Flock

Flock on wires

This morning in meditation–breathe in, breathe out, listen, feel, allow–a flock of starlings landed excitedly in the garden spruce tree, chattering in bird-talk, aflock with gossip or everyday wing chat.

Overhead, toward the garage, a crow barked.  The starlings fell silent, black feathers invisible in the deep green spruce.  I never noticed when they alit toward dawn sky.  Breathe in, breathe out, listen, feel, allow.

Starlings are both very ordinary and extremely magical, don’t you think?

In blue-black splendor, picking seeds, they appear nondescript.  We’d rather ooooh and ahhhh over the white tail feathers of a bald eagle, or even the bright orange-red of a robin’s breast.  We’ll stare entranced as Baltimore orioles suck on dripping sweet oranges or watch chicka-dee-dee-dees chirp and tackle tiny sunflower seeds, but starlings?  Nah.  Our eyes often quickly turn away, seeking more spectacular feathers.

But have you witnessed flocks of starlings traveling from tree to tree?  A forest sings alive with the thousands of flapping wings, a swish of airborne swooshing shimmer, a tailspin of magical black eyes sweeping like a school of flying fish from treetop to treetop to treetop, and look!  over there! Here comes another swirling diving etch-a-sketch photo opportunity too quicksilver to capture.  The sound reverberates loud, unexpected, chortling, chirping, creating a new song out of silence.  Where once nothing existed, now something sings.  Something which awakens the heart from slumber, from ordinary woodland rhythms.

A little sky, a little cloud, a little tree

Late January, in Fort Myers Beach, sitting with my mother on the lanai, perhaps sipping hot coffee laced with hazelnut creamer, or maybe a late afternoon glass of Piesporter, we suddenly witnessed flock after flock of black birds cresting the condominium, flying over the Back Bay, winging toward–I was sure–Nicaragua–where we humans would soon board a white American Airlines plane veering toward Managua.

The starlings, yes, they must have been starlings, appeared in group after group, hundreds per flock, a magical sight against vivid blue skies.  Their shadows, if we could only glimpse them, painted dark against the underwater manatees and jumping dolphins who gazed upward, amazed, I’m sure, that creatures could maneuver through air as easy and effortlessly as an ocean filled with white cloud-shadows.

“It’s an act of nature,” one of us breathed, and still the starlings appeared singing toward the Equator, another group, and another, and still another.  Would they never end, never disappear?

“Dad won’t believe what we saw,” I said.  The majesty of it, the unexpected grandeur of a million birds–yes, I’m sure now it was a million, or perhaps a magical billion–all moving as if with One Mind, One Thought, all steering a half-degree west, and now adjusting south, and watch out for that condominium, Starling #5,783!

A little reflection

A few stragglers refused to totally embrace the group mind.  We understand that, don’t we?  How some of us seek to be individuals, even though we’re driving down the same asphalt highways in the same four-tired cars or trucks, smelling the same exhaust, noticing the same trees clicking by lickety-split next to the road which leads to our next destination, around the next bend, yes over the horizon, a little to the south or north, or halfway until Easter.

Easter comes to starlings and highways alike, although not everything recognizes it by name or religion.  Easter is the feeling of resurrection, the feeling of newness, the feeling of spring cleaning.  It is the feeling you get when you’ve been bone-weary and exhausted, saddened and scared, and suddenly the clouds trace westward from the face of the sun and light reappears, precious light! and your mood swings toward delight.  That’s resurrection, that’s Easter for perhaps even ducks and hemlocks and babies cooing in their strollers.

Dressed up, looking pretty in pink

I remember wearing an Easter bonnet to church, a white dress, shiny black Mary Jane shoes.  I didn’t understand a word the Presbyterian minister uttered, but I still remember the June Bug by our front porch steps as we walked toward the car, prepared to sing resurrection hymns and fidget in the hard wooden pews.

How could a June Bug look so fat, so gruesome, so awful?  Would one of my brothers squish it as we passed?  We leaned down to stare.

Later, in the small white church with stained glass windows, just when I thought it would never end, that we would never eat our Easter ham drizzled with–was it orange marmalade that year?–or was it clove-studded and looking like baked porcupine in the oven?–and what would we play with at Grandma and Grandpa’s house?–when suddenly someone leaned down and shook my hand and said so seriously, so intensely, so caring:

Peace be with you,” and you shook back and turned to the left and someone shook with soft fingers and said, “Peace be with you” and if you remembered you said solemnly to the next person, who might even be your little brother fresh from the sandbox or your other brother who sometimes dangled garter snakes in your face, “Peace be with you” or “And also with you” and around the church people reached out, clasped their neighbor’s hand, laughed, paid attention to small children, and suddenly you felt part of a larger flock, a bigger community, something wider than your small self, something more expansive than your little town.

For a moment you thought you heard beating wings outside the church, upwards, past the steeple, a million starlings singing the sky, the delight of the unexpected, a moment of resurrection.

Heaven on Earth

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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60 Responses to Flock

  1. Carla says:

    May I share your photo A Reflection on Facebook, © Kathy Drew?. A friend is needing water healing and we have been giving her water images while she is in treatment. That is so beautiful with that deep dark in the center.

  2. When I saw the first photograph I immediately thought of the Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn movie, “Bird on a Wire.”

    “A little reflection” is an AMAZING shot! It begs submission 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      The bird photo came from San Diego in 2009. The reflection shot was courtesy of the little Sony Cybershot approximately the same time. Thank you.

