SPIRITUAL AVIARY for the Year Vol. II
by Jane Beal, PhD
SPIRITUAL AVIARY for the Year Vol. II by Jane Beal, PhD
Green Wall Press Chicago * Denver * San Francisco
SPIRITUAL AVIARY Copyright @ 2015 by Jane Beal All rights reserved Originally published in the United States of America by Green Wall Press of Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco and made available for distribution as an ebook online by Issuu.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This year, my birdwatching primarily took place in Benicia and Davis, California with additional adventures in Santa Maria and the Sierras and a short trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan and Wheaton, Illinois. Most of the poems in this volume of Spiritual Aviary were inspired by birds seen in these places, though a few recall moments in Costa Rica and Spain. In Davis, I noticed birds near Meadowridge Apartments, where I live, and Willowcreek Park, where I walk daily, and on the UC Davis campus, where I work. I wrote about birds I saw in the rose garden of Voorhies Hall, the California Raptor Center, and the Arboretum. When walking and watching, I was most often alone or with my dog, Joyful, when I heard or saw the inspiring bird. But not always. My family shared with me in the joy of noticing nature’s winged creatures: in Santa Maria, my brother Andrew and his dear wife, my friend, Debbie, and my sister Alice (who took the picture of me with the Brown Pelican); in the Sierras, my mom, Barbara, and my sister, Alice (once again!). In fact, Alice inspired more than one poem: along with my friends Lois and Stacey, “Paper Birds at Christmas,” and all on her own, “A Charm of Hummingbirds,” which recalls our birdwatching in the St. Helena Cloud Rainforest. I was with her and my mother when I saw the birds that inspired “Stellar’s Jay in the Sierras,” “The Birds of Amador Pines Park,” and “Turkey Vultures Flying High and Low.” My mother is a named part of the three poems about mourning doves and another about a black phoebe (“Binoculars”). My step-father, Rudy, was with us on one of our bird-watching walks as well. Certain friends were with me at other times, too, either literally or spiritually: Jennifer (“A Page from the Book of the Heart”) and Gary (“Acorn Woodpecker,” “Northern Cardinals in Michigan,” and “Wisdom is a Wild Bird”), 5
Aylin (“Wild Turkeys” and the third of the “Haiku for White Herons”) and Brad (“Varied Thrush” and “I Hear the Hermit Thrush, Singing”). My brother, James, was the one speaking to me by phone about my sister Erin’s childbirth experience in the moment that inspired “Cedar Waxwings at Church.” In fact, the “phoenix” theme of this collection is inspired by my sister, Erin Phoenix, who gave birth to her first-born son, my nephew, Ryan James, in January. Throughout this year’s seasons, my birdwatching bible has been Birds of Northern California, by David Fix and Andrew Bezener. Reading Dan Koeppel’s biography of his father, To See Every Bird on Earth last motivated me to make a life-list of the birds that I have seen and, in this collection, to focus primarily on writing about birds that I have seen for the first time. Reading T.H. White’s Book of Merlyn, I learned of a terrible torture inflicted on goldfinches; reading Peter Watkins and Jonathan Stockland’s Winged Wonders: A Celebration of Birds in Human History, I learned the goldfinch is a symbol of Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion. These readings inspired “The Goldfinch Singing” and “The Goldfinch Painting.” Tom Goff shared with me the Irish legend that led me to write “Fand Sings to Cúchulainn.” Many of the poems in SAY II, or the prose reflections that led to them, first appeared on my Birdwatcher’s Diary blog (birdwatchersdiary.wordpress.com). Some poems from SAY II will reappear in Seashells from a Spanish Pilgrimage and Light: New and Selected Poems in due course. My poem “Field Music” appears in another poetry collection of mine, Rising (Wipf and Stock, 2015); “Wisdom is a Wild Bird” is in my new collection of collage art work, Fairy-Tale (Green Wall Press, 2015). I am deeply thankful for all the places, people, books, stories, memories, and, of course, birds that have inspired
the poems in this book, the second volume of Spiritual Aviary for the Year. I am thankful to Dr. Carl Whithaus: he invited me to join the faculty of UC Davis last fall, which gave me the opportunity to return to Davis (after more than a decade away) and to observe the avian world thriving in northern California. As always, I am thankful to God, the Creator of the world and everything in it, and to Christ my Savior, who died so I might live. Ubi aves, ibi angeles. (â€œWhere there are birds, there are angels.â€?) ~ Thomas Aquinas
“When I am consumed in the fire, give me new Phoenix-wings to fly at my desire!” John Keats
TABLE OF CONTENTS Tending the Bird-Garden of Memory … 14 SUMMER Benicia and Santa Maria, California Night-Owl … 16 Two American Kestrels … 17 Fledgling Towhee … 18 Mourning Dove Nesting … 20 Brown Pelican with Wounded Wing … 21 White Dove … 22 Mama Coot … 23 Birthday of Mourning Doves … 24 Conversation with a California Towhee … 25 Hummingbirds at the Bottlebrush Bush … 26 Western Scrub-Jay Skimming the Treetops … 27 American Goldfinch … 28 FALL Benicia and Davis, California Field Music … 30 The Goldfinch Singing / The Goldfinch Painting … 32 Shadows of Death … 33 Two Hawks in November … 34 Crow Haiku … 35 Robin by a Puddle … 36 Origami Birds … 37 Sharp-shinned Hawk … 38 Acorn Woodpecker … 39 After Two Days of Rain … 41
