"O heavenly Father, who hast filled the world with beauty; Open, we beseech thee, our eyes to behold thy gracious hand in all thy works." So begins an old prayer, "For joy in God's creation." The modern world has lost its sense of both of joy and of beauty and especially of the world we live in as a part of God's creation. Instead we have come to regard the world around us as a kind of blank with which we can do as we please, never mind the cost to those other creatures whose world this is as well. Nevertheless the world is full of wonders, fragile though they may be, and the attentive can find in them indication of a spiritual beauty that draws the heart to the Source of all things.
Wonders appear as the seasons change. Friends of ours living down closer to Saint John have cardinals coming to their bird feeders on a regular basis. We have seen a cardinal twice in all our time here. My wife, who taught at the high school for a number of years, was off teaching the first time a cardinal showed up. I rather think she felt I should have done something to persuade it to settle down, at least until she got home. Fortunately, the next time a cardinal appeared here, only a few years ago, we were both home, and perhaps (I don’t remember for sure) she may have been the first to spot the bright flash of cardinal red, and so, so to speak, redress the balance.
Alas, birds have their own agendas, and although cardinals have been creeping up the eastern seaboard for quite some time, they have yet to make more than sporadic forays into our area. And so, although we have gained some fame recently for keeping weather records, the world has been changing around us. Many changes in climate have rather dire implications but some bring memories to life.
When I lived the first part of my life in Pennsylvania cardinals visited the feeders my father put up on a regular basis and in the spring, as the snows melted away and the grass turned green again, we would hear the sweet whistling call - “What cheer, what cheer, what cheer!” - as they worked out their territories and began to raise families.
The cardinals were not the only creatures whose presence made an impression on my mind, even as a child who was not particularly interested in wildlife, living as we did in urban surroundings. Although my family lived in the western, more industrial, part of the state, I spent part of each summer with relatives in a small town in the farming district of the Lehigh Valley in the eastern part of the state. There I got to know families who worked small farms and something of their life. There were no huge machines working the land in those days. No fancy barns either. Each family had a small tractor, a stone barn built probably in the nineteenth century, and a lot of hard work to do by hand.
I remember watching loose hay being loaded, pitchfork by pitchfork-full onto a wagon drawn by horses and I remember being told that the chap who stood on the wagon and arranged the load, would, when the time came to unload the wagon into the mow, unload it pitchfork by pitchfork and never find himself standing on the hay he was trying to move. When we moved down here and started to put in loose hay I realised what a great skill was involved in that apparently simple task.
Summer evenings there in a small town in the middle of the richest farmland east of the great plains, my relatives would adjourn to the side porch and talk quietly of the events of the day, while I would be off to the back spaces around the barn where apple trees and cherries grew, and, as the dusk fell the fireflies would rise flashing from their daytime sanctuaries. The mysterious greenish-yellow gleams, here, there, and everywhere, in the cool stillness after the heat of the afternoon, were wondrous to me. Sometimes they hovered close to the ground, other evenings rising up and up over my head, predicting (so I was told) a continuation of fair weather.
I looked forward to coming down here to the country and again seeing fireflies, but alas whether it was climate or one of the evil effects of budworm spraying, only occasionally did fireflies appear and then only in ones and twos.
The last several years, though, the fireflies have returned to our fields in large numbers. Sloping down from right to left, the field behind the house makes an ideal spot to enjoy the wonder. Standing at an opening into the field about half way down the slope, we can see the points of light below us down to the low acre and above us up the field to the edge of the woods. Maybe now their presence enriches us because of the global warming which brings cardinals up this way as well. Maybe something else is responsible. In any case we make it a point, when the time comes to give the dog her last walk before bedtime, to make our way back to the night pasture and watch the shimmering fabric woven out of so many tiny lives spread itself over the field.
9 July 2013