Compassionate Critters

I went to Gibson Park today to go for a short walk.  The breeze was blowing constantly, as it always does in Great Falls, but it felt invigorating.  As I walked on the oval path around the park, I heard baby chickadees above me as I passed under a tree, saw several squirrels prancing across the grass, and I heard yellow warblers and an American goldfinch.

Afterward, I took a seat on a bench on one of the docks over the pond and watched the waves ripple across the water and the geese and ducks gently float past.  After a few minutes, I noticed movement in my peripheral vision.  First I saw a tiny head and then the neck and body of a Canadian goose.  It was comical because it was like he was peering around a corner to see if I would notice him.  Even after he realized that I did not have any food, he stood next to me to look out over the pond.  He was so close to me that I could see his brown pupils and the softness of his elongated neck.  Occasionally, he would turn around and peacefully observe me.  I found this to be very comforting because up until I arrived at the park, I was having a difficult day.  I truly believe that animals just get it – they know when we need comfort.  I am not just referring to dogs – this is the reason why they are “man’s best friend.”  I also mean birds, horses, rabbits, and many other furry critters.

Christian had a zebra finch named Kiwi for several years.  Kiwi was a ornery, wild, little fella and Christian would park his wheelchair next to his cage every evening before we covered his cage up with his blanket.  He referred to Kiwi as his best friend because he was always there.  I think that Kiwi waited to die until the year following Christian’s passing because it would have broken his heart.  It was a comfort having Kiwi around after our boy passed away because it gave us a tangible connection to Christian.  A few days before Kiwi passed away, he kept hopping to the front of his cage and he would park right under the door and wait for us to come in and pet him.  It was so strange because Kiwi was always very wild and didn’t want us to get too close to him.  I think it was his way of giving us comfort before he died.

In the months following Christian’s passing, several rabbits hopped onto our back deck and they would sit right in front of the sliding glass door, sometimes looking inside.  A few days before Christian passed away, there were close to 20 Eurasian collared doves on our back sidewalk.  I have experienced a great amount of comfort from God’s critters over the last few years.

At Christian’s graveside service, we released doves.  Our youngest son was able to hold one of the white doves, Sirius, before he released her.  He was then able to open the lid on the basket so the rest of the doves could fly out.  I first read about the doves in a newspaper article about the funeral services of Deputy Joe Dunn, who was killed in the line of duty.  They released doves at his graveside service and he is buried just down the slope from our boy.

God gave us animals for comfort and companionship.  Whether it is a cat, dog, parakeet, or birds at our feeder, if we take notice we will see that they really do care about us.

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Drew holding Sirius a few days after the funeral.

 

Goodbye Old Cottonwood

When I  went to visit Mom last month she asked me, “Did you see out back yet?”  I said no and asked her why.  “They finally cut that tree down,” she stated.

“What tree?” I asked as a feeling of dread began to bloom in my chest.

“The big one in the alley,” she replied, after which I went out the door to the backyard and all I could do was stare into the empty space of sky that was occupied by a massive cottonwood that towered over the houses at the top of the hill.

One of my favorite things about visiting Mom, along with talking with her over coffee of course, was listening the wind rustle the leaves of the cottonwood tree out back.  I would sleep with the window open in the back room so I could wake up to the sound in the morning.  If you do not have cottonwood trees in your area you may be able to find sound bits on YouTube of the wind fluttering the thick, sturdy leaves of the cottonwood tree.

Mom was relieved, along with her neighbors, to not have to clean up the leaves anymore.  Being as hardy as they are, the leaves of a cottonwood do not curl up and fall apart like other leaves in the fall.  They become flexible from moisture but do not disappear as easily as other leaves.  I understand her decision when it came to the mess, but what about the shade it provided?  Many trees still remain in her neighborhood but I did enjoy listening to the chickadees as they hopped from branch to branch overhead.  “Doesn’t the beauty and shade of the tree outweigh the fall mess?”  I thought.

Over the years, many trees have disappeared from our neighborhood.  I do not judge however, because I have no idea how it is to be a senior and having to deal with the mess.  I can be disappointed in the trees being gone, however.  I went out front to sip on my coffee on the front steps and the sun blasted my face with it’s heat.  A massive pine tree next door used to cover that area.  This pine tree was so large and full of birds that my dad called it the “Bird Hotel.”  Sparrows, finches, chickadees, robins, and doves lived there along with a few squirrels.  Our neighbors were kind enough to wait until the fledglings were gone before they had the tree removed.  The tree was gone in less than an hour.  I was furious of course – not at my neighbors but at how short of a period of time something so massive could be destroyed.

We planted three trees in our yard in the summer of 2014.  I am happy to say that they are growing quickly and we have a robin’s nest in one of them.  We are able to enjoy the scent and beauty of the blooms every spring and the birds enjoy perching in them.  With the summers becoming increasingly hotter I wanted to grow some shade for our home and provide a place for my feathered friends.

 

I don’t think we can ever plant too many trees.  They are beautiful to look at and give us a place to sit under on sunny days.  I am not a treehugger but I am thankful for God’s creation and the comfort and joy it provides man and bird alike.

Goodbye Summer

Fall is by far my favorite season.  It brings golden leaves, bluer skies, and cool breezes.  After a summer dominated by smoke and fire, it was a great relief to see two days of rain and cooler temperatures.  I looked out the window and noticed something different along with seeing a blue sky – the trees were swaying.  It took me a while to realize that we barely had any wind since the heat and drought set in late June.  The wind usually blows so much that we practically fall over when it doesn’t, so welcome back wind!  I will try not to complain when you blow my hair all over the place!