Paper Birds at Christmas … 42 Ornament … 43 WINTER Willow Creek and UC Davis, California Yellow-Rumped Warbler … 46 Varied Thrush in Tule Fog … 47 The Black Phoebe and the Chicken … 48 A Shy Robin … 49 Two Hermit Thrushes … 50 Inuit Stone Carvings … 51 Dark-Eyed Juncos at the CRC … 52 To Spar the Sparrow-Hawk … 53 Rufous Hummingbird Seeking Tree-Sap … 54 I Hear the Hermit Thrush, Singing … 55 White-Throated Sparrows … 56 The Wild Birds of Willow Creek … 57 An Epiphany of Dark-Eyed Juncos … 60 Blue-Jay at the Bird Feeder … 61 Cedar Waxwings at Church … 62 White-Crowned Sparrows … 63 Purple Finch … 64 Swainson’s Thrush in February … 65 Black-Chinned Hummingbird … 66 Purple Finch in a Flowering Tree … 67 SPRING UC Davis, Willowcreek, the Sierras, Kalamazoo Michigan, Wheaton - Illinois Two Mallard Ducks in the Rain … 70 Anna’s Hummingbirds in the Pomelo Tree … 71
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet after a Rainstorm … 72 Flycatcher in the Morning … 73 My Mother and the Mourning Doves … 74 Binoculars on a Black Phoebe … 75 A Charm of Hummingbirds … 76 For a Cedar Waxwing … 77 Swooping Warbler … 78 Hammond’s Flycatcher … 79 Eastern Kingbird … 80 Changing Seasons … 81 Horned Lark on a Fence … 82 Golden-Crowned Sparrow … 83 A Mockingbird’s Spring Symphony … 84 Haiku for Say’s Phoebe … 85 Wild Turkeys … 86 Stellar’s Jay Song in the Sierras … 87 The Birds of Amador Pines Park … 88 Turkey Vultures Soaring High and Low … 89 To a Barn Swallow … 90 Haiku for White Herons … 92 The Bird-Watcher Time-Travels … 93 Fand Sings to Cúchulainn … 96 Only Two … 98 Northern Cardinals in Michigan … 99 A Page from the Book of the Heart … 100 Barn Swallows by the Bridge … 101 Wisdom is a Wild Bird … 103 About the Poet … 104
SPIRITUAL AVIARY for the Year __
TENDING THE BIRD-GARDEN OF MEMORY It’s difficult to tend and keep these memories. Precious gifts—branch, leaf and flower—just keep piling up! I steal pictures to try to show the essence of a secret experience I alone have known. No one has seen what I have seen. Here are the words: try to imagine! I have imagined all my life. But here I tell the truth of what I see with my own eyes, opened again by God.
NIGHT-OWL Standing on the hillside in the dark watching fireworks explode in showers of color over the Bay (beautiful) – I was waiting, remembering a similar vision of promise, brightening New Year’s Eve night as I drove to a birth center in El Paso, Texas last year – when an owl suddenly swooped across my line of sight from the tree on my left to the rising field on my right – braking in mid-air, wings wide, then settling into the faded, summer grass where she stayed a long time. 7/4
TWO AMERICAN KESTRELS Sky-dancers! Dart on the breeze, high above the pine trees – then seize the top-most branches in your claws, and gripping hard on the height, fierce, tiny, look down to see the field goes on forever, the Bay water shines in the distance beyond the yellow-crowned hills, and the pond – and the hunger that drives you, strives with you and cries to you, now will make you open your wings to catch the wind that carries one of you away, in the light of day, from the pine to the eucalyptus, but before it happens, like love-play, you turn your streaked face toward me, and I know who you are, there, in mid-air – American kestrel, jay-hawk, beloved in the sky.
FLEDGLING TOWHEE Standing beside the window, thinking about making second breakfast, I look out, and I see a brown bird, small, with a short, reddish tail, and I wonder about his name. I get pencil and paper and sketch, and search my memory for a bird with this look of this size, and I cannot think who he is. He seems to be waiting. He does not fly away. I stand there beside the window, thinking again about making second breakfast, and I donâ€™t want to wait anymore. Wait. So I stay, and to my astonishment, I see his mother, a full-grown California Towhee, swoop over the redwood fence to his side, the now pitifully crying fledgling, who seizes the fat, gray worm from her beak with his. He gulps it down so fast! His chic-chic-chic resumes immediately, and she turns to the grass, pestered, but piercing the loam to find whatever else he needs.
His hunger is desperate, but her search, determined, so they will both live and thrive in the garden today and beyond it, tomorrow, in the wild. July
MOURNING DOVE NESTING You are welcome to live here, at the side of our house, and make your nest in the wood-pile. You are safe here. Donâ€™t be startled! We love you, quiet dove and the peace that you bring, nesting here.
BROWN PELICAN WITH WOUNDED WING On the boardwalk in Santa Barbara, down the long pier, he is there: a brown pelican with a wounded wing who can no longer fly. But with fierce pride, he waddles and croaks, and waits for the careless fisherman to draw out his bait fish and lay it down by his side so he can surge forward and steal it to survive! Brown Pelican, I would befriend you, but you hiss at me like an angry swan when I draw near. I think you have fought too long for your life if you do not recognize the intention of my heart, the bird-watcher who has long loved every bird on earth. But perhaps you are only irritated that I disrupt your stealth and prevent an easy theft! 7/19
WHITE DOVE Glance left, look up, see! White dove, wing open, riding the breeze â€“ promise of peace, settle in me.
