When the Student is Ready…
The day began with the sound of birds, as it often does here
in the South. It seems I have slowly
settled on a quiet affinity for birds, both in the visual sense as well as
their songs. I derive much joy from feeding
and watching them, but mostly it’s their singing that resonates in my soul,
especially at daybreak and twilight.
I woke up happy in my little tent, watching the sunrise over
the South Carolina Marsh. Happy for the
glorious sky. Happy for the day’s imminent potential fun
factor. Happy to be in this gorgeous
place with my wonderful friend Garri, and happy for the circumstances that led
me to this amazing life where I do often wake up with joy.
Our plan for the day was to have a big breakfast, then go
kayaking at high tide, just around the corner from her little slice of heaven
on St. Helena Island.
With my kayak already loaded on top of my old SUV, we set
about to untangle hers from the briars and brambles which had begun to claim it. A kayak’s job, when it’s not in the water, is
to collect said brambles, in addition to leaves, pine needles and cobwebs inside
the cockpit. This boat had done it’s
secondary job well and thus needed a bath before we put in. Nothing worse than having to deal with
spiders – or whatever — when you’re already in the water and perched
precariously in a tip-prone vessel! So
Garri grabbed the hose and began cleaning. A few seconds later, she was alarmed. That pile of leaves, pine needles, etc.
behind the seat was actually a bird’s nest, with several very young, live baby
birds. Mama bird had built a nest and laid her eggs behind the seat of the kayak! And we had just accidently intruded on their fragile
beginning of life. They couldn’t have
been more than a few days young, if that; measuring only a couple of inches in length
and undeveloped feather-wise. They were
sprawled around the ground from having been hosed out of the kayak. We were all stunned.
We quickly scooped up and reassembled the nest, then gently
returned three tiny creatures to it. We
called everyone we knew who might know how to optimize their chance survival. There would be plenty of time for guilt
later. For now, we were worried for
their survival. The consensus was to place
the nest in a box near where the kayak had sheltered the babies.
And that is exactly what we did. Filled with an astonishing sense of urgency,
and a mind full of prayers, we worked together to re-create their nest, and
committed ourselves to faith that Mama Bird would return.
In the process we
also found an unopened egg, which we also returned to the makeshift womb. Later, this egg would help identify their
Now, we had to muster up the discipline to walk away, resume
our plan, and leave them in the very capable care of their mother, but it was
hard to detach. We loaded the kayak and
headed out for a paddle, which was lovely, by the way, and we can heartily
recommend a paddle off Butch’s Landing, Highway US 21, St. Helena Island, on
Following the hot paddle, we treated ourselves to icy cold beers
and oysters at Johnson Creek Tavern, electing the outdoor seating under a
canopy, facing the marsh, with the beach visible in the distance. Again, we were awed to witness a mother
Osprey tending to her nest atop a utility pole right before our very eyes. We watched her fly back and forth, carrying
what appeared to be a Spanish moss covered branch back to the nest.
Eventually, we made our way back to camp, and inspection of
the nest revealed the joyful discovery that Mama bird was indeed still in
charge of her babies. How did we know
this? Because in the process of giving
them little sips of water, (a holy moment for me) I discovered now there were
not three, but four peepers in the
nest! Grateful hearts celebrated with tearful hugs, and we may have
even danced a little jig, because we were understandably, deliriously
We admonished ourselves again to let go and detach, let nature
take her course, and go about our little camping routines. But I will tell you that is much harder than
it sounds. There was no denying I was
captivated by their little lives, and head over heels in love with the entire
family. I don’t think I have ever in my
life had the remarkable experience of feeding a baby bird, even if it was just
a drop of water in each of their tiny mouths.
Besides, for me it was justification for new obsession. Mama Bird had to have watched us return those
birds back in their nest, feed them, and love them. Surely she understood I am no threat, so why
would she mind if I check in on them from time to time?
Still, somewhere in my brain, I knew I had to let go.
As it happens, the outdoor shower (another of my highly
recommended experiences) is within sight of the nest, so the next morning as I
was showering, I put my glasses on to have a glance and saw something that
caused extreme joy: I watched Mama Bird
feed them! She was perched on the side
of the box, and feeding each of their little open beaks. I couldn’t wait to share the news, and we
celebrated again. We were redeemed.
In my profession, there is a saying: “forgiveness is a gift you give
yourself”. Yet in this case, I knew
that this forgiveness was a gift from Nature.
Our job was to receive it. Our
hearts had been heavy and we had worried that we had wrecked their nest or
worse, killed these compelling, innocent little creatures. Have you ever been catapulted from the depths
of guilt to the joy and release of forgiveness of the one you hurt? Then you know the instant and soulful
transformation of which I speak. Yes,
forgiveness is a gift that defies description.
It is also an existential equation.
I had an epiphany. I have
been hurt, and I have hurt others in my life.
The pain and guilt on both sides have caused great sadness, remorse and
suffering. And today it all came home to
Suffering is the teacher.
Grace is the lesson.
Forgiveness is the
And nature, thankfully, is one amazing classroom.
Forgiving ourselves and forgiving others is, indeed, a gift. Though it is not always easy, the yield is
profoundly meaningful. We are not meant
to suffer, except to learn. Punishment
serves no purpose; it’s the redemption we must seek, first within
ourselves. When forgiveness flows,
therein lies the gift to all concerned.
The birds, as the egg helped determine, are Carolina
Chickadees, small but powerful both in song, and in their capacity for changing
hearts of human beings.
Dedicated to my dear friend,
Garrison, who shares and inspires in me a deep appreciation of the abundant