Monday, June 28, 2021

Second Chance

 At the end of a perfect cloudless summer day, the first full day of summer, I sat in front of the living room window and watched fireflies in the growing dark. The stars were dim under a full moon, but lightning bugs made up for their lack of luster, floating up from the grass like sky lanterns on a rising stream. The shadowy figure of a raccoon passed in front of me on the deck. 

My mind was elsewhere, specifically on a baby bird cradled in a used Phoebe nest on a windowsill outside. Eyes closed tight in sleep, it missed the fireworks display, but I wondered if it heard the Spring Peeper's lullaby.

The day before, a plaintive cheeping drew my attention from my desk to the window. Outside of my basement studio, a nestling bird was struggling to right itself on the rocks below. As I watched, it toppled face down into a crack between the stones and lay still. I guessed it was a Phoebe; the adult birds have been watching the house lately. I had been looking for a nest, but thus far, I was unsuccessful. There are many potential nest sites under the deck, and I didn't want to be too intrusive.

Phoebes are endearing birds. They are one of the earliest migraters to return to the Ozarks every year, and it's always good to see them back. They wear muted colors, shades of gray and white with a hint of yellow, but, what they lack in color, they make up in personality. They are members of the Flycatcher family, and they wag their tails happily and sing their name: "Phoebe, Phoebe, Phoebe." They construct their nest of mud grass, hair, and moss and attach it to an upright, often to the side of our house.

Several years ago, after a pair had nested near our front door, a big black snake came and scared them away. They abandoned their nest, eggs and all, and never came back. I took the nest down and glued it to a fieldstone from our land. I liked it as a decorative item in the living room, but I didn't dream it would ever be functional again. 

The nestling below my window needed a place to lay its head, and it didn't seem like there was a lot of time to spare. So I took my abandoned nest outside and, scooping up the little bird, placed it inside the soft cavity. It looked happier immediately. 

Its only real chance of survival was for its parents to find it. A windowsill near where I first saw the nestling seemed like the best choice, so I propped it up there, supported it with another rock, and whispered a prayer to the nestling's Maker.

It was still alive the following day, and the next, and I started to exhale. It was clear that its parents were feeding it. By the third morning, it was stretching, and I felt like a proud aunt. 

On day five, the little bird made its move. First, it climbed up from the nest to the top of the rock the nest was attached to. Then, peering inside my studio, it greeted me with an inquisitive stare. 

Before long, the parent came with a dragonfly...

and the little one gobbled down a tasty snack. 

The next time I checked on it, I saw only a concerned parent bird perched on the nest. On closer inspection, I found the fledgling sandwiched between the window and the rock that held the nest. Then, just as I was contemplating another intervention, the fledgling freed itself and flew to the ground. It made short flights of a few yards while its parent watched from its nearby perch before they flew off together into the woods.

With the fledgling gone, I felt at liberty to search for its nest of origin, and I found one, not surprisingly, near the place the nestling had first appeared. Tucked in behind a rafter, it was not obvious, and it was a much better location than the one by our front door. In retrospect, if I had found it earlier, I could have popped the baby back in its nest, and it might have lived happily ever after. Or, just possibly, that nest was too full, and the nestling needed a place of its own. I'll never know for sure, but I imagine by now, it's at the top of its Phoebe flight class and is learning to wag its tail and sing.

I really like happy endings. So far, this is one.

Linking with Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Wilderness in the Backyard

October can't make up its mind. There have been chilly mornings with fog lifting off the lake like steam from a giant's kettle. Some days, I'm pulling out my sandals and cutoffs, and other days I'm reaching for a flannel shirt. But mostly, until this week, it has been as dry as muffin mix without the liquid.

Last Saturday, the sun came out in earnest. It was one of those balmy autumn days, almost too perfect to belong to this world; the air was crisp, and the sky, a brilliant blue. I made my way to the government hollow near our home for the first time since spring. It was like traveling to a different planet. Last spring, before the rains flooded the valley, the ground was almost impenetrable with brush. Now, months of high lake water have killed all but the hardiest of bushes.

I followed the dry creekbed east to where a stream was flowing, fed by small springs emerging from the hillside. Watercress grows there, and bright wildflowers were flourishing. Nearby were raccoon tracks, and I could imagine the little creatures rinsing their food in the water, their masked faces Corvid-correct. A movement caught my eye. Butterflies? No, it was only bright leaves, fluttering to the ground, their first flight, also their last. Overhead, sun-saturated maple trees wore their Sunday best. 