MAMA COOT She dives in the water and comes up, black head wet, white beak gleaming, while two little coots paddle along behind or beside her, around her, they circle-surround her, rippling the water, and they imitate her: diving down, bobbing up. Hunger drives them.
BIRTHDAY OF MOURNING DOVES Here you are, born-again! One, two, nestled new against your motherâ€™s mourning-dove breast that shimmers like dawn through mist. Second hatching of the summer season, secure atop the woodpile watching, always watching, little ones, as we coo to welcome you. Innocent, born free from the shell, first seen on Augustâ€™s Lammas day, a blessing! Here you are, where there is a refuge under the wings of the Infinite One whose beauty unfolds forever before you take flight all around us in the sky. Yes, the sky is calling you, but stay, stay and whisper these nights away in song until love, like light, has made you strong and your time, at last, has come. 8/1
CONVERSATION WITH A TOWHEE I turn on the narrow, dirt path that winds through bush and yellowed grasses because I hear your sharp voice. Now I see you! Standing atop the branches of a dark bush calling out â€“ maybe to me. I call back and pause. You answer. I warble and whistle and make a song, but you can only answer with the same sound. You make it with a full heart, and so we talk, back and forth, delighted in the conversation â€“ until an irritated mockingbird is flushed out by our music and rushes on you, wings flared, so that you dash away through the air and our summer duet comes to an abrupt end. 8/2
HUMMINGBIRDS AT THE BOTTLEBRUSH BUSH This dayâ€™s dawn-light through mist is rising from the waters of the Bay, and not far off, I can almost see the blue at the end of the passage through the yellow hills. I climb in an eastward direction, my feet rolling over the hard, packed dirt of a narrow trail that weaves through waves of faded grass until I come to a row of bottlebrush bushes with fuzzy, red blooms hanging over a fence. There I see you, hummingbirds! More than a half dozen of you, whirring and chittering, zipping through leaf and air as you drink deep of a red mystery â€“ drunk before nine in the morning! 8/2
WESTERN SCRUB-JAY SKIMMING THE TREETOPS I glance down, to my left, where the hills fall away to a valley thick with green tree and bush â€“ there must be a stream that flows there, hidden beneath the canopy. As I am gazing into the green, a western scrub-jay skims over the treetops â€“ free in flight, like an ancient spirit but raucous as he flings his wings back, braking mid-air before landing on a branch, complaining loudly to the whole world. 8/2
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH On the way back home, I see you perched atop a tall bush looking out at the green valley and the yellow hills, the blue water in the distance, and the whole morning of possibilities. When I draw closer to your shining wings, you take flight toward something unseen. 8/2
FIELD MUSIC I. Wind flows through the faded, summer grass â€“ the sound of dry music plays. Time is passing in an ancient world, and I am alone in the wild. A dirt track has widened here, and I follow it with an open heart. II. A white-tailed hawk is soaring high â€“ a tiny kestrel passes swiftly by. I noticed the first before the second, though the smaller hawk was nearer and shot past my shoulder to hang, mid-air, above the green pond nestled between two hills. What do you see that I cannot? Is it only your hunger that drives you? My hunger has brought me here, to watch you, yearning for something unseen. Sometimes the sorrow and the waiting of this life are too much with me. O, that comfort would come from the Invisible One!
Light, like angel-wings, opens around me: bright fire in the ancient hills. III. Sky-dancing spirits, messengers of blue-sky and distant clouds and trees tops I have never seen, my eyes are open, and I see! My ears are open, and I hear. You have entered my heart, like wind through my hair, where the sound of ancient music plays on. 9/2
THE GOLDFINCH SINGING I have heard the goldfinch singing as he clings to the top of a bush-branch. May you never be captured, little minstrel! May the needle of man never pierce your eyes to make you sing. 9/2 after reading The Book of Merlyn THE GOLDFINCH PAINTING The thistles in your beak recall the crown of thorns – so you sit by Mary’s gentle hand while her baby cries: watching you, knowing the future. 6/16 after reading Winged Wonders
SHADOWS OF DEATH Near the end of October, I woke early and went outsideâ€” the dawn-light was beginning to illuminate the sky. I looked up and saw the shadows of birds, flying, and thought of geese, but these birds were smaller. Then I heard them, high above me, cackle and caw, and I knew that they were black crows. Oct.
