Miracles and Evening Grosbeaks
Miracle: A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency—Webster’s Dictionary
My family has always found great joy in feeding birds. It started with my grandmother on the Bradbury farm in Kansas. Since the Solomon River bisects their property, the farm was—and is—a bird paradise.
I remember my Czech grandmother using her hands to show me the behavior of chickadees and nuthatches, and I still have the list I compiled of bird sightings while staying with them during the summer.
That tradition passed down to her daughters and from her daughters to us.
Even my big, ex-Marine brother feeds the birds, telling me that it’s to make up for all the ones he shot when he was a kid.
This winter, I set up feeding stations and heated birdbaths in our garden, a fairly safe bird haven since Ted erected an eight-foot deer fence around it a few years ago.
We’ve had hundreds of birds feasting in our garden during this heavy winter, mostly sparrows, goldfinches, house finches, scrub jays, doves, and occasionally starlings and blackbirds.
One day though, I looked out the window and spotted a bird with yellow Groucho Marx eyebrows, a yellow and black body, white wing patches, and a thick, conical beak.
The Evening Grosbeaks, which are large finches, have been very rare visitors at our stations. I’ve only seen them two or three times during all the years I’ve been feeding birds, but this winter, starting with one, more and more showed up until we had a small flock devouring their favorite food—sunflower seeds.
In fact, birdwatchers report that one Grosbeak can eat over 90 sunflower seeds in five minutes, so with twelve or fifteen chowing down, over a thousand sunflower seeds can disappear within five minutes, which has made me a popular customer at Redd’s Hardware Store.
Despite the expense, I’ve been happy to foster our little flock since Evening Grosbeaks have lost 50 percent of their population since the 1970s.
I was enchanted by their flashing wings, bright yellow eyebrows, and songs — well, actually their songs aren’t too enchanting since they sound something like loud House Sparrows — but I love to hear them vocalize from the neighbor’s trees before diving down to eat.
Evening Grosbeaks mostly breed in northern coniferous forests, but unlike other birds, they don’t follow a regular migratory pattern. Instead, they move south when food is scarce, looking for backyard feeders.
I’m not sure how they found ours. Perhaps they sent out scouts because we had only one or two for a week before the rest showed up.
I’m not alone in being enchanted by birds since they’re symbolic of the bridge between human and heaven. I was thinking about that and on the lookout for other birds when Kenidee, our little schnauzer, and I descended into Westwater one morning on a trail of frozen mud and sand.
Evidence of other walkers marked the path—people had slid in the mire, leaving a deep lip of mud where they skidded. Others left surface footprints, with the swirls, circles, and stars of their treads imprinted on the earth.
The mud felt as hard as a rock, but the grass was a brilliant green, and the moss layering across the rocks a startling neon green.
Streams and waterfalls flowed in places I’d never seen, some under a sheer coating of ice, and the stream itself, which had gone dry during the last few summers, poured over the rocks with a muffled roar.
We didn’t see a lot of birds, but we did spot a lone flicker at the top of a dead pinyon tree and a flock of robins, ushering in spring. At least I hoped they heralded spring.
One of my friends said meteorologists are calling this season sprinter, and certainly the next day when we walked in the canyon, it was snowing, huge flakes that filled the air and settled on the ground, covering the tracks, so it was difficult to discern between heaven and earth. Kenidee ended up with huge snowballs on her feet.
The following day, I decided it was safer to walk on paved roads and headed toward Westwater Road that goes past the Westwater Community and the shooting range.
When we passed one of my neighbors in her front yard, she was carrying two big buckets and wearing high topped rubber boots. Her dark hair was soaking wet. She’d been mucking out the window wells to alleviate water flooding her basement.
“I told God that I’d rather deal with a flood than drought,” she confessed, “so this is all my fault.”
As Kenidee and I continued our walk, we were alternately rained on, snowed on, or blown about, but I thought about the aquifers being replenished and the springs recharged.
I imagined water cresting the overflow at Recapture Reservoir, Cottonwood Creek roaring down the wash, and the San Juan River flowing with muscular power to Lake Powell.
It’s a miracle.
Yes, we have aching backs from snow shoveling and basements flooding, and “the world is mud-luscious,” as e.e. cummings describes it, but if the ancients are correct, and Grosbeaks symbolize good news from the divine, maybe that’s what those flashy yellow-and-black birds are telling us—we’re in the middle, the very epicenter, of a miracle.
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