I’ve been feeding the birds lately.
Sitting on the deck in lovely Carmel Valley, where I’ve been once again for a writing and work retreat, I’m falling back in love with the little garden birds who live here. My personal favorites are the iridescent, acrobatic hummingbirds—one just zoomed loudly by me as I typed those words—but I also delight in the various sparrows and small, perching ones who alight on the deck railing. Or the outdoor bistro table and chairs. This being coastal California there’s plenty of food for them about, but I’ve started placing seeds and grains on the deck as an enticement to draw them nearer.
I’m quite fond of birds. Years ago in Taos, New Mexico, I used to feed the little winged ones each morning, scattering handfuls of golden millet on the brick patio. It didn’t take long for the house sparrows, swifts, dark-headed juncos, and others to figure out that I was responsible for the sudden abundance, and they would line up on the adobe wall, twittering and waiting for me to emerge each morning to provide their winter breakfast. Offering made, I would sit inside in the warmth of my beloved jewel-box casita with a cup of good tea and watch their amusing antics through the window, amused by the petty dramas that erupted.
Who needs television when you have birds to watch? Far more entertaining.
This morning, as I trailed a long yellow, beaded ribbon of millet along the deck railing, I noted the dark-headed Oregon junco perched on the trellis nearby watching me. It brought back recollections of New Mexico but for some reason it also triggered the memory of a curious incident whilst living in England, at our brick cottage on Ropes Lane in the green countryside of West Sussex.
My writing room was upstairs on the top floor beneath the steeply gabled roof, accessed by a nearly vertical narrow set of wooden stairs; a ‘loft’ they’d term that upper space in England, though Americans would more likely call it a refurbished attic. The ‘Sky Kiva’ is how I referred to my top floor sanctuary, and it had a large skylight in the sloping ceiling (through which I would watch the endless rain) and a narrow window in the far wall. Directly level with my eyes, beyond the leaded panes of glass, the upper branches of a Rowan tree fanned wide, its delicate limbs crusted with a pale, sage-colored lichen. Barren of leaves in the wintertime, the thicket of silvery green, wooden fingers was often bejeweled with animated, little black and white-banded birds called Coal Tits. Sometimes a large, red-breasted woodpecker would join the party, dressed in stylish ebony and ivory stripes and spots, with a vivid cranberry tail and breast. Such a strapping fellow! What a treat to be so close to him.
Often, too, there would be a couple of Blue Tits, adorable little jobs sporting a soft yellow underbelly with pale blue and white hooded heads. Precious, they are. As I sat at my tiny writer’s desk, I would often pause in my work, delighted in their twittering capers, clinging upside down to the branches just a few feet away or even on the window hinges. The Blue Tits—what a name!—were my favorite miniature birds in England (though owls are my personal “totem” and guide, along with hummingbirds). Ever since our arrival at Lodge Cottage, even before setting up my sanctuary in the loft, when seated and writing at our large rectangular dining table, I smilingly observed those tiny, colorful ones on the grey stone terrace. The Blue Tits seem less inclined than others to alight on the ground for the birdseed that I would scatter about. Gourmands, no doubt.
One morning in early December, I made my way downstairs to make tea and breakfast, carrying the laundry basket full of clothes for washing. In the kitchen, I opened the door to the small utility room and heard a great scratching and rustling. I froze, thinking for a moment that a rat or mouse had somehow found its way inside. Damn. Just then I heard distressed chirping, a commotion that seemed to be coming from the window above the sink. Was it birds outside? I craned my neck and listened carefully from around the corner. No, it was definitely inside the house. I set down the basket of clothes and stepped quietly into the utility room, peering around the Euro-sized miniature fridge to see the window.
There, inside the glass, peeping loudly and hurtling itself against the clear square panes was a Blue Tit. His or her mate was on the other side of the glass outside, peeping loudly in return, each trying to get to the other but confounded by the invisible barrier between them. I stood for a minute in utter astonishment. How on earth did this little chap get inside?
The window in the utility room was perpetually locked shut, we had no key, so I could not simply open it to set the bird free. Baffled by the mysterious situation, I thought for a moment and then walked to the front door and opened it to the cold morning, giving myself an unobstructed path to escort the little one outdoors. Then I went back to the kitchen where I paused, filling my entire being with love and the spirit of gentleness. Calmly, I stepped into the laundry space and began moving things from the windowsill—liter-sized green glass bottles of sparkling water, cans of San Pellegrino limonata, etc—which he or she was crashing into.
