I’ve been a little disappointed and maybe even mildly concerned that I’ve not had nesting blackburnian warblers in the backyard of the cottage for two summers in a row. My best judgment tells me that they’ve simply moved out of my neck of the woods and are somewhere nearby. But what started to worry me is that I hadn’t seen any blackburnians on the plateau. Granted, I’ve not birded a lot the last two summers. Last year I was pretty sick with Lyme’s disease and I don’t think I left my property with a pair of binoculars all summer...well, maybe once or twice, but it wasn’t memorable if I did. The forest is healthy up here —it’s still fairly pristine and undisturbed. There are large swaths of unbroken canopy of mixed deciduous trees, with a lot of spruce and pine thrown in — favorites of the blackburnian. I thought the birds were likely still here, I just hadn’t seen them.
Yesterday, I had a really nice early morning walk with my good friend Lisa, who’s the director of the county nature center on the lake. We’ve known each other for twenty-five years or more (that makes us sound really old, but we’re not : ) ) We brought our bins and caught up on each other’s lives, so the walk was mostly about connecting with each other and a little birding thrown in for good measure. We had a great look at a Canada Warbler with one of this year’s fledglings. The kingbirds were active, as were phoebes and tree swallows. Lisa said she found a new great blue heron nest on the far side of the nature center property with three big babies ready to fledge any day. We admired the handy-work of some beavers that flooded the upper swamp to the point where the board walk that crosses it is now underwater. It was great to catch up with her and I was glad to see her looking really well and happy.
Three years ago, Lisa was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. The great news is that she’s beaten it with diet, exercise and a new-found deep spirituality. She’s practicing a form of prayer called journeying which has helped her navigate through the illness. It’s interesting how we’ve both just recently figured out that life well-lived is about being a whole person. Indeed, being whole may well be the end game. Lisa’s journey involved a life-threatening illness. My journey has been integrating my whole self — even the broken parts that I had hidden away. Being “one in Christ” has taken on a new layer of meaning. Being whole looks different for each of us, and we can’t decide what “whole” looks like for anyone else, only for ourselves. Lisa and I took vastly different routes to get here, but we’ve both arrived at the same place.
On the way home, I was within a hundred yards of my property on the narrow dirt lane that serves as a driveway to the six cottages on the south shore when I heard three or four syllables of the unmistakable song of breeding blackburnians. I stopped, and looked up to the tree tops. I pished and was almost immediately rewarded with a very close encounter with a stunning male in breeding plumage. He dropped down to almost eye-level and hopped around just over head as I called to him. He lingered for a few seconds...a long time by bird-encounter standards. I would say I was close enough to see the whites of his eyes, if he had them. He was certainly close enough to see mine. He was magnificent and whole...wholly who his Creator intends him to be. And this seemed so easy for him, so natural — no existential struggle; no identity crisis. Why is it so hard for us to achieve?
For one fleeting moment, two creatures of God regarded one another in the woods. We acknowledged each other’s place on the planet. In that moment, I was whole, like my beautiful little friend. He returned to his business, foraging for bugs and singing his song. He disappeared up into the canopy. I’m glad the blackburnians are still here. There’s wholeness in that. And joy. Great joy.