Continuing up the creek, I waded in the shallow water, thankful for waterproof boots, and where the water was too deep, I picked my way through the brush at the side of the brook. Were it not for one strand of rusty barbed wire, I might have imagined I was the first person to walk this quiet hollow.

With both the Corps of Engineers Bull Shoals Lake boundary land and the Mark Twain National Forest in our county, we are fortunate to live in a place with easy access to wilderness. It doesn't take long to find a place where your footprints, on a given day, are the only human ones. As I examine rocks and trees and flowers, my to-do list recedes to the back of my mind, and I come away refreshed.

I didn't see the raccoons in the hollow, but I saw their prints and knew they'd been there. I didn't see God that day, but I saw His fingerprints everywhere.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Hummingbird Reflections

Hummingbirds captivated my attention at close-range this morning as I sat by the flower pots in front of the house. The breeze generated from the motion of their wings swayed the salvia and brushed across my face. When one of the fearless females hovered inches in front of me, I braced myself not to flinch. 

With seemingly tireless energy, their acrobatics were astonishing as they battled for the birdfeeders. Their iridescent feathers sparkled in the sunlight, accompanied by their wings' hum and squeaky chirps. 

From inside the house, I heard the shrill sound of the weather radio. A few minutes later, the sky darkened, and wind-tossed trees resembled wild horses on the run. I wondered how hummingbird nests could possibly stay intact. The birds retreated briefly, then reappeared in full force. I hoped they were better prognosticators than the weather service. It turned out they were, this time. 

When storms threaten, I often wonder how the creatures who live near us manage. It's a comfort to remember that God sees the sparrow when it falls to the ground. If He cares for a sparrow, how about a hummingbird? And will He not much more care for you and me?

Monday, May 25, 2020

In Charge of the Flood

bull shoals lake level high

This morning I checked the Bull Shoals Lake level on the computer, then headed down the hill toward the lake on a trail through the woods. Lately, I’ve been making a note of where the water level is on the government land below us. The lake now replaces the broad valley where I love to walk, and the water is up in the trees. As I rounded the last turn toward the water, a Blue Heron made an ungainly takeoff, squawking its displeasure at being rousted from its hunting grounds. Fat frogs did belly flops into the water. They seem to love this rearrangement of land and lake.

green trillium in bloom

Nearby was a Green Trillium I’ve been watching lately. It’s not as showy as its white and red cousins, but rising 15 inches on a single stem, it makes a statement of beauty in the woods. Today the water is lapping at its feet, and its rhizome may already be underwater.

Back up the hill, I stumbled across a newly dug den, with moist, red clay strewn over the ground in front of the 7-inch opening. A wild flood victim most likely moved its family out of the danger zone. This is probably one of many such relocations.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers built Bull Shoals Lake in 1952 on the Missouri/Arkansas line as a flood control reservoir. It is vast and beautiful, rugged, and remote. At this writing, the lake is at 693.94 feet above sea level, and the top of the flood pool is 695. That means if we get only 1.06 more feet of water, the lake will go over the dam at Bull Shoals, Arkansas, and the White River below will probably flood. This has been a soggy spring. We’ve had about 34 inches of rain so far this year, nearly 81% of our yearly average of 42 inches in just under five months, with more predicted for this week. In addition to every drizzle or deluge of rain that falls directly into the lake every time it rains, the feeder streams over a considerable distance open their faucets wide and contribute to the flood pool.

Years ago, heavy spring rains resulted in another high lake level. A Little Rock, Arkansas NBC TV station sent a reporter to interview people about the impact of the high water. Positioned on the courthouse steps in our county seat of Gainesville, Missouri, the reporter was poised when an official from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the door of the courthouse and walked outside. “A lot of people are criticizing you Corps of Engineers managers who are in charge of the lake and its level for your handling of this situation,” he said. “How do you respond to them?”

The engineer paused, then replied respectfully, “Well, their problem is they think that we are in charge. We used to think we were in charge. This year, I think we all learned WHO really IS in charge.”

The interviewer was silent, and the engineer walked away.

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; 
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The LORD gives strength to his people; 
the LORD blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29:10, 11