Cans and bottles removed, I slowly moved my hands toward the glass—fanned out and forming sort of a loose cage—and scooped the Blue Tit into cupped palms, which I then curled around him protectively. My own heart fluttering like rapid wingbeats, I stood there for a moment with the little one, and then walked to the living room. I adored the feel of tiny taloned feet and the thrum of blue wings between my hands. Even when he pecked me with his beak, it didn’t hurt but just seemed part of the sweetly curious experience.
Dressed for work in suit and tie, my partner descended the stairs just as I was going out the front door.
“I have a Blue Tit in my hands!” I gushed with childish delight, my brown eyes wide in excitement.
As I reached the entryway, the miniature blue and yellow bolt exploded from my hands, zooming off into the tall, conical cypress that stood beside the fish pond on the edge of the terrace. I walked through the door, following its meteoric flight and stood outside, embraced by the chilly air of the cloudy morning with the flat grey stones icy cold under my bare feet.
The visitor zoomed off from the cypress, joined immediately by its mate, and I stepped back inside the warmth of the house. Still trembling with delight, entering the utility room again, as I started to replace the bottles and cans on the windowsill, I found a small, blue grey feather next to the glass. I smiled. I collect special feathers when I find them, and later I placed the little gift next to various others on the windowsill of the Sky Kiva.
Buzzing from the little visitor in my hands, utterly puzzled by the event, I stood in the kitchen and brewed my winter ritual of spicy, warming chai. I decided not to make my usual warm porridge and instead I pulled from a cupboard the box of Rude Health organic muesli, noting and smiling at the irony that it was called Early Bird.
The entire mystery of the experience, catching the Blue Tit in my bare hands, thrilled me. To this day, the logical aspect of my mind doesn’t comprehend how the bird got inside the utility room; there is no easy explanation—other than it simply being another clever agent of Mystery. Perhaps the little winged visitor was simply part of the not-so-subtle conspiracy of mysterious events designed to help me awaken. Truthfully, I experienced a myriad of strange events and special encounters as I roamed on foot through the woods, dells, and fields of that Old World landscape, my heart open wide to the ‘other-than-human’ world that surrounded me.
Magic happens, you know, but to notice it one usually has to be paying attention. (And when it does appear, our agnostically inclined minds are quick to dismiss it away.)
Thinking about the curious encounter, I guess I should be immensely glad it was a Blue Tit in the laundry room and not, say, an owl. I would have shit my pants if I’d walked in and found a barn owl banging against the glass.
Sitting now on the deck in Carmel Valley and writing this post, preparing to return to Hawaii tomorrow, as I feed the little local birds I feel a sweet sense of connection with this place. I’ve spent many hours in these past couple weeks quietly walking the land—barefoot, generally—or sitting outside, writing, absorbing the sights and sounds and ‘feel’ of my surroundings through expansive senses. Listening. Paying attention. Simply ‘being’ with what surrounds. Offering heart-centered appreciation, sometimes silent and other times spoken aloud.
A mark of Soul Artists is that they cultivate a personal relationship with the place where they dwell. There are countless ways to do this, of course, but it might include eating locally grown food, supporting local businesses and artists, dilating the senses and heart to the energy and details around us, building hometown community, volunteering, tending a garden, walking the land (or neighborhood), and feeding the wild ones. In its own way, each of such actions underscores and strengthens our interconnectedness, especially when done with awareness. Everything is relationship.
As I repeatedly say (and write), whenever we offer the gift of our attention—when we slow down, become mindful, see, sense, and feel—we draw closer into conscious relating, both with human and ‘other’. In that paying attention, hearts open with a gentle wonder (or even awe), Soul Artists tend to see and engage the world differently than others do. And they often encounter the simple everyday magic that others miss.
Gentle reader, here’s hoping that you find ways to draw closer into relationship with where you dwell. Much is given to us yet we tend to offer little in return. Perhaps what we give could be something as simple as feeding the birds or wild ones… or taking a walk through your neighborhood with senses wide, appreciating beauty wherever you find it.
The colorful, clever agents of mystery and seduction are everywhere, trying to wake us up. So if you meet a curious little bird in your laundry room or encounter some other ‘impossible’ event, consider that perhaps the Larger Story is trying to signal your attention, to expand your notions of possibility.