we’ve used all over our yard. Birds swoop in and out of our wildflower garden every single day, even in the depths of winter. They live in the evergreens that populate three sides of our backyard. They land on the deck, their heads bopping this way and that, their eyes bright, their feet delicate. They are a constant stream of happy showing us flight, giving us song, demonstrating survival in the worst of weather. I suppose seeing one in despair stops up that stream of happy for a moment.

But it’s more than that. There is a connection to the larger world that tugs at me when any small creature is hurt or dying. There is the awareness that life is a force that should connect us all rather than dividing us. And that’s probably at the heart of why one small bird on a Tuesday morning affected me so much: I can’t take any more bad news from this world. All the anger, the political pandering, the bombings that are now targeting places that should be safe and holy sanctuaries, the lying by the very people who are supposed to lead, the nationalism, the lack of compassion – it doesn’t save us. It kills us.


Nature will take its course. Yes, it will, with people just as it does with animals. We have the ability to harness our knowledge and power to take care of each other, but we also have the tribal tendency to think that we don’t have to take care of everyone. Just some, just the ones who fit the definition of acceptable in any given country or culture. But nature isn’t like that. It doesn’t discriminate. 

Just listen to the birds. They know.


photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

#worldaffairs #metaphors #birds #caringfortheworld #compassion

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