TWO HAWKS IN NOVEMBER Flying down the freeway at the beginning of November, I feel the chill in the air and notice the trees-turned-red on the side of the road. The sun is bright, the sky is clear, until two hawks suddenly appear and meet, beak to beak and breast to breast â€“ a mid-air collision, a purposeful arrest, from which each turns to go a separate way. 11/4
CROW HAIKU Moon sliver shining black crow flies through pale, blue sky â€“ winter descending. 11/17
ROBIN BY A PUDDLE How glad you make my heart, little Robin Red-breast! Here is a mud-puddle in the green grass, and you stand beside it, dip your beak, and sip â€“ then look up at me, your left eye outlined in white, before you suddenly take flight. The leaves and the branches of the tree embrace you, and hide you in their love, but I can still see your reflection in the water, like a mirror, shining in the grass. 11/18
ORIGAMI BIRDS She made a silver fan with two dragons one red, one green, twisting sinuously around one another, able to be seen if I flashed the folds one way, then the other. She made me a lavender kimono, small like I was small, painted my face white like a geisha-girl from Japan, and sent me off to walk in the Halloween parade. Hundreds of children walked by the judges and, lost in a sea of samurai warriors, next to a junior high school girl dressed like a pregnant nun, I hoped the judges would see the wild sea-serpents on my fan, the delicate attention to detail in my dress – my mother’s needlework, her purple thread – and give me the prize for the most beautiful girl’s costume. But the judges were on a high stage, and I was on the ground, hustled past them in a rush, never even seen for who I was pretending to be, let alone who I was underneath the white face-paint and thick, black mascara around my eyes. It smeared so easily when I came home, disappointed. My mother comforted me then sent me outside past the golden koi in the pond to sit by the open pool next to Shoko, who was visiting us for a year. Carefully she handed me square pieces of colored paper to fold, so I could create intricate designs – the bright origami birds who could fly from my hands into an invisible world.
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK Sharp-shinned hawk! Orange-breasted in a green tree, searching the ground, hungry, and then the crows come to chase you away, and you goâ€” soaring into the branches of a distant eucalyptus tree. Why do dark spirits pester us? The brain is as wide as the sky! 11/24
ACORN WOODPECKER Days of rain, pouring down, flash flooding, dark creek rising â€“ a break and a glimpse of sun, so I go out walking. II. Under the green canopy of trees, leaves glistening, alighting on an oak, the acorn woodpecker! With his wings blue-black against the oak-bark, his red cap and white face-patches, he turns toward me. III. I see you! You see me! Who are you now? Do I know you?
If I reach out my hand, and invite you will you come to live with me today? IV. My love is far away in another country but he wrote to me to say that he is coming home. The oak tree is full of acorns! 12/3
AFTER TWO DAYS OF RAIN After two days of rain, there was a break in the storm and the birds came out: a gray nuthatch hopping up and down an oak tree trunk by Willowcreek, two sparrow-lovers silhouetted in the branches by the sun through the mist, a spotted towhee in an orange tree, a blue jay in a green field, mockingbirds dashing low across the path, more towhees in the trees! more sparrows in the scrub! – and a yellow one on the fence, who glanced over his shoulder at me before he disappeared into someone else’s yard – and all around, I could hear the singing. 12/12
PAPER BIRDS AT CHRISTMAS A red cardinal flew to California all the way from Illinois. The notes of his song trailed behind him, and I could see them in midair. The silence had already been broken. Tiny, golden hummingbirds decorated the pine branches with diamonds. They caught the light and filled the air with joy! Love is here. Beauty is here. Now the black-capped chickadees have come heralding the Spring â€“ the spring of everything changing. The birthday of promise draws near. Dec.
ORNAMENT Golden, you stand guard â€“ glittering, over the red paisley eggs â€“ your tail, transparent, and your wings tucked close to your body as if you had landed here of your own accord. Dec.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER Yellow-Rumped Warbler, settled king on the bare branch – bluebirds sing for you! I glance up at gold flashing in New Year’s Day light – you are new to me. Blessed with happiness! Messenger of heaven’s love – the sky is open. 1/1
VARIED THRUSH IN TULE FOG Quietness of person, that’s what I have, when I wrap myself in a black coat and walk deep into the tule fog. My eyes are wide open to what might be hidden on the path to Willowcreek. But already, I know you are there, varied thrush. I saw you two days ago on my right, and I identified you. I learned your name, sweet Ixoreus naevius! There is so much mistletoe growing here, in the otherwise naked trees, that your beating heart inside your spotted breast must be glad. Yesterday, I saw you on my left, playing with robins who have returned to northern California so early (did they ever leave?). They are singing for a spring-time that is already unfolding … Now, yes, again today, you are there! Slender and shy. You leave your friend-robin, and leap through mid-air, suddenly, from fence to tree, high above me, and disappear. I will see you again. I can’t wait to see you again. Open mistletoe! Green leaves in white tule fog – feed my love with joy. 1/15
THE BLACK PHOEBE AND THE CHICKEN Black Phoebe standing on the tip of a stick stuck up from the ground – what are you waiting for? Chicken behind a tall fence, standing on the roof of your little, low house – looking out between the wood and wire. You two keep glancing at each other, but your gazes do not meet directly. What is going on here? Phoebe, are you waiting for your opportunity to steal this homely chicken’s left-over breakfast? Chicken, are you imagining what it would be like to be free? 1/15
A SHY ROBIN Why are you so shy? I am not used to shy robins. I see you, trying to hide, hopping between the gray branches of the green bush that is sheltering your nervous movement. Now you glance back over your shoulder â€“ turning your gray coat to me, hiding your blushing, red breast. 1/15
