"In order to see birds it is necessary to become part of the silence."
--Robert Wilson Lynd
I suspect most of us have unforgettable moments throughout our life that will always stand out. It so happens three of mine involved the behavior of birds.
When living in Dublin, Ohio, I looked onto the deck one morning and witnessed a rite of passage unfolding for a young pigeon perched with its parents on either side.
They sat in that position for more than an hour until I had to head for work. Before leaving, I snapped a photograph of the trio, wondering why they were there and how long they'd remain.
Arriving home that afternoon, I immediately went to the window and saw the youngster still sitting there but only with the mother. As the sun began to set, I looked again and saw only the young one. Mom and dad now each had flown, leaving their child to face the approaching darkness alone for the first time.
As the final strains of daylight faded, I took a final look and saw the little pigeon also had flown, likely into the nearby woods.
I realized I'd witnessed parents methodically bidding their final farewell as they set their offspring free. One by one (perhaps to lessen the trauma), they had released it from their safe and comfortable protection to forge its own life.
The experience is captured in a photograph of the family on my wall where it hangs as a reminder of the cycle of life.
While living in Springdale, I awakened one cool spring to a resounding "bump, bump" from the glass on the sliding patio door in the adjacent room. What could possibly have done that? A sonic boom? I hurried to see.
Looking through the door I didn't see anything odd until glancing to the concrete. Directly beneath the door, were a male and a female robin facing each other, both seemingly dead. Remarkably, the tips of their beaks were touching as if in a final kiss.
It was evident they had flown into the mirrored reflection while flying side by side and immediately dropped to the ground in that unnatural position.
Taking a moment to grab my robe, I returned to see the male standing with a wobble over his mate with eyes wincing in obvious pain and confusion. He was staring at her still body, seemingly waiting for her to rejoin him, as a gentle breeze ruffled her smallest pinfeathers.
I watched the poignant scene from inside until it became obvious she was gone. Another 20 minutes passed and he was still patiently hovering over her. I turned my back for several moments and looked back to see he finally had surrendered hope and returned alone to his life.
My late mother was always a true believer that birds carry messages of hope, freedom and love for us to interpret, in addition to possessing a greater spiritual quality than we (who, after all, believe we know everything about consciousness) give them credit for.
A few days after her passing, I was outside when I noticed a lone mourning dove perched on a wire above our driveway. It remained in that spot each morning for three days. The dove would make its familiar soft cooing sounds each time I came outside and I remember thinking how odd that was for one dove to return daily to the same spot for three days.
My mind turned to Mother and if there could possibly be any relationship between her beliefs and this bird.
That question became even more pertinent on the fourth day long after the sun had set. I'd been outside in the tool shed about 9 p.m. and walked out into the pitch black to the sound of wings flapping against the sliding door to our enclosed patio.
Other than nocturnal birds like owls, I'd never seen what, silhouetted in the darkness, looked like a female cardinal oddly flying at night. I'd always known all songbirds to nest before darkness. Yet there she was fluttering up and down as if desperately wanting inside.
Watching her efforts, I again wondered if this unnatural event might be related to mom's spirit insistently wanting to leave the message she was all right. Then I walked over to within arm's length and extended my open palm beside it.
The bird immediately climbed into my hand and stared at me for what seemed like a long while before I turned toward the yard and lifted it above my head.
She took flight into the night to places unknown.
I understand we humans with our creative minds are prone to read messages into mysterious events that are random occurrences. But then I recalled what a spiritually intuitive person Mom always proved to be.
Then not long ago I read that birds are believed by many to act as psychopomps (guides to the afterlife), and are often as likely to represent life as they are death. The idea that birds actually embody spirits of the dead is a widespread and ancient belief.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].