Ode to the birds of winter

In the bleak midwinter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, Long ago.
Christina G Rossetti

Ode to the birds.
They are lively busy creatures offering constant fascination and entertainment. A marvel of agility, their tiny, almost weightless, structures coupled with a most beautiful plumage, makes them a favorite of both the trained, as well as the casual, observer.

Man has spent most of his existence wishing that he too could be a free as the birds, soaring upward and heavenward.
It is even theorized that perhaps it is to the birds we should look when wishing to understand the mysteries of the dinosaurs.

The following images are of just a few the backyard residence and guests which call our yard either home or hotel. . .

Here are two different images of a northern flicker. Both the red bellied woodpecker and the northern flicker are native to this area. Both birds are very similar in appearance and make for interesting observation.

Flickers like digging for bugs and insects be it in the ground or on a tree. This particular flicker is burrowing down in the snowy ground looking for what may be lurking just under the snow. Both flickers and red bellied woodpeckers will readily feed from suspended bird feeders, preferring larger seeds, peanuts and dried fruit.
Up against a tree, the flicker acts very much like his kin the more common woodpecker, poking around for insects.

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Mystery in the snow. . .
Note the outline of spread wings and tail.
Might this be a snow angel of sorts?
Followed by, for some small rodent no doubt, a scene of something most wickedly fowl / foul.
Finally, we spy the perpetrator perched high within the cover of the trees—the stealthy red shouldered hawk.

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Here, gathered underneath the feeder, is a grouping of sparrows and what I thought to be a visiting Baltimore Oriole but was recently corrected (12/12/14) that the bird is actually an Eastern Towhee.

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As usual, the permeant resident of the yard, our mockingbird

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And of course the beautiful contrast of the brightly colored male red cardinal against the pristine snow. Note the myriad of bird tracks all through the snow surrounding the cardinal.

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Adversity; Hooray for the human spirit

“Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

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(images of a very hungry and grateful blue jay / Julie Cook / 2014)

Everyone, ehm, every living creature, needs a helping hand at some time or other.
Just as in the case of this blue jay enjoying a welcomed piece of cornbread as his world, in the now icy white, is offering little in the way of sustenance.

And so it is, on this, the day after the winter storm debacle in Georgia—more specifically, Atlanta, which is the witness to the offerings of kindness from one to another. . .
such is today’s tale.

Poor Georgia.
Poor Atlanta.
Oh I am certain we could add to the dirge of woesomeness, that of Alabama and most likely Mississippi, but my news world has been exceedingly limited during the past 36 hours due entirely to the misery of my state—and in particular the capital of this gracious state, Atlanta.
Has anything else been taking place outside of the state in the last 36 hours other than a winter storm? Seriously, we haven’t heard.

Oh the anger.
Oh the blame.
People stuck in the snow and ice impacted gridlock for hours–12 hours, 16 hours, 20 hours, 24 hours only to abandon their gas deprived, ice immobile vehicles to walk the treacherous interstates in search of home, a safe haven, help. . .

Both Mayor and Governor now battling the media.
The Department of Transportation battling the media and now the public.
The National Weather Service battling the media and now the Governor and Mayor.
School Systems defending the decision of holding school despite the news of potential, repeat potential, winter weather to the parents who are now beyond irate as children were stuck on school buses for 12 to 16 hours, or had to remain at school over night.

Sadly on this now sunny, potentially thawing day, the blame game begins.
The finger pointing.
The deflections.
The denial.
Is the rest of the country thinking us to be idiots?
I hope not, we do the best we can.

Yet in the midst of all the negatives, all the seemingly poor choices, the failures, the lack ofs— emerges the best of human beings.
The stories which will no less continue for weeks to come— but it is those stories which are first appearing, the stories needed to act as the soothing balm for our negative weary souls.

The stories of:
The firefighters who welcomed in the cold, lost night wanders who arrived unannounced, all on foot, having long abandoned cars in search of a safe haven. They gave up beds and food for the strangers–offering warmth, protection, assurance.

The truckers who aided the young pregnant woman stuck in her car for 12 hours without food or water, let along a bathroom break. Aiding her in climbing over a 7 foot tall highway wall to an awaiting rescue vehicle. They took tool boxes from their big rigs, stacking them up to create a makeshift stairway up, over and down the wall.

The tales of the babies born in the gridlocked cold cars all through the icy night–delivered by total strangers.

