Friday, May 12, 2017

Eagles and Vultures

On January 1st I wrote a short poem which included this repeating line;-

“Whatever this year may bring I will remember…"

After I wrote it I almost hesitated to complete the post thinking I was tempting fate. But I am not overly superstitious and now recognize those words have grounded me over a few months of turmoil and change. Not that anything completely devastating has happened, but like Solomon wrote, it is often small things growing out of proportion that bring conflict and misunderstanding in our relationships.

Catch all the foxes, those little foxes, 
before they ruin the vineyard of love, 
for the grapevines are blossoming!  

Song of Solomon 2:15

I had a few days off work this week and the beauty of the beginning of May has restored and uplifted my spirit. I ventured out to the Nith River, which is flooded and fast-flowing due to recent heavy and frequent rain storms. The Bald Eagles are parents once again and appear to be raising one eaglet this season. They rule their world from the top of a lone pine tree and soar majestically in the sky, taking turns watching their offspring.

A little further down the road I came across a dilapidated shed where seven turkey vultures rested, opening their wings at times to the sunshine. They are similar in size to the Bald Eagles and are graceful in flight. But the differences between the birds are striking.

  • Bald Eagles build a large nest high in a tree or cliff. Turkey Vultures do not build nests but lay eggs in caves, crevices, or abandoned buildings.
  • Eagles have talons for catching live prey while Vultures have no need of talons or strong feet for their diet of carrion.
  • Vultures are communal by nature and hang out in groups. Bald Eagles sometimes roost communally in the winter near a food source but are solitary and territorial most of the year.
  • Turkey Vultures have a well developed sense of smell for sourcing food while Bald Eagles rely more on keen eyesight for hunting.
  • Vultures lack a syrinx, the vocal organ of birds. They vocalize only with hisses and grunts. The Bald Eagle has a audible call that echoes across the river. Even the young eaglet can emit a loud, repeated single note when it is alone the nest.
  • And then there is the head… a majestic, white-feathered head with piercing yellow eyes compared to a homely bald, red head with large olfactory openings.

The diversity of the natural world is not divisive but complementary. Eagles and Vultures each have important roles and one is not more valuable than the other. There are times when dead things need to be cleaned up.

Recently, I took a patient for a walk with a coworker. We chatted about the weather and looked out the window at the opening leaves and flowers. I cleaned the patient’s glasses and combed their hair. The person sat down after the walk and while we watched, died instantly. There was no warning, no cry, no pain, just sudden death. It made me glad that the last 15 minutes of life was spent in an agreeable way. If there was unresolved conflict in that life, there was no opportunity for resolution.

Can you find the single eaglet in the bottom left side of the nest?

We would choose to soar like eagles, living territorially above the grittiness of earth. But there are times when we must deal with conflict and death, putting our heads into the carcass of the past or present before moving ahead to better things.

Currently reading: Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd
Currently listening to: Illumination: Peaceful Gregorian Chants

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

May 10th

Grandma Devins was born 121 years ago on May 10, 1896. Her life and mine overlapped for over 30 influential years and a day seldom passes that I do not think of her. Her sister was born on May 10, 1908, on Grandma’s 12th birthday. I did not spend as much time with Great-aunt Dorothy as I did with Grandma but I have fond memories of her as well. She and her husband retired in Guadalajara Mexico and thus influenced members of my immediate family members who later moved to that country. In Mexico, Mother’s Day is always May 10th, no matter what day of the week it falls on. It is a holiday in many regions so people can spend the day with their families. Mom’s birthday was May 5th so everything fits tidily in this week. 

To honour all that this day means to me, the Becka and I had a lovely mother-daughter day making new memories while remembering moms, grandmas, aunts and sisters who are far away. Grandma loved birding, especially in May. We braved a cold east wind off Lake Ontario to look for birds around Burlington Bay, Ontario. Most of them were hiding, seeking shelter from the wind. 

Trumpeter Swans turned their heads away from the offshore breeze while trying to glean some warmth from the sun. This month has been cool and wet, slowing the growth of leaves and flowers. Masses of blooming trilliums in their ancient colonies would have flowered in the same way 121 years ago. Observing nature, one sees constant change as well as constancy. It is reassuring that spring follows winter year after year after year. 

We warmed up at Abigail's Tea House in the small hamlet of St George, where vintage bird-cage chandeliers and charming mismatched china table settings create a comfortable ambience. The family who own and run the tea house are friendly and chatty and serve delicious, well presented meals with the best of teas. Everything is made from scratch in the kitchen or next door in their bakery. Nothing in this small place appears to have changed in the past century. Grandma would feel right at home with the menu and service. 

Each spring I look for "Tree Face" in our nearby woods. Soon the growth of new leaves will hide the old, gnarled tree. The face looks more weather beaten this year but it still speaks of the past and its connection to new growth in the forest. And so I share Grandma's stories with my daughter, whose life overlapped great-grandma's by three short years. Connected to the past while changing and growing into the future, the family links remain strong. 

Currently reading: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Currently listening to: As Time Goes By played by Beegie Adair