Trim the Hearth and Watch the Birds
It's the last Sunday in Advent, so we lit the fourth candle on the Advent wreath, and sang the first verse plus verses 5 thru 8 in "O Come Emanuel." We also sang one of my favorite's, "People, Look East" which includes the line "make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table" which I have sort of done already this evening, as we're having a family dinner with moose steaks and mashed potatoes, a salad, peas, and sliced mozzarella and tomatoes.
After church my neighbor Betty and I joined the annual Audubon Society Christmas bird count. We covered the beach where the Chilkat River meets the Chilkat Inlet in front of our houses from down by River Road and the bottom of Cemetery Hill to Carr's Cove. It was so windy and cold that Betty decided we should stay in her truck rather than venture out into the fish freezing gale. (As Dylan Thomas would say.) Betty is well into her 70's and this is her second Christmas as a widow. She is also a great birder. She counted more birds before she picked me up than we did in our whole outing. She also brought an arm load of cookies and sweet breads for the kids to eat. When I climbed in her truck with my bird book and binoculars she handed me a list to continue writing on. It included a sharp-shinned hawk (Betty says some people say you should kill them, because they eat the little song birds, but the hawks she has observed only eat the sick and old sparrows. "They don't do any harm" she said, and noted how fun they are to watch, especially in flight.) Betty also had counted about 24 white-winged cross bills, about 24 red cross bills, about 24 dee-dees (her word for chickadees) a half -dozen nuthatches, up to 25 juncos in one flock, 3 crows, 2 ravens, and 2 eagles.
On the rest of our watch we saw 1 eagle, 1 surfing scoter, and 1 crow. Betty acknowledged that the eagle and crow could have flown over from her place. Did I tell you every winged creature ( and a bunch of squirrels) were all at her house because she has a bird holiday open-house everyday? She has several feeders filled with assorted seeds and peanut butter and suet, an open creek for fresh water, and even plants her garden and yard with birds in mind. She leaves the currants and crab-apples on the bushes for them, and put in mountain ash trees for their bird friendly berries too. Which means that while the cold wind blew and whitecaps skipped across the inlet, all the birds in the neighborhood were twittering happily at Betty's place.
Still, we spent about an hour and half on a two mile stretch, dutifully scanned the brush and swells and frozen tidal pools, but saw nothing but snow and ice and really cold water. The sun went behind the mountains as 12:48 (I checked) and cast us in a blue shadow, but sunshine still hit some of the exposed snowy peaks, it was that same winter light as in a Fred Machetanz painting.
It was nice, sitting in the warm truck looking for birds on the frozen beaches and woods, even though we didn't see very many. It was peaceful to be waiting and watching, which is what Advent is all about. The third verse of "People, Look East" matched the mood of the day perfectly:
Birds, though you long have ceased to build, guard the nest that must be filled. Even the hour when wings are frozen God for fledgling time has chosen. People, look East and sing today: Love the bird is on the way.