may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
This part of a poem by ee cummings reminds me that when I was a little girl my heart was open to little birds who are the secrets of living. Then, for many years afterward, I grew very wise and did not hear birds at all. Now I have become young a second time, and the birds have come back. Strangely.
I bought my friend Joanne binoculars for Christmas because she is my bird-watching companion. When the salesman handed me a pair to try at the sporting goods store last week, I looked through the wrong end, and he had to turn them around for me. He also explained that binoculars come with two numbers on them that are written like a multiplication problem: "8 X 10," or "15 X 40," for example. The first number is the magnification-how many times the image is enlarged over your normal vision, or how much closer the subject appears. The second number is the diameter of the lens. Another factor I had to consider was size. Joanne is petite and I mean this to be a pleasurable experience, not a weightlifting exercise.
At a retreat I went to in Minneapolis last year, I told a couple of "birders" I met that I had seen Canadian geese, as well as my favorites, the cardinals. The two ladies took me aside and with much gentleness whispered, "Dear, call them 'Canada geese,' not 'Canadian geese.' Otherwise, people won't think you're a real birder."
My daughter had to write an essay on Henry David Thoreau's Walden recently, and that too reminded me of birds and of men who don't hear them as men grown old. Thoreau went to live in the woods for two years so he could hear birds again, among other things. He cited "the ladies of the land weaving toilet cushions" and men's "highest duty to fodder and water his horse" as those "frivolous" ways that we keep ourselves in willful bondage and never raise our heads to enjoy the songs of nature.
Even C.S. Lewis' famous demon Screwtape had thoughts on preventing our childlike enjoyments. To keep men off the scent of the Divine, he enjoined his underlings thusly:
"[I]t is always desirable to substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human's own real likings and dislikings. . . . You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the 'best' people, the 'right' food, the 'important' books. . . ."
Most of all, Jesus himself recommended the appreciation of birds. "Look at the birds of the air," he invites (Matthew 6:26). And so I do now, in this my second childhood. Lately I saw Canada geese flying in formation in the great blue expanse above the huge cemetery where I walk. It thrilled my soul-the squawking, the freedom- and I wondered if I was the only one. Then a woman walked up from behind me (a rare citing in itself) and I asked if she had seen the geese. "Yup, there were 25 of them," she said, and walked on. She was about my age-another older person grown young again.
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