Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stop feeding the monster: Bird lessons in life

This week a handyman finished repairing holes in the siding of our house. A woodpecker hammered away until there were three holes large enough for chickadees to nest in. This is not a joke. They actually did. If you timed it right you could see a parent returning with little green worms and if you listened closely you could hear the ecstatic cries of the babies when dinner arrived. It was an odd thing to see a chickadee perched on the hole’s edge, its head poking out the side of our house. Whether advisable or not, we waited until they moved out before the work was done.

We are a little obsessed with bird-watching around here and learn all kinds of life lessons from them. Not that I take to the woods with binoculars. No. I’m too fat and lazy for that. We have extremely popular feeders on our deck so all I need to do is sit at my desk sipping coffee and twist my neck to watch. I try not to get too distracted by the constant commotion outside my window, but the other day I was disgusted by something I’d never seen before – a tiny song sparrow feeding a baby bird about four times her size. The baby was fluttering its wings as young ones do while the exhausted parent flew back and forth to the feeder, grabbing seeds and popping them in the demanding open mouth. Back and forth, over and over. I was witnessing the perpetrator of a malicious crime. Slavery. A murderer of sorts. An imposter. Pig. And here was a mother who didn’t even know this was not her own child.
This was a purple finch (little larger species than song sparrows) nest we found on our porch some time ago, but you can see the cowbird egg which is larger and a mottled brown. I removed it returned the nest to the rightful owners. 
Male Cowbird
The baby was a young cow bird whose mother had spied the innocent song sparrow’s nest a month or more ago and stealthily laid her own fat egg among the tiny sparrow eggs. The cow bird can’t be bothered to hatch her own eggs and instead sneaks into another bird home and leaves a fake. And it isn’t like the hatchling joins the rest of the brood thankful to be fed, thankful to be anywhere at all – it always hatches first – ugly, (okay all baby birds are ugly, but I’m annoyed here) blind and featherless, and then it commits fratricide by pushing the other eggs out of the nest to destroy all competition. You may not approve of this, but my husband set the foster mother free by dispatching the imposter.

It’s one thing to hear David Attenborough talk about certain disturbing aspects of bird life, but altogether a different thing to witness it firsthand.

I love metaphor and this was so flagrant I had to reflect on it. I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself far gone down a road you had no idea would end up severely depleting or even destroying your assets? Or health? Or family? I once nurtured a multi-level marketing company thinking it could make me, if not rich, then able to purchase “extras” like Calphalon cookware, percale sheets and massage therapy. I loved the product and invested a lot of money trying to make sales only to learn that as the months passed with little to show for my effort, it became clear I was the worst salesperson on earth. This was not becoming the nest egg I’d hoped for because I couldn’t bring myself to tell you how much good this skincare line could be for your flaky, pock-marked face. But I continued feeding time and money into the maw of the business hoping it would get better. Gradually, I fell into discouragement and guilt, but for several years I was afraid to quit. How could I admit such failure to my husband who had supported this risk? How could I make up the lost dollars? Finally, I told him how much I hated sales and how sorry I was for the wasted money and how afraid I was to stop feeding this monster in my life because I’m not a quitter, but what could I do? Then came one of the most wonderful proofs of grace in my life. He said – “Stop doing this. Let it go and don’t worry about it. It’s a valuable thing to try something out to see if it will work and to find out it doesn’t. You didn’t know this wouldn’t be your thing. So let it go.” I quit immediately and I’ve never forgotten the love he demonstrated in walking through that with me.

Epilogue: we’ve seen another batch of song sparrow babies that are genetic offspring. Definitely. I even imagine I’m hearing happier songs.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A new favorite coffee mug

A new favorite coffee mug 
We’ve always liked the earthiness of wood-fired pottery and not long ago friends took us to a cool potter’s studio near Amery, Wisconsin, where Sarah Dudgeon has been throwing and firing pots in an old country mercantile store that is also her home for about 20 years. There is an attractive charm to the setting – a creative tumbling of plants and color and chaos. (see her facebook page Dudgeon Pottery or go to the website) Sarah’s work –much of it with botanical themes – is gorgeous.

