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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Flying Lessons for Lambeth

I've been watching, in no small amount of awe, the Purple Martins who have taken residence in our little bird house by Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay.

Let me say quickly, I am not a "bird watcher" per se. Rather, I watch birds.

It's hard not to when you live off a marsh on the Bay.

I love watching the Snowy White Egrets stalk their breakfast in the morning. They hold a pose in perfect stillness until it's time to strike. Amazing.

Even more amazing, still, is when the Blue Heron appear.

There is something magical, mystical, in fact, about these birds. They look prehistoric - like something out of Jurasic Park.

They have an awkward, almost comical way of preparing to fly, yet, when they spread their magnificent wings and are airborne, they are positively elegant.

A few friends who have stayed here left us a little booklet of "Delaware Birds" - it could be titled, "Birdwatching for Idiots" - and every time I spot one of the birds, I run to it and circle their picture.

I have seen Green Herons, Greater Yellowlegs and Great Egrets. There are Double-crested Cormorants, Blue-winged Teal ducks and a Black Scoter who float by and visit from time to time, as well as a Pied-billed Grebe.

Last year the Blue-winged Teal ducks set up a nest near our storage shed and it was thrilling - absolutely thrilling - to watch the mama duck sit on her hatchlings while the papa duck marched protectively back and forth.

But, it's the Purple Martins I've been watching carefully. I think we're on the second generation this season.

If you look carefully, you can see one of them on the top floor and several more on the first floor of the "Bird Condo" in our yard.

They first started to return to the condo in late April. I was here to see the first generation make their debut, but sadly, I missed their flying lessons.

I mean, I do have a day job.

The babies and females are not as "purple" as the older males. You can see the difference in this close up.

They don't look very distinguished when you see them flying in the air, but when you get close up, they are positively magnificent.

The song they sing when they are flying is also very different from the one they sing when they are home.

When I was here last week, the lessons began in earnest.

First, one of the parents or older birds flies out from the condo to a point over the marsh and then flies back again. S/he does this several times, over and over, retracing the route and then returning to squawk at the fledgelings.

Then, suddenly, one of the babies ventures out. Head down, wings up, like a fighter.

"Too fast, too fast," I whisper under my breath from behind the window on our sun porch. And, as if one of them hears me, an older bird flies out and guides the airborne cadet back to the condo.

Whew! A good but very scary first try.

In another five minutes or so, the older bird repeats the lesson, and another fledgeling (I really can't tell if it's the same or even exactly how many of them are in the condo), tries his/her wings.

Over and over the pattern repeats itself, until, by the next day, there are small flying black specks over the marsh, zooming back and forth between that unmarked but very clear midpoint and back again.

In one short week, the babies have become old pros. They fly over the house and around the deck, now adding a song to their flight pattern. Soon, they will be off to start their own home in their own condo.

And, so it goes.

I've been hearing the words of a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter as I've watched the Purple Martins flying this morning. I doubt very much it's the tune they sing when they're flying, but I'm betting the words are pretty close.

I think the image of the Purple Martins learning to fly, and this song and these words are the most important things to pack and take with me when I go to Lambeth next week.

It's certainly the image and the prayer I'm sending to my colleagues who are already there, and those who are preparing to leave this week end.

Let us pray:

In this world there's a whole lot of trouble, baby
In this world there's a whole lot of pain
In this world there's a whole lot of trouble
But a whole lot of ground to gain
Why take when you could be giving, why watch as the world goes by
It's a hard enough life to be living, why walk when you can fly

In this world there's a whole lot of sorrow
In this world there's a whole lot of shame
In this world there's a whole lot of sorrow
And a whole lotta ground to gain
When you spend your whole life wishing, wanting and wondering why
It's a long enough life to be living, why walk when you can fly

In this world there's a whole lot of cold
In this world there's a whole lot of blame
In this world you've a soul for a compass
And a heart for a pair of wings
There's a star on the far horizon, rising bright in an azure sky
For the rest of the time that you're given, why walk when you can fly

3 comments:

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Loved the bird post, Elizabeth--and those lyrics gave me the chills. Thanks for sharing!

Cheers,
Doxy (who has finally learned to fly)

Kirkepiscatoid said...

That business about the herons also reminds me of what I often thing about turkey vultures....they're ugly as hell. They eat rotten roadkill. They stink. But aloft, they are magnificent, circling, riding the currents....

whiteycat4104 said...

Thanks for a great post, Elizabeth! And a special thank you for including the lyrics to one of my favorite MCC songs. I once preached a sermon on these lyrics so they are very meaningful to me.