I woke up early on Earth Day to the song of a white crown sparrow. It seemed fitting that to honor something as big as Earth Day, I needed to start small.

Listening to birdsong is like stepping into a land of wonder, a foreign world that I never really heard before because I never really listened. That, or the fact that the regular noise of airplanes flying overhead obscured more tender songs. (Fewer flights and less noise being one of the benefits of the pandemic.)

How generous nature is to provides such treats. Birds are almost everywhere and it takes only our attention to enjoy their trills, tweets, chirps, and chatter.

I’ve never been a birder nor could understand why anyone would wake up pre-dawn on a cold Northwest morning to stand, shiver, and watch birds. I prefer hot tea, morning meditation, and comfort. Then again, the world is changing and I am, too.

In these days of a BIG pandemic,  I need the solace of the small. One bird, at one moment, became soul-food for me.

A new relationship

When I first learned history, many moons ago, I read stories of men (sic) as master-commanders, who built kingdoms and made “progress” by dominating nature.

I’m still occasionally tempted to believe that I’m the center of my own universe–or at least, with my husband, the center of our property.

This morning’s sparrow, however, didn’t get the message. He lives in his universe of song, hopping along the ground looking for seeds, insects, and spiders.

Birds are not deferent to our starring roles as masters. I doubt they spend much of their time talking about us.

That holds true for other inhabitants of our property, including the squirrels, worms, voles, chipmunks, tree frogs, and occasional raccoons, each holding private exchanges that don’t have anything to do with us humanoids.

It feels humbling and important to know how much of nature goes on without us, hurt by our actions, but never deferent.

Covid-19 is proving that.

Game shifter

During these stay-at-home days, I have no need to travel. I can sit and discover a world in a bird’s song. Even a little snail in a terrarium can open our hearts to nature. (Read Tova Bailey’s exquisite The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.) 

Hearing the sparrow reminds me of when, at 17, I left the United States for the first time. Spending the summer in Brussels, my lens on life shattered when I looked back at my country and saw that it was part of the world, not the center of the world.

Will Covid-19 shake us so badly that we’ll look at our relationship to the world around us in new ways? Partnerships would be a good a place to start, between countries, among peoples, and between humans and the many aspects of nature.

When we let go of master-commander or center-of-the-universe roles, we observe our interconnected places within a larger system.

We’re in it together,” is today’s strong and uplifting mantra. That phrase really should include birds, tree frogs, viruses, government leaders, and ground beetles.

Still at the center

Eco-system thinking aside, I cling to the hope that there’s one place, with my husband, where I could be at the center of someone’s universe. When I look at our joy-boys, Winston and Royce with their ever-wagging tails, I think there’s still a chance.

But when they look at us, it’s likely, from their perspective, that THEY are at the center of the universe, and we’re just a little, you know, slow to learn.

Here’s to partnership…with a little birdsong for theme music.

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