With summer coming to a close and fall approaching fast, I wanted to share the highlights of my summer in photos.  I went for a visit to Lewistown in June and enjoyed taking Mom to dinner at the local Mexican restaurant.  I enjoyed several walks with my family, before the smoke rolled in, on the River’s Edge Trail.  My husband and I celebrated our 25th anniversary by taking a trip to San Jose and San Francisco.  We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on foot and it was exhilarating.  Finally, in August I was thrilled to see Drew in a tuxedo for the first time for my niece’s wedding.

I admit that the smokey skies made their way into my spirit.  I forgot that the smallest of gifts are the most important:  a mourning dove perched outside of the dining room window, the chatter of chickadees on my way back to the office, golden spots of sun on the floor, ceramic pigs strategically placed around my house by my neighbor for me to find, time with my husband on the couch watching Suits, and a smile from a coworker.

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I came across the quote in the picture above during one of my morning meditation sessions.  When we live in our heads, our lives can pass by unnoticed.  We miss the bird placed on a branch in the perfect place for us to look up and see him.  We miss the cloud in the sky shaped like a heart or the uplifting lyrics of a song.  It’s better to let our fearful thoughts pass by like clouds in the sky than to end up underneath them for months, even years.  Remember the cartoons when a character had a raining cloud over his head wherever he went?  That is exactly what it is like to live in our heads.  This is something I am guilty of and I have realized that life is far too precious to go by unnoticed for even a moment.

Next month will be three years since Christian passed away.  The turning leaves take me back to the months before his passing and it can be very painful – like it just happened.  As the day approaches I want to see the world as I would want Christian to see it – a miracle in process, given to us by a God who loves us.

 

Feed the Birds

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The state bird of Montana is the Western Meadowlark

When we moved into our first home in 2001, our realtor bought us a bird feeder.  I had never fed wild birds before but soon after, I found a perfect spot to hang it right outside of our dining room window.  At first a few sparrows would show up, but if they saw any movement at all on the other side of the window they would dart away.  I was told that they just needed to get used to us.  The sparrows would take a few days to empty the feeder and I slowly became consistent in making sure the feeder was filled.

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In sub zero temperatures I would sometimes feed them twice a day.

It didn’t take long for all of the birds in the vicinity to find out where the grub was located.  I started to fill the feeder daily and there were times in the winter when they would empty the feeder in about an hour!  Over the years our checklist of sighted birds has grown.  The number of finches and doves has grown each year.  An american goldfinch passes through and so do red winged blackbirds.  We really enjoy the babies in the spring.

Feeding the birds is costly, especially when they gobble it up, and it can also be messy and a hassle.  The benefits outweigh the work.  My two sons were disabled and over the years it became more difficult to leave the house.  We learned to find pleasure in the simple things – watching the birds.  We have seen the finch population increase with each passing year and have also seen more doves.  Chickadees frequent our feeder as well and they are the friendliest.

The summer before my oldest son, Christian, passed away, we had an abundance of birds.  He loved grackles and we had an abundance of them feasting and causing mayhem in the backyard.  The mourning dove population exploded with most of them perching on the power line in the alley.  We also have Eurasian collared doves.  Most of the time less than 10 will be here enjoying the safflower seed off of the sidewalk.  In the later part of summer, I looked out back and to my astonishment, there were 20 of them back there!

We had almost daily visits from this hawk last winter.
We had almost daily visits from this hawk last winter.

The winter after my son passed away was the darkest, coldest winter we had ever experienced.  The sparrows and finches gave us comfort when they were brave enough to visit the feeder and risk being snatched up by the hawk that lurked in my yard.  Today they cannot eat the food fast enough because the babies are very demanding.  It is such a joy to watch the parent finches watch over and feed their babies at my feeders.  My son Andrew and I believe that Christian is sending us birds to comfort us and to let us know that he is okay.  Over the last couple of days, we have had 2 doves perch on the lift right outside the dining room window and stare at us.

A male house finch at liftoff.
A male house finch at liftoff.

If you have a disabled parent or family member who is unable to leave the home frequently, a bird feeder is an excellent idea.  It is an easy, joyful form of entertainment and is something we will always enjoy and find comfort in.

The Promise of Autumn

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Fall is my favorite time of the year.  My oldest son loves summer because he hurts less when he is warm.  My husband loves warmer weather so he can take his sports car or motorcycle out.  When I was young I enjoyed summer because I didn’t have to go to school, I could go swimming and stay up late.  

As I became older, I started to notice things about autumn that I enjoyed.  I noticed how the sun would shine into the room at a slant and how the sky seemed bluer.  When the sun rises, the leaves look like gold as they flutter in the morning breeze.  The sound of leaves rolling down the sidewalk or rustling in the trees gives me a sense of peace.  I know they will soon fall and the trees will once again be naked, so I enjoy them while they hang on.  

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I started to compose a poem in my head while I was helping my son earlier:

Leaves blowing in the autumn breeze

as the curtains gently dance.

Sunshine in my kitchen

gives life to figurines on the sill.

The peace mimics a trance

and my soul feels at ease.

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Soon, the typical Montana winter will arrive.  Until then, I will keep the windows open when I can and enjoy the beautiful colors.  The leaves turn beautiful to reassure us that they will be back in the spring.  The starlings gather and dance in the sky to entertain us before they return next year.  I have even heard some house finches squeezing in a little more singing and a sparrow courting a female one last time.  I will keep feeding them all winter as I look forward to new life in the spring.