TWO HERMIT THRUSHES Are you in love? I know it is none of my business. I am a stranger. Just because I am walking through the tule fog, and I see the two of you together, does not mean that I have a right to ask, but I can’t help but wonder … Are you planning to build a nest? Do you, young mother, have eggs inside of you now, growing and getting ready for the first birth? (Avian birth! Every bird is born twice.) My soul is drawn to your silence, especially knowing that you are singers. When a singer is silent, the song is waiting. I wish I could ask – the question on my lips like a bright kiss before it happens! 1/15
INUIT STONE CARVINGS Sedna, half-woman, half-whale, is transforming into an owl. The shaman is calling her name, calling her name. A walrus is dancing. Three geese fly south rapidly. 1/16 “Speaking through Stone” Exhibit Gorman Museum, Hart Hall
DARK-EYED JUNCOS at the California Raptor Center Wounded raptors with injured wings and blinded eyes stand still in their cages. You, little ones, who are free, go pecking about outside those cages, and fly away happy and free. 1/17 CRC
TO SPAR THE SPARROW HAWK You are so loving. I can see that. You do know you are a bird (regardless of what this note by your cage says), and I can feel your love for people. I wish I could take you out of this cage and bring you home to live with me. We would be happy. 1/17 CRC
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD SEEKING TREE-SAP No bigger than a leaf, darting from this side to that side, by the dark-gray oak branches, long beak probing the green lichen for the sap on the other side: tiny, thirsty mystery â€“ littlest angel of God. 1/18
I HEAR THE HERMIT THRUSH, SINGING For me, it happened the morning after writing most of a short story about a time-traveling beekeeper in love with an ornithologist. I was out walking my dog in Willowcreek park. We headed toward the bend in the past where the hermit thrushes were yesterday. Today, I did not see them, but I heard their song. I recognized it for the first time. I whistled it back to them, and they answered me. They sang back to me the secret that is in their hearts. These whispered words are the clockwork genes in my DNA. I shift into possibility, and I travel back. I take you to a place beyond dreaming, sweeter after being lost, then found. Stay here with me, under the shelter of the trees, and listen. White sky, winterâ€™s edge, tule fog rises through treesâ€” three notes, glistening 1/18
WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS I see you hopping under the damp, green leaves of a bush beside the path. I stop in the midst of the tule fog, kneel down, and keep watching you until I know your name. 1/20
THE WILD BIRDS OF WILLOWCREEK Varied Thrush Beautiful, extraordinary you! Varied Thrush, you sit on the tiny, outstretched branch of a brilliant, emerald-green bush that opens behind you like a fan contrasting with your black eye, your orange belly – Beautiful, extraordinary you! Ixorius naevius, you are watching me, as I am watching you, and your fearlessness today makes me love you more than yesterday. Nuttall’s Woodpeckers and Fox Sparrows The big Nuttall’s woodpeckers swoop in, going to town on the tree-trunk – and the fox sparrows scatter! But they don’t go far. There are branches enough in this tree, they seem to say, for both you and me. Hummingbird I saw you on the path through the woods by the riverbed. You followed me through the air and landed high in a naked tree.
The sky behind you was gray, your silhouette was black. I stood far beneath you in my winter coat. You chittered to me, and I chattered back. We spoke for a long time â€“ until one of us flew away. Mockingbirds, Scrub-Jays, and Red Robins A mockingbird leaps to a branch, watches me, and keeps his song inside. Western scrub-jays sweep back and forth across the path: one, two, three. A red-breasted robin sings sweetly on the twigs of a tree, looking over her shoulder at me. Yellow-Rumped Warblers As I remember you, where you were flying at the end of the path, I glance out my window and see another one of you, bright tail shining in the pomelo tree! Lesser Goldfinches You were at the beginning of the path. Therefore I come back to you at the end.
My only question is this: Why do they call you lesser, comparing you to another bird? You are uniquely yourself, with the sheen of green cast over your yellow clothes â€“ the transparent color of spring, shimmering. 1/22
EPIPHANY OF DARK-EYED JUNCOS
On my walk back, I see where you are —black hoods, brown wings—following a star that leads you, invisible, like wise men across the lawn at dawn eating the breadcrumbs you find as if all of Time will unwind, and epiphany will be born in the heart even when the world is dark. 1/22
SCRUB JAY AT THE BIRD FEEDER Bold, blue prince of the air! You’ve found the bird feeder in the pomelo tree. You angle in, you find your way in three moves, then hop to a new branch and look directly through the window slats into my eyes! Without words, we are speaking, and I can guess what you are thinking! Not thank you, but something more like: I know you put this bird-feeder here so you could watch me – here I am! Then you flutter down to the ground to feast on the seeds you’ve knocked into the grass, leaving me laughing with delight, my bright one, because you are so bold, so bold, blue prince of the air whom I love. 1/24
CEDAR WAXWINGS AT CHURCH I went through a glass Door. I stood alone under the cloudy sky. From far away, I heard my brother telling me that my little Phoenix was cut open to give birth to her newborn Sun. The cedar waxwings were gathered like family in the branches of the Tree above me. 1/25
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS I see you, little saints, with your crowns of pure-white pearl: you nod and bow, and bow and nod your beaks to the ground before God and in your brownish angelsâ€™ wings, I sense the wind and fire of another world. 1/26
PURPLE FINCH At last! The light is right, and you, from within the high branches of a bare tree, look directly down at me. I can see that you’re no Cassein’s finch with a white eye ring – no! Here you are, aglow your head in a raspberry hood, so bright, so good. But where is your mate today, the sweet one who wears gray? (I am looking for her, too. Tell her to come next time, yes – with magical you!) 1/30 Purple Finches Remembered You were all in one tree, but I could hardly see because the sky was overcast and the moment didn’t last, but still, I cherished it truly. 1/22
SWAINSON’S THRUSH IN FEBRUARY You’re home early, but who else can you be? Wearing your rusty-red coat, white scarf, streaked shirt, you stand beneath a bright, green bush ignoring other birds as we watch each other – you in the shadow, me in winter sunlight. 2/2
BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD Almost in my eye you fly! Always at the red flowers, little one— you’re home early, too, despite what the bird-bible says, but nevertheless I absolutely recognize you. 2/3
PURPLE FINCH IN A FLOWERING TREE Spring has sprung! And you, little one, are perched high in the flowering tree: you open your beak and eat petals of manna from heaven. How sweet to find what God designed! Nourished by love, fulfilled by time: yes, the spring is the thing to make us sing for life has come back into the world. 2/5
TWO MALLARD DUCKS IN THE RAIN I have been grading examinations all day. It is very tiring. I move from the table to a stool beside a door that has been propped open, where I am hoping for fresh air. It is raining outside. Itâ€™s a genuine spring downpour! (Sometimes spring is dark clouds and lots of water, and maybe later, flowers.) I look up from the papers in my hands. Through the open door, I see two mallard ducks companionably standing side-by-side in the rain, a male and a female, calm â€“ and maybe even happy. 2/6
TWO ANNAâ€™S HUMMINGBIRDS IN THE POMELO TREE Two hummingbirds were making love in the Pomelo tree yesterday. His ruby-red throat shone in the sunlight that played between the green leaves and the emerald-green wings of the tiny queen beat as fast as her heart, flashing around her white breast as they chittered and sang, but then sped away when they noticed me noticing them. Where will you build your nest? Where will your little ones be born? Will they remember the scent of the grapefruit that hung in the air on the day they were conceived? 2/8
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET AFTER RAINSTORM You dart in and out of the leaves of the tree, and your quick movement catches my eye: I turn, and I see you – with your wide-open, white-rimmed eye – looking at me. Then you flash from the leaves to a tiny branch that overhangs the path, where you bow to me and show me your red crown! How clearly I see it, just as you wished, and I know your name, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, little lord of the river-land on the day after the rainstorm. 2/9
FLYCATCHER IN THE MORNING Little olive-green flycatcher in the white branches of a naked tree waiting at the edge of a well-watered green field for the gnats to rise in the morning â€“ I see you, doing aerial aerobatics, your quick swoops, circles, and flips, as you snatch life from air and drink it down to satisfy your hunger for spring and for everything. 2/13
MY MOTHER AND THE MOURNING DOVES My mother is sitting on my wine-red couch wrapped in her coat telling me that she startled the mourning doves right when they were about to pick their nesting spot in the woodpile behind our house because she was taking out the trash and then she decided to try to take a picture of them with her cell phone, and they just couldn’t handle it – but I reassure her that they will be back because last year, they had three clutches in one summer in that nest in the woodpile, and we took the trash out regularly, and they didn’t fly off, and I even took a picture of the mother with her fledglings and gave it to my mother for her birthday, so surely, the mourning doves will come back. 2/21
BINOCULARS ON A BLACK PHOEBE I want to show my mother the Black Phoebe, but she isn’t in her usual spot. Later, further down the path, she’s singing on a tree branch! I dash to my mother to hand her the binoculars – and the Black Phoebe flies away. I feel foolish for startling her, but she’s landed again not very far off. My mother lifts the binoculars to her eyes as I listen to the bird, who is singing again from a new perch. 2/21
A CHARM OF HUMMINGBIRDS Truth sends me a text message. She says she was just reading about a charm of hummingbirds, so she remembered me. I remember you, when we were in Costa Rica, and the hummingbirds were flying through your hair, and yes, I was there, watching the tears that sprang into your eyes as you named them, one by one: Violet Saberwing, Green-Crowned Brilliant! White-tipped Sickle-bill, Magnificent and Cinnamon, Ruby-throat and Mountain Gem, Talamanca cordillera and little green-and-white queen, tiny, with a rainbow sheen, in the St. Helena Cloud Rain Forest, more beautiful than dreams, green with life, golden with light! I send a text message back to Truth. Tell God I said thank you â€“ and Truth, I want you to know, I love you. 2/21
FOR A CEDAR WAXWING I stop when I see you: Cedar Waxwing, sliced in half, lying on the sidewalk, the breath from your body evaporated into thin air.
SWOOPING WARBLER Swooping warbler, you remind me of the first day of the New Year! From the same tree where I first saw you, you swoop down in a circle before my eyes then back to your perch on high, saying in the sign language of heaven: see me, see me, flying down and around, free in the light of the morning sun â€“ hear me, hear me, hope high above the ground, and hold my meaning closer to your heart â€“ when life ends, it begins again: nothing is undone that God will not perfect.
HAMMOND’S FLYCATCHER You look over your shoulder at me, your eye outlined in white, as you flit from one branch to another to catch what I cannot see. Now I see you, now I don’t, first you come close, then you won’t, and the mystery of your being is the sweetness of living right now, right here, so near to you, flycatcher like a pale flame flickering between pine needles above the purple flowers, sweet like an invitation to be more, see more – not to frighten any living thing, but to love everything. 2/28
EASTERN KINGBIRD IN A PINE TREE I hear your voice! I turn and see your dark-black wings and white-tipped tail high above me: at the top-most part of the pine, you sing for the sun is shining on everything! 3/2
CHANGING SEASONS The season is changing â€“ the winter birds are almost gone. Rarely do I see the varied thrush; the warblers, once many, are few. The light in the sky comes sooner, naked branches are budding out: they blossom in the warmer air, and showers of petals fall to ground. The rising heat of day is a portent â€“ for summer will soon be here. 3/7
HORNED LARK ON A FENCE I glimpse you, just for a moment, a passerine on a fence â€“ your white chin, black chest band, my briefest chance to identify your pattern, to learn your secret name and paint your word-picture, adding to the light of memoryâ€™s fire your flame. 3/7
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW You did not hide yourself from me, but three times, showed me your golden-crown! The third time, you swooped down from the pomelo tree, turning a circle in front of me and I knew I would remember you.