The two strangers united with the one intent of service. They meet along the side of the highway, one pulling a sled and cooler full of food– the other caring a cooler full of sandwiches–distributing food, water, and kindness to frightened weary travels.

The news reporter, who was prepped to report on the gridlock, finds a family–mom, dad, and their 2 year old and 6 month old daughters, all who had been in the family van overnight without any food or drink. The reporter, an avid backpacker, had foods suitable for both children.

To the teachers and bus drivers who put their own families, lives, safety, comfort aside in order to care for their students, not only during the school day, but all through the night, as kids were either stuck in a bus in the midst of the slick icy nightmare or hunkered down for a long night at school.

Would you like to entertain 600 teenagers who can’t go home, who are tired and of ill disposition all night long? Would you want to comfort the elementary kids who just want their moms and dads, their beds, their warmth—all night long? Would you want to sit, huddled with a bus load of kids on a dark icy road hour after hour. . .all night long?

Perhaps it is the adversity, that which is life’s counter balance, which serves as a reminder to us all of our humanity, our capacity to care—to care for complete strangers. Echoes of “when, when did we see you naked and cloth you, when did we see you hungry and feed you. . .?”

All along a cold icy interstate–all through the rages of a winter’s storm—-that’s when.

Is it the calamity of life, those times of trial which test our fortitude, our sanity, our souls? Are these the types of situations which reach down to our very core–those which speak to our true humaneness and our ability to connect with other living beings? Is it during such times when we are the better, not the worst? When we shine and are not shattered?

In the coming days as Atlanta, and really the entire State, attempts to defend the choices of actions taken or not. . .as a State tries to explain to a Nation why 3 inches of snow, coupled by a sheet of ice, can put an entire region on hold, as officials hem and haw, as visitors vow never to return. . . may we all be reminded of the good which, just as the soon to be blooming bulbs breaking forth out of the cold barren ground signals to us all that wonder and joy can come from a long bleak cold winter, that it is in the depths of adversity and calamity where our realness and our goodness—our true identities, resides.

As those of you who have no doubt seen and heard the stories of “Snow Jam 2014”– of what seems to be the ineptitude of another Southern State which can’t seem to get its act together in winter weather, you must know that there was and is much more happening than mere gridlock and state and city officials scrambling for explanations—human beings were / are shining, goodness was / is taking place, kindness was / is the real issue at hand.

Perhaps we may not be able to handle ice and snow, but we will be there for you in a pinch, in a crisis, in a disaster as our Southern hospitality and tenacity, which are forged in the depths of the southern heat and red clay, is not only intact but it rises to the occasion in order to rescue, to comfort, to reassure, to defend, to care for–we will give you our beds, our food, our graciousness. . .but most importantly—we will give you ourselves.

Observations of a southern snow

“Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle

Images taken during the beautiful yet crippling Georgia snow–
As I post these images, there are still individuals who have yet to make it home. The storm arrived higher and earlier than anticipated, leaving thousands scrambling to depart both work and home–all at the same time creating a traffic nightmare. Snow is one thing, but brutally cold temperatures wickedly turn the gentle white blanket into a sheet of deceiving ice.

Prayers to all who were stuck in the traffic gridlock which Atlanta became. . .forcing so very many to spend long cold nights in cars and buses—witnessing schools turning into 24 hour care centers for the hundreds of students, throughout the state, who were unable to leave school for home.

But behind the misery lies a frozen world of magic. . .

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Poor ol’ Cock Robin

A Robin Redbreast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.

William Blake

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The yard is suddenly plentiful with robins—
Are they the ominous harbingers of things to come or the triumphant heralders of the anthems of Spring?
With the forecast boding a Winter Storm’s bothersome approach it is perhaps a frantic search for food which these birds seek all in order to wait out the impending weather.
Either way, robins have been the subject of prose and poem down through the ages as there is just something most endearing about these rusty breasted members of the thrush family.

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The tale of Who Murdered Cock Robin is a British Nursery Rhyme which, in 1993, was adapted by Kevin O’Malley as a delightfully illustrated children’s book– complete with mystery and intrigue. The original British Nursery Rhyme is thought to be an allegorical reference to fabled Robin Hood.

