"Any arbitrary turn along the way and I would be elsewhere; I would be different." ~ Frances Mayes

After losing 112 pounds in almost a year and a half, I have come to realize how very much I was missing. I may be Late to the Party, but I am doing my best to catch up in my own unique way!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Red Bird Crossing - It's all in the family

My father was in love with nature.  Notice I used the term "in love with", not "loved".  He didn't just lOVE nature, he was IN LOVE with it.  There is quite a difference, you know, to love something as opposed to being in love with it.  He was a gardener extraordinaire.  He came from a farming family but his nature loving soul went further than the knowledge he gleaned from that.  Part Cherokee, as a child he listened to his half-breed grandmother when she would visit and I think that may have been the source of his gifts.  I loved to hear him tell how she could catch fish with her hands, a skill he never mastered, even though he loved to fish and was quite adept with a pole, reel and bait.  He loved everything in nature - clouds, rain, snow, trees and "all creatures great and small".

So it should be no surprise when I tell you that his love extended to wild birds.  He fed them winter and summer. In the winter, between his keeping the wood stoked in the fireplace (another great love for him) and making sure that the birds were not lacking for seed, his retirement days were full.  All God's feathery creations were special to him, but his real affinity was for red birds.  Cardinals.  Oh, how he loved those red feathered harbingers of gladness.

This isn't my picture, but it is similar to what I saw!

I recall one particular Christmas when my girls and I had made our holiday trip home.  My father had planted a small tree, a dogwood I think, just outside the picture window of the house in the front yard several years before.  Along with the tree, he had placed bird feeders near it and in the other trees located there.  Twice a day the birds would congregate in this small tree and flit back and forth to the feeders.  One afternoon, when the light begins to take on that late-in-the-day softness, my father, standing in the window engrossed by their activity, called to me softly to come have a look.  To my astonishment and delight I counted no less than 25 cardinals perched in the small twiggy branches of that lovely little tree.  It was one of those moments of magic that I will take to my death.  I can close my eyes and relive that moment, standing so close to my father that I can feel his warmth, hear his soft chuckling under his breath because of my amazement, our whispering in the shadows of the curtains so as not to scare the birds and make them take flight. For the next few days that I was at my childhood home for that visit, it became our ritual to watch the birds' feast late in the day.  Somewhere tucked away in a stack of old photographs, I have a badly taken shot made through that window of the red birds in the tree.  I really should try and locate it.
Who in the South isn't familiar with the red cardinal with its black face and crested tuft on the top of its head?  For those readers that are not as fortunate to see them on a regular basis here's a little FYI: 
Native to North and Central America, the cardinal is a songbird, a member of the finch family..  The boys are the ones with the fantastically red feathers.  The gals are not so showy, having duller tan-gray plumage. The brighter the male cardinal's red color, the easier to attract a mate.Cardinals can be aggressive when threatened by an intruder in their territory.  They are grain eaters, as well as seeds, bark, small flowers, insects, weeds, and snails.  Their biggest threats are owls, hawks and squirrels...yes, squirrels!  Blue jays and chipmunks and some snakes like the cardinal eggs and chicks.  It used to be legal to keep cardinals as pets but this was banned in 1918 when the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted.  I am a firm believer that these magnificent birds belong in the wild, not caged and inside.

My dad wasn't the only one in his family that felt this way about cardinals.  His sister, my aunt Etta, was just as enamored with them as he.  I am not sure about his other siblings, but it wouldn't surprise me if they didn't have the same obsession.  If any of my cousins read this, please let me know if the Mickle aunts and uncles were just as cardinal crazy, too.  I think that my Aunt Hazel, my mother's sister and for whom BeeBee in the header picture of this blog is named for, liked them.  My cousin Phyllis bestowed upon me a wonderful little wooden plaque about redbirds that Hazel had in her little stone cottage.
Aunt Hazel's redbird plaque

I have other cardinals that I love.  My wonderful friend Faith gives me a cardinal item just about every Christmas or other occasions, calling them "Mr.Mickle Christmas Cardinals" in remembrance of my dad.  There is a special section on my Christmas tree where the redbirds flock together, so to speak. At Christmas, cardinals represent the blood of Christ.  They are wonderful  reminders that redemption is possible and that even in the dull days of winter, faith and joy can be found.

Now that my father and aunts have passed on, I see cardinals in a different light.  It seems that when I have my dad on my mind, or am thinking of those two very special aunts of mine, redbirds appear at the bird feeder in my own backyard, just outside my picture window.  You may call it coincidence, but I call it a sign.  From the Red Bird Foundation's website, a center founded for bereavement and loss counseling, I have recently found this:
  "Many people report that, while deep in grief, they have been visited by red birds.  The red bird, they tell us, provided comfort and a connection to the loved one they had lost.  According to a sacred Cherokee story, the sun's daughter was killed, but returned to her mother in the form of a red bird."

Aahh.... the Cherokee connection again! It's funny how life works like that, isn't it? 

This affection for cardinals now extends to the Roy Mickle offspring.  It's in our history, our blood and in our souls. So much so that the oldest of us, my sister, Leathea, has taken up the mantle of Daddy's love of nature by recently creating a new blog called Red Bird Crossing.  At Red Bird Crossing, she will share with her readers things about gardening, animals, and nature in general.  I urge you to become a follower and regular reader, if for nothing else, to put away the stress and upheaval of the day to remember that nature can be just a step outside your door. I know Daddy would be proud of her.

As for this blog, if you love cardinals or have your own redbird story to share, I would love to read it.  Please leave a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Pam! How I loved reading this...the memories sure come back full force! Lisa