A MOCKINGBIRD’S SPRING SYMPHONY Longing, you sing the symphony of spring! On the curved branch, song up-lifted to entrance my ear, mockingbird, yes, I do hear you, so near that I turn and see you there suspended, mid-air and know that you, never too proud, are calling out loud for Love to come down through the white cloud to be with you, beautiful bird, as your mate: your living dream in this dying world. 3/17 St. Patrick’s Day
SAY’S PHOEBE A sneezing season – Say’s Phoebe, seeing you, I breathe better! Exhilarated! – for I have been waiting for you all this time. 3/17 St. Patrick’s Day
WILD TURKEYS You don’t expect to see wild turkeys wandering the manicured lawns of this small, middle-class town, but there they are: teal-headed, with bright red gorgets, brown-feathered sides, shimmering pink, their fabulous tails fanning open around them, so they are suddenly enlarged, and then sleeking back down as they move with speed over the ground, into the pine trees, seven of them, gobbling like an old-timey, honky-tonk band: strange angels of God’s latest, ragtime miracle, something beautiful – like a parable. 3/26
STELLAR’S JAY SONG IN THE SIERRAS We heard you before we saw you, thrilling to the sound of your trilling mountain-song: Stellar’s Jay, invisible in the dark pines, but near us in high places unmarked by the usual signs. O Pioneer! Here we go walking, down the hill to a lake we cannot (at first) find, and you follow us, Stellar’s Jay, in your black hood and blue cape, swift and beautiful in the shadows. On the way back, the light slants through the pines at a certain angle and suddenly we see the budding branches of the Dogwood Tree split open by tender, green leaves and yellow flowers that shine in the light, that shine in the light of day becoming memory’s song. 3/27
THE BIRDS OF AMADOR PINES PARK The two farm geese, snow-white beside a green pond, are disturbed when we open the gate and come in. They trumpet their displeasure. So we stay away. Instead we observe the turtle, floating on a log, and the fish in the dark water. Later, I wander away by myself, with my Joy, into a tall stand of skinny pine trees where the Stellarâ€™s Jays are nesting and singing, hidden in those narrow columns, and I begin to whistle and sing to them. They come out! They suddenly appear! Curious and answering my call, so like their own, they look down at me from their piney heights, singing without fear, their black heads and blue bodies shining in the afternoon sunlight. 3/28 Amador Pines Park, Pioneer (the Sierras)
TURKEY VULTURES SOARING HIGH AND LOW We are crossing over a bridge when three turkey vultures swoop past our windshield, beyond the three of us, who are alive, to look down into the canyon below. Later, we see a dark-eyed doe, peaceful, standing under the pine trees, who looks at us like a kind angel. 3/29 The Sierras
TO A BARN SWALLOW I. Swoop, circle, and dive â€“ swoop, circle, and rise! You tilt on the waves of the wind, and the blue of your breast flashes bright in the light beside your orange and white. Sail, circle, and soar! Come back again for more! Your joy in the morning over this green field is a token of love, a declaration of praise. Fly into the infinite sky â€“ disappear into the distance! II. Now you follow the ancient migration, the pattern of pilgrimage: born in the egg, born again from the shell, taking to wing, beginning to sing,
finding your food, learning your world, meeting your mate, building with mud a nest for your nestlings, and feeding those young, then teaching them flight, and beginning again â€“ III. Swoop, circle, and dive â€“ swoop, circle, and rise! How beautiful you are, shining in the light. 4/14 Willowcreek
HAIKU FOR WHITE HERONS Painted white-on-white: Great White Egret, wings spread wide in a cloudy sky. Glancing up, I see five egrets flying away over dark, green pines. Not far from the bridge: Great White Egrets standing still in the water. Apr.
THE BIRD-WATCHER TIME-TRAVELS birds in a green field Yesterday I rode my bicycle to the edge of a green field. I saw two blackbirds, two crows, a lone scrub jay, bold and blue, and two barn swallows swooping in circles, chasing insects I could not see, chasing their own splittails, the wind, and the light shining at the end of spring, in air that was shimmering.
black phoebe by the bridge Today I stood on a bridge over muddy waters whistling to a Black Phoebe who whistled back, who flew back through the green leaves reflected in the water to sing to me, echoing my every whistle-word in a conversation that went on until a scrub jay joined in, and another phoebe took interest, and a girl walked by but didnâ€™t notice the chorus of little voices and high-pitched notes invisible in the bright air.
the swallows in Spain Tomorrow I will remember the swallows from the courtyard of the Monastario Santo Tomas in Avila, in España, flying in a vast swarm, circling and singing in the light of morning like their joy would never end. 4/26 – S. Davis 4/17 – Arboretum May 2009 – Avila, Spain
FAND SINGS TO CUCHULAINN I was flying when you hurled a stone through the white feathers of my wings so I transformed into a woman and came down from sky to earth to stand, beautiful, as I am in your presence and whip you with the scorn of my words for your carelessness and unkindness to one of Godâ€™s creatures, and you fell ill until you repented. But when you woke, I loved you, and I took you into my kingdom to wrestle with dark powers. We defeated the foes of light and imprisoned the enemies of truth! We shattered what was to set free what will be. All my white birds, linked by a silver chain, were singing when the mist fell between us.
I cannot see your face, but I will remember your name. 4/28
ONLY TWO Today, at midday, when I came home to have lunch and take my dog for a walk, I saw a mama turkey walking through my front yard with her eight tiny chicks! She was speaking to them soothingly, consolingly, and leading them behind bushes and through chopped-off stalks of leaf-fronds. The chicks were all weaving after her through the apparently unfamiliar terrain. One little one was falling behind, despite trying to keep up. He got lost a few feet behind the others in the plant-beds, but his mama was looking back and watching out for him, going slowly so he could find his way. I was really amazed by how she kept turning her head over her shoulder and reaching her attention back to him. He had my attention when he tried to jump up three inches onto the neighbor’s patio, started to fall back, but extended his wings and flapped them — and so made it up and over the edge — to continue chasing hard after his brothers and sisters! This was the most extraordinary moment of my day. Now, night falls. Time passes. Things change. Yesterday, I saw a mama turkey leading eight tiny chicks. Today, I saw her again, leading only two. 5/7
NORTHERN CARDINALS IN MICHIGAN This past weekend, I traveled to Kalamazoo, Michigan for the International Congress on Medieval Studies held at the University of Western Michigan. The first bird I saw there was a bright red, Northern Cardinal on the sill of the second story of the dormitory known as Valley II. I was so delighted to see this beautiful bird. There are no Northern Cardinals in California, and I miss them! The weather was humid and rainy, but all the trees had turned green. Spring has sprung in the Midwest! Other than the bright, white snow of February, when cardinals first start to come back to the area, that gray, rainy weather juxtaposed with bright, green leaves is perfect for making the red cardinal highly visible against the landscape. So beautiful! One early evening, I was at a session of the Tolkien Society listening to Thom Foy read J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Sellic Spell,” which is a folktale version of the Beowulf story that Tolkien invented. As Thom was reading in his lively, engaging, and humorous way, I saw a female cardinal through the window behind him in the green leaves of a tall tree. I regarded her steadily until she flew away. I later wondered if the male cardinal that I had seen earlier, and this female cardinal, might meet some day. After all, they live very close together! Of course, maybe they already have met. One never knows! 5/15
A PAGE FROM THE BOOK OF THE HEART ~ for Jennifer In the Midwest, I looked up at the gray sky, and I saw the Great Blue Heron winging her way toward heaven once again. 5/16
BARN SWALLOWS BY THE BRIDGE Walking down to the bridge, I noticed you! With your bright-blue, dark-blue sheen, swooping in rapid circles over the stream and under the bridge and around again â€“ happy, I thought, at first, then, frantic â€“ and I wondered why. Then, there was another! Your lover? No, I think not. I think this is your young fledgling whom you are urging to leave the mud nest hidden under the bridge and fly. The two of you are making twin circles in air, over the water: dark, blue wings shining, orange chins glinting. After I say good-bye to you, I cross over the bridge to the other side. 5/20
WISDOM IS A WILD BIRD Wisdom is a wild bird, once caged, now free. Wisdom is an owl that sees in the dark. Wisdom is a dancing girl who reads late at night. Wisdom is a runner, fleet-of-foot on the sand. Wisdom makes fear a servant and takes counsel with Joy. Wisdom walks with God and makes necessary sacrifices. Wisdom does not give up. Wisdom builds with a hammer and chisel. Wisdom waters and weeds, digs and dungs. Wisdom refines with fire and sings with a clear voice. Wisdom nurses the young with milk from her own breast. Wisdom kisses the foreheads of her childrenâ€” and where her lips have touched them, a star shines out forever.
ABOUT THE POET Dr. Jane Beal is a poet and professional writer, educator, and midwife. Born and raised in northern California, she received her BA (Sonoma State University), MA (Sonoma State University), and PhD (UC Davis) in English literature with concentrations in medieval literature, classical mythology, and the literature of the Bible. She has taught at Wheaton College and Colorado Christian University. She also has served families in childbirth in the Chicago, Denver and San Francisco metro areas as well as internationally in Uganda and the Philippines. She now teaches at the University of California, Davis. In addition to Spiritual Aviary, she is the author of other poetry collections: Sanctuary, Made in the Image, Magical Poems, Tidepools, Love-Song, Butterflies, Epiphany: Birth Poems, A Pure Heart, Sunflower Songs, The Roots of Apples and Rising as well as her Birdwatcher Trilogy: The Bird-Watcherâ€™s Diary Entries, Wild Birdsong and Jazz Birding. She has made three recording projects, Songs from the Secret Life, Love-Song, and, with her brother, saxophonist and composer Andrew Beal, The Jazz Bird. She also writes fiction, creative non-fiction, and academic studies of literature and collegiate pedagogy. To learn more, visit http://sanctuarypoet.net.
verses that celebrate the avifauna of northern California ... from the Bay to the Sierras ... with a few poetic excisions to Santa Maria and...
Published on Jun 17, 2015
verses that celebrate the avifauna of northern California ... from the Bay to the Sierras ... with a few poetic excisions to Santa Maria and...