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“Who killed Cock Robin?” “I,” said the Sparrow,
“With my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin.”
“Who saw him die?” “I,” said the Fly,
“With my little eye, I saw him die.”
“Who caught his blood?” “I,” said the Fish,
“With my little dish, I caught his blood.”
“Who’ll make the shroud?” “I,” said the Beetle,
“With my thread and needle, I’ll make the shroud.”
“Who’ll dig his grave?” “I,” said the Owl,
“With my pick and shovel, I’ll dig his grave.”
“Who’ll be the parson?” “I,” said the Rook,
“With my little book, I’ll be the parson.”
“Who’ll be the clerk?” “I,” said the Lark,
“If it’s not in the dark, I’ll be the clerk.”
“Who’ll carry the link?” “I,” said the Linnet,
“I’ll fetch it in a minute, I’ll carry the link.”
“Who’ll be chief mourner?” “I,” said the Dove,
“I mourn for my love, I’ll be chief mourner.”
“Who’ll carry the coffin?” “I,” said the Kite,
“If it’s not through the night, I’ll carry the coffin.”
“Who’ll bear the pall? “We,” said the Wren,
“Both the cock and the hen, we’ll bear the pall.”
“Who’ll sing a psalm?” “I,” said the Thrush,
“As she sat on a bush, I’ll sing a psalm.”
“Who’ll toll the bell?” “I,” said the bull,
“Because I can pull, I’ll toll the bell.”
All the birds of the air fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
When they heard the bell toll for poor Cock Robin

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(one of the many robins in the yard / Julie Cook / 2014)

I’ll fly away

“Every bird that flies has the thread of the infinite in its claw.”
Victor Hugo,

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(crows taking off from the field / Julie Cook / 2014)

Watching two crows waddle about on a cold January morning, on their never ending quest for something to eat, only to have them spooked by who knows what— I was reminded of a very old and very southern song—“I’ll Fly Away”

Having been raised in the Episcopal / Anglican Church, with it’s rich ancient sounds and music, songs such as I’ll Fly Away were never a part of my Church experience much less on my radar. . . However it is that part about being raised in the South which leads itself to my being very familiar with this “other” type of church music—music simply known as Gospel Music.

I am certainly no aficionado of music and truthfully I prefer, as well as love and adore, the more ancient hymns of an ancient church— but I would not be true to my southern raising if I totally eschewed the type of music which is rooted as deep as it can go into this very deep South I call home.

Music is as much a part of our lives here in the South as it is a part of our history—it is who we are as a people. So much so that it has transcended an entire Nation, offering the world a unique sound that is truly all our own.

Much of the Gospel music echoing out of this sun-baked ground, found only here in these Southern states, is steeped in the histories of a wide variety of people— all of whom made their way to this area very long ago by either choice or coercion.

Whether it is the traditional music of the “Negro Spirituals”, whose history is mingled with the blood, sweat and tears of the cotton fields of long gone plantations–songs of faith and strength created by those brought here against their own wishes in order to tend the land of others—– or be it those of the melodic tragic stories and tales as told by an accented clannish people who fled the famine of another country, traveling across a vast ocean, only to settle within the “highlands”, as it were, of Appalachia— culture and music are each wedded and woven just as intricately as the kudzu and red dirt which both run deep and wide here in the South.

The “hymn” I’ll Fly Away was written by Albert E. Brumley in 1929. Need we be reminded of what transpired in this Country in 1929? Our fate that year was sealed on Wall Street as it, along with almost everything around this Nation of ours, crashed. Who living at that time most likely didn’t wish to “fly away”–as things, as a whole, were tragically bad for this Nation. Lives were shattered and changed forever. Dreams vanished over night. Hope was a lost commodity on an entire generation of people—so perhaps it was the desire of flying away, leaving those burdens of a very heavy and weary life behind, which most likely appealed to the masses.

It is claimed that the song I’ll Fly Away is the most widely recorded Gospel song in history. It has been taken and amended by not only Gospel singers, but those who sing Country, Bluegrass, Rock-a-billy, Rock, Christian, Jazz, Pop and even Rap. Most interesting that one song has had the ability of transcending such a wide variety of genres. Perhaps that speaks to the staying power of the lyrics themselves. Depending on who is currently singing, some of the lyrics may be added, subtracted or amended, but over all it is the enduring freeing gist of the song which remains the same—that of leaving behind the trials of life. . .oh to be freed, free as the bird who has just been released from a cage, soaring heavenward, all to the waiting arms of a loving Father—oh by and by. . .by and by.

So on this new day to a new week, don’t be surprised if at some point you too may find yourself wishing to just leave it all behind—however, just remember, don’t fly too high.