  3. A flock of Starlings is called a “mumuration”. That seems appropriate, since they travel together making noise! I find them fascinating, too…though my aunt is quick to tell me they are an invasive species, and make it difficult for the native birds.

    • Kathy says:

      Even invasive species are sacred, I think, Cindy. (After all, we Americans are an invasive species…) I love that term “mumuration”. Their bird-speak is a way of murmuring, I believe. Thank you!

  4. Brenda Hardie says:

    I remember when I was living out east how the starlings would flock in massive groups. I would see them in a particular area while driving to work. The congregated above a small bridge over a river (mind you, this was an 8 lane freeway) and this glimmering, shimmering, yes murmuring flock of birds….and as I watched the mass undulate in waves, it looked as if they became one being. It was breathtaking! Thank you for that reminder 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      “Mass undulate in waves”…yes…one being. Like geese, moving through the skies, but smaller. I am glad you found them breathtaking, too. I love those starling groups. (As you can gather.)

  5. john says:

    Something wonderful and refreshing. You set my mind in the proper direction … Thank you !

  6. I have to agree, Kathy. Birds are fascinating creatures. Birds that flock even more so. By the way, I have to agree with Laurie that “a little reflection” is an awesome shot! Hope you have a lovely day, my friend.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

  7. Dana says:

    Beautiful! I’ve always been amazed by the rhythms inherent in a flock of flying birds. How can they move in unison, so gracefully and so in unison? It boggles this feeble human mind…

    An aside: I was positively shocked to discover that the Catholic masses have recently replaced the stock “and also with you” response with “and with your spirit”. I guess it’s a pretty sentiment, but it meant that I stumbled through even the most basic of refrains when we attended my grandpa’s funeral mass. It was obvious that *somebody* hadn’t been to church in years… 😉

    • Kathy says:

      This mind is boggled along with yours, Dana! “And with your spirit”? I haven’t heard that. Of course–ahem–I haven’t been to church too many times in the last few years, either. Although I do go with my parents when the opportunity allows. Thank you for pausing here.

      • Dana says:

        They also changed the words to some PRAYERS, Kathy! My grandma told me it was to help parishioners be more cognizant of the words they were saying in church. Makes sense– considering my Catholic auto-pilot kicked in, even after 10+ years without attending a mass!

        • Well, my Catholic faith is obviously older than both of yours! When the mass was in Latin, “Dominus vobiscum” (the Lord be with you) was followed by, “et cum spiri tu tuo” (and with your spirit). When the mass first went to using native languages rather than Latin (I think at Pope John XXIII’s eccumenical council) we said “and with your spirit” as our response. I’m not sure when it changed, or when it changed back, but it has made every funeral a guessing game for me, as well! They obviously like to keep us on our toes!

  8. Lori DiNardi says:

    So very lovely. Thanks for bringing a bit of your peaceful meditation to us here.

  9. Joanne says:

    My Catholic husband has been known to drag his Protestant wife along to “Mass” occasionally over the years, and whilst the whole service would seem rather odd to me, I always relaxed when the “peace be with you” moment came along. Where I felt rather alien at other times throughout the service, these simple words did make me feel like a part of the flock and I always remembered to reply, “and also with you”. (Now Dana tells us the response has changed…must ask my husband if it’s also changed here in Australia).

    There’s something very spiritual about birds. I can’t explain how I feel about them though, as I’m so new to seeing a bird as more than a flapping bunch of feathers! Over the last few years, they have begun to “communicate” with me when I’m in the garden. For the birds to “speak” to you the way they do Kathy, I believe your spirit has been open to them for a long time. 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Isn’t it a special moment in the church service? Our hearts resound to these words, I think. My brothers both converted to Catholicism when they married their wives, so I’ve been fortunate to attend a few masses, too. I am glad that birds have begun to speak with you. They have much to teach us.

  10. susanblake says:

    Hi Kathy,
    Love the birds on a wire. We see them a lot here too. Then we have flocks of Canada geese honking overhead a lot as well. I’m just happy to hear the Robin’s are back! 🙂
    Hugs
    SuZen

    • Kathy says:

      SuZen, I don’t get to see birds on a wire much–these came from a visit to San Diego in 2009. Wondering when the geese will begin honking northwards over here. Are they going over your house? Our robins are here, too! Hurray!

  11. Sybil says:

    Peace be with you Kathy.

  12. rehill56 says:

    beautifully written. thinking of you two this eve and will be on the morrow!

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Ruth. I felt so much joy when writing this. I love to write like this and don’t take time often enough. Sitting here in Java by the Bay after driving Barry to work…thank you for your thoughts so much.

  13. Kerry Dwyer says:

    ten minutes of tranquillity in my busy day just gazing at these lovely pictures.

  14. Munira says:

    Nice analogy Kathy 🙂 Here’s a lovely video for you to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRNqhi2ka9k

    • Kathy says:

      Oh that was a lovely video, indeed, Munira. I love the magic of starlings traveling together in an unexpected natural whooshing rush, awakening us for a moment to nature’s magnificence. Thank you for sharing it.

  15. The Hook says:

    Fantastic post! It takes skill to marry pics and prose perfectly.
    You, my friend, have MAD SKILLS!

  16. Carol says:

    We do not get the masses, or murmurations of Starlings here, but we get the same in red-wing blackbirds. They (the mass inundations) are both beautiful and overwhelming, the lovely songs and calls of the blackbirds becoming a cacaphony when the mass is especially large.

  17. Connie t says:

    It is amazing that birds like to sit next to each other, with a little bit of space between each other, watching the world.

  18. Colleen says:

    Kathy, I’m feeling the peace you must have been experiencing as you wrote