Grace Notes

Even the sparrow finds a home

The duration of daylight hours, so wonderfully long in the summer, is noticeably shrinking as the earth moves toward the winter solstice. Birdsong, the cacophony of which had started daily before 5:30 a.m. for several weeks, now is barely audible when my weekday alarm goes off at 6:15.

In mid-July, sparrows had built a nest in the sill of my south-facing bedroom window, under the air conditioning unit that is installed in that window each summer. This seemed to me like an incredibly poor location to choose for a nest — hot, with next to no room between the sill and air conditioner — a location unlikely to yield any baby birds.

Jean Johansson

How brave I thought the bird was, so far from the ground, as it successfully trusted its little wings to flight.

The sparrow, however, knew better than I. The eggs the mother laid hatched, and each morning thereafter, for two weeks, I awakened to sounds of chirping nearby, alternating with the sound of the parent birds (yes, both male and female tended the nest) hopping around on the top of the air conditioner, as they made frequent trips to feed their babies. At night, as I fell asleep, I sometimes could hear the sounds of birds repositioning themselves in the nest.

I missed those early-morning wake-up sounds when the baby birds fledged, which was the first time I saw more than little beaks poking out of their cramped living quarters. The only way I could even see the beaks was by standing in my driveway and looking up at the second floor window as a parent bird made a food delivery.

But, I happened to look out my bedroom window the week the babies left the nest, and one of them appeared on the top of the air conditioner. How brave I thought the bird was, so far from the ground, as it successfully trusted its little wings to flight.

Seasons change, and so do I

The approach of fall is always a little melancholy, as the vibrant life of summer begins to wane. This has been an unfamiliar summer for me, a combination of the late spring and my mother’s death in April. Melancholy hasn’t waited for fall. My mother’s house was sold and at the beginning of July the new owners, a young couple, took possession of it. Before that happened, with other family members, I had gone through everything in the house, helping decide what would be discarded, what would be donated, and what items would be kept by family.

While looking through a trunk in the garage, we came across items that none of us had ever seen before, and about which we had many questions that only my mother could have answered. What year was the large, framed photo portrait of her taken as a young woman, and why?

The photo is displayed in my home now. When I look at it I see the happiness and hope of a young woman who has her life ahead of her. What was the history of the baby-sized long, white, gown that we found? It looks like a gown that would have been worn at baptism, but who had worn it? Had the framed print we discovered of Reims Cathedral come from my mother’s brother, when he was stationed in France during World War II?

All we can do is live with the mystery. The African proverb is accurate, “Every time an old person dies, it’s as if a library has burnt down.”

Looking to the future

My gardening got off to a delayed start this year, and then suffered from neglect, some weather-related and some from lack of time or energy. My garden is noticeably less lush this year than last, and valiantly fighting to grow as creeping Charlie continues its attempt to strangle everything in its path.

Next year will be a rebuilding year, but the garden has retained the essence of what is most important to me, a peaceful space, buzzing bees, flitting birds, the occasional butterfly, and the beauty of the flowers. I will send the garden into winter with gratitude for the solace it has provided to me this summer, despite my inattention.

The opening hymn at this morning’s worship service was “God of the Sparrow,” one of my favorite hymns. The hymn reminded me of the sparrows that had found a home outside my bedroom window, and that no matter where my physical home may be, I am at home in God.

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