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away

The hidden things you do not know

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.
Jeremiah 33:3

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(a pair of Cardinals/ Julie Cook / 2014)

The still small voice of God

Would we not assume it to be LOUD, LARGE, BIGGER THAN LIFE, ATTENTION GRABBING?
Yet experience teaches that God does not operate as we do or as we would–which is truly our blessing.

We might think a big name Ad agency should be hired. High tech, glitzy commercials, billboards, neon lights. . . run a spot during the Super Bowl—yeah that’s it, the Super Bowl. Use George Clooney or Heidi Klum as a spokesperson.
Offer some sort of give away—a new iPad, a new camera, a new car. A five nights, all expenses paid, trip to Disney–yeah that’s it, Disney.

Maybe we should Google the reviews to that Still Small Voice.
How many likes?
How many followers?
Has it been tweeted?
Can we follow it on FaceBook?
Has it opened on the NYSE?
Does it have a blog?
Can we clip a coupon, getting a discount?
Door busters, that’s it, does it offer a door buster to those who are the first to hear it?
Does its doors open extra early?
Does it offer extended hours?

Funny what we think to be attention grabbing and slick sales techniques—those things which we would employ as all important “hooks”—that which is loud, garish, flashy, tech savvy techniques, with millions spent in order to garner customers and sales. Our all engrossing sensory overload techniques. All this as we as a people are growing ever jaded with and by our savvy consumerism. It now takes something almost monumental to get our attention, our money, our business. As we continue searching and seeking something for nothing.

And yet God, the Almighty, Jehovah, Emmanuel, Yahweh, The Alpha and the Omega, the Omnipotent, the Creator, the Adonai. . . does not employ the tactics of mere mortals. He is not concerned with “out doing” the competition. He is not concerned without out selling the competitors.
The power is in the silence not in the noise.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
(1 Kings 19: 11-13)

A voice.
A whisper.
A simple spoken voice.
No screaming.
No shouting.
No yelling.
A voice.

We wonder where He is?
Why doesn’t He speak?
Why is He so silent?

The real question. . .
Is He?

the continuum of New

“In joined hands there is still some token of hope, in the clinched fist none.”
― Victor Hugo

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What was—
Long long ago, there in a different time, lived New
And in this New existed,
hope
dreams
imagination

It was a marvelous time–
A happy time–
For there rested within New,
innocence
wonder
joy

It was a time for—
adventures
delight
journeys

In addition, as fate would have it, within this New, there also endured
tears
sorrows
falls
bruises

as well as
pain
frustration
disbelief
and even necessary truth

All of that had to be there–toegether
as that is all a part of how New could and would grow

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There was a magical as well as rocky time of growth
sometimes happy
sometimes sad
sometimes fun
sometimes hard

New emerged into–
something else
something older
something wiser
New became Grown

Yet there remained buried deep within New, which was now Grown,
wistful thoughts
desires
ambitions

Unfortunately it had become a
busy time
a frantic time
a hurried time

Hope ran toward Regret
Dreams turned into Reality
Excitement became Tired
Adventures suddenly Distant
Imagination Disappeared

sigh. . .

Nevertheless, when all seemed stuck in a motionless circle—
Life reappeared
Hope returned
Joy was renewed
Excitement again relished

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And so it was, just as it all had begun—
Hope
Dreams
Imagination
Every last one returned,
They returned to New, who was now Grown
They were all now a part of the newest New

For as New had grown older, all that resided deep down in New had never vanished
it simply—
changed
morphed
transformed

And just as New, now Grown, had become somewhat weary as well as Cynical
A Miracle
New, now Older and Grown, gave way to another New
This was a smaller New
The same New but different
A brand new New

All the good things that were there in the first New, all came rushing back
as well as some of those troubling things—
but without the good things along with the troubling things, little New could not, would not
grow–
giving way, eventually to an entirely different New

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Old New, now Grown, watched the little New grow as well
There were bumps and scrapes
laughter and tears
But New, now Grown, was now also Proud
Happy
Beaming
Satisfied
Content

And so it is with New and how it grows—
Inside of New lives–good things and bad
happy and sad
And as New grew, it witnessed the birth of the smaller New
and there, all within the latest New,
Hope
Joy
Renewal

But most importantly, New, who was grown, was now also becoming old, looked back happily over the growth of the youngest New and smiled with satisfaction feeling happily Complete.