Dudgeon Pottery in an old general store near Amory, WI
Pottery has been an affordable way for us to support artists as we purchase gifts for others, and, of course, for ourselves. We excuse our obsession with the the thought that some day, when we die, our children will have the joy of dividing it among themselves. Uh-huh. The one that caught my eye that day had leaves and stems of a coppery golden sheen on browns that fade into a turquoise green background – I liked it even more when I held it in my hand. Not only for its beauty but for its functionality. It’s not uncommon for people with RA to have swollen sausage-like fingers. Yes, on certain days, mine look almost edible. So a handle designed to fit four fingers and a thumb on top distributes the weight of coffee and mug so there is minimal pain in getting that caffeine lifted to your mouth. Extremely satisfying. 

A load ready to come out of the kiln
It causes great gladness to witness how some people in this fallen world are able to combine their calling or vocation with what they love to do even when it is hard work and will never make them rich in money. But as you look around her site it is clear that in the diversity of color and plants and textures there is an unmistakable richness and warmth to the life she has created.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Gentle Giants

The Scott County Fair had a draft horse show last Friday and we watched the six horse hitches for the mares division. There were ten entries from all over the midwest. At one point there were 60 horses in the arena - all thundering past the stands pulling coaches- the announcer liked to call them "Gentle Giants." When I stood beneath one who was getting all gussied up before the completion - her mane braided, her tail be-ribboned and her hooves shined - it looked like a spa for horses. Anyway - I stood beneath one of the mares and her lips rested on my head. That's how tall they are. The winner of that division was Percherons from Cheyenne, WY.   They are Percherons. Black beauties whose breed originated in France. 


Their synchronized beauty, their power and grace move me. Sometimes to tears. Silly me. But there is a theology to them that causes me to wonder. I mean wonder as in speechless. Amazed. A horse can be controlled with a bit and bridle if you know how. But there is something wonderful about the one who will come to you when called without being coerced. That is what God asks of us - to come to him. To not be like a horse that has no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come. (Psalm 32:9) 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Monday, June 27, 2016

Dinner en Blanc

Setting up tables all along the bridge 
Lots of salmon, salads and chocolate
Last night was the annual evening gathering - the Dinner en Blanc - a pop-up picnic where hundreds of people dressed in white gather for a feast made "spontaneous" by the organizer. Begun in France in the 1980s, now thousands of people join together in cities all over the world. People of all ages and walks of life come together to celebrate an evening of friendship and feasting. Here where I live, people waited for the announcement of the secret destination which comes an hour before the picnic, then all hurry, gathering up food, wine, candles, tables, chairs and even fresh flowers and lanterns and converge on the spot. Last night was my first time attending with seven other friends. There is something strangely metaphorical and spiritual about it. To see such a great company of diners all in white sharing moments of laughter and gestures of kindness: "You forgot your cheese? Here, share ours!" - I couldn't help but wonder if the supper of the Lamb might be a tiny bit like this. 
A best friend

As the sun set over the Mississippi River, light flashed from downtown skyscrapers, the breezes over the Mississippi River calmed and cooled, slowly candles and lanterns lit the old Northern Pacific Railroad Bridge # 9 and for a moment, I forgot the troubles of life and settled into the beauty of a balmy night and the leisurely conversations that flowed from table to table. Life isn’t always like this. Some day. Some day….

Monday, June 6, 2016


I was eight years old for one of my first encounters with “heartbreak.” Our game little dog, Bing, was kicked in the head by a horse after I told him to chase them. He died from that injury and it broke my heart. Most of us could “fill in the blank” with instances of needing to let go of someone or something we have loved.

So it was a section titled “Heartbreak” that attracted me to Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte. Heartbreak seems like a part of life we know all too well. Who wants it? No one. But in our difficulties with letting go of people or things we have loved, Whyte’s words offer some interesting insight:

He writes:
HEARTBREAK is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control.

There is almost no path a human being can follow that does not lead to heartbreak.

Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life’s work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak is the beautifully helpless side of love and affection and is [an] essence and emblem of care.

Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream… But heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way.

Over the years, as recent as last week, like everyone I know, I’ve had to let certain things go remembering that as Christians we find in Jesus what can’t be be found anywhere else: Christ came and is coming again to heal the brokenhearted and save the crushed in spirit. (Psalms 34:18). That is a great solace and it would be my coda to Whyte’s observations.

Hoping that you, too, find a broken heart is not the end of your story.
Thanks for stopping by.