|'Winter Wren', Wiki Commons ~ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Winter_Wren_(8085328310).jpg|
Hope is the thing with feathers
These are difficult times, with so much unfolding, both here in Britain and elsewhere, that is painful, frightening, and feels almost impossible to bear.The election and inauguration of Donald Trump, and all that that promises to bring into being, Brexit, the rise of right wing politics and attitudes, fracking, the Dakota Access Pipeline, continued attacks on the poor and vulnerable, the badger cull, and so much more, all conspire to make life less bright. In my own small life, I struggle personally with financial worries, with keeping my little family afloat, and with the loss of the beautiful hawthorn hedge and mature trees that until recently were close to our house but have now been hacked down to make space for new houses. It is a small blessing that my beloved wilding tree has been spared thus far. She was the next tree in the line that was felled but, for reasons that are unclear, she has remained standing. For how long I don't yet know. Where once I walked care-free, I now turn the corner preparing myself to see an empty space where her beautiful old branches once met the sky. It is not a good feeling. From the personal to the collective, it all just feels too much, enough to shut down our hearts and make us turn away. And yet, hope is the thing with feathers that perches in our soul.
|Chiffchaff, Wiki Commons ~ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chiffchaff_(Phylloscopus_collybita)_(7).jpg|
I have much to say about the war on our hearts and on our connection to the Land and to the Sacred. I will write more on that soon but, for now, I want to write about the blessings of small brown birds. What matters most, and perhaps what is hardest, in times like these is to keep our hearts open, to allow the flow of feeling when so much of us wants to shut down. Without that flow I believe that we are lost. I have written before about how grief is one of the gates to an open heart, but there are so many gates and, for me, one of those gates is birds. I have also written about feeding the birds in our garden every morning but I have not really talked about how much joy that brings into my life, nor the anchor that it provides to what matters. Today, for example, I have been scared and a little bit lost. It is a feeling that I am familiar with and one that might cause me to become grasping and needy. I feel that part of me scratching at the window of my soul, demanding to be let in. And yet today as every day, I fed the garden birds, with seeds and suet, with cheese and apple, I broke the ice on their water bowl and poured fresh, clean water for them to drink, and that made it better. It is not just that it matters to feed birds in the winter, nor that it is a nice thing to do and means that there will be birds to watch in the garden. It is that, at a time when we are being told, both explicitly and implicitly, that there isn't enough for everyone and that it would be best to think only of ourselves, when we are encouraged to turn inwards and harden our hearts, that buying seed and fruit and making sure to go out every day because the birds are waiting, challenges all of that. Because there is more than enough for everyone. It's just that some people don't want to share. And it matters because birds are one of the things that can keep our hearts open.
And then yesterday I walked, as I often do these days, to the graveyard of the 1,000 year old church close by. Churchyards are so often a rich source of connection to nature and this time I was particularly blessed; first by watching a wren indulging in a lengthy dust bath, something which I have never seen before, and then by a tiny goldcrest foraging on the branches and leaves of two yew trees that I happened to be standing under. Goldcrests are well known for their cavalier attitude to the presence of humans and I stood enchanted for at least half an hour watching this one flit from one tree to the other only a few feet from where I was standing. Who needs a mountain to feel awe when there are goldcrests in yew trees? There was a moment when he was lit from behind by the pale winter sun and I have to admit that I wept for the beauty of it all and for the fierce aliveness of that tiny bird.
|Goldcrest in a yew tree, Wiki Commons ~ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Regulus_regulus_-Auderghem,_Brussels-8.jpg|
I have little more to say. It was just that something in me wanted to record that moment as a prayer song to all the things that are beautiful and fiercely alive in our world, in spite of and because of it all, and in the feathered hope that we will all notice the things that could keep our hearts open in the days and weeks to come.
As for the birds, the late winter is sometimes known as the 'hungry gap' when many winter berries and seeds have gone and little food is available. Birds need more energy in cold weather and the shorter days mean that they have less time to forage. At the same time, the loss of wild hedgerows and much garden space means that there is less and less food for them to find, and at a time when many migrant species are arriving and needing feeding up after their long journeys. It is a blessing to them, and to us, if we can put out a little food and water for them every day. The RSPB provide some valuable tips on how best to feed the feathered~kin in winter, and at other times, here. I wish you many moments of quiet awe and simple delight in their good company.
|Goldcrest eating silver birch buds, Wiki Commons ~ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Goldcrest,_eating_the_silver_birch_buds_(11585923184).jpg|
You can read the full text of Emily Dickinson's poem here. Honey for the soul.