A Cold Spring

Let me tell you about the weather: April 16 is another snowy Monday here in Dubuque. It’s cloudy and windy, too. The many hills in this part of Iowa make walking outside an icy adventure. I’m feeling weighed down by a long, dreary winter-into-spring.

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Quadrangle and Belltower, University of Dubuque

It’s not just the meteorological atmosphere that has me in its tight grip. Members of my extended family are undergoing significant life changes with ripple effects into our family system. And I dread hearing about the daily political tensions—national and global—that embroil us in interpersonal and international conflicts. There’s this envelope of gray, heavy feelings all around.

Where is the joy?

Birds help. Watching birds. On Sunday I stopped on the shoulder of US 20, north of Freeport, to scan a small pond for shorebirds. I found two Wilson’s Snipe.

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Wilson Snipe, often not seen until you get close enough to scare one up

Semis went flying past as the snipes poked their bills into the mud, searching for worms and seeds in the near-freezing water. Grasses bent over in the northeast wind. Snow flurries blew around. I rolled down the window and, for just a few minutes, I entered into the world of foraging snipes.

It’s actually the middle of spring bird migration over North America. Birdwatchers in the Chicago-area started posting their “first of year” (FOY) sightings of early migrants back in late February. Bald Eagles that cluster around the locks and dams of the Mississippi River have flown north, replaced by another large raptor, Turkey Vultures. This week brought reports of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Brown Creepers, and Common Loons. One of my favorite spring sights is the Great Blue Heron, legs trailing out behind and carrying sticks for their large nests.

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Great Blue Heron

I have a copy of  Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” stuck to my refrigerator door. He, too, finds solace in the company of birds:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

Such a peaceful image. Today I feel closer to the lament found in Psalm 102:6-7:

I am like an owl of the wilderness,
   like a little owl of the waste places. 
I lie awake;
   I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. 

Whether I identify with the Berry’s calmly sleeping duck or the lonely little owl of the psalm, in real life birds pull me out of my corners of fear and self-concern. God’s creation is vast and varied, full of living creatures that need to eat and nest and raise their young. I stand in awe of the aerial maneuvers of a tiny Anna’s Hummingbird and hold my breath with a Bufflehead diving underwater. My eyes water as I follow a Rough-legged Hawk soaring against a cloudy sky.

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Three more eggs were added to this one

When a pair of American Robins built a nest in a hanging basket on my front porch last year, I felt blessed. Why should these animals grant me such a trust? How can we trust more in the goodness of God? Maybe we can act like the birds of Psalm 84, building our homes close to our loving God:

Even the sparrow finds a home,
   and the swallow a nest for herself,
   where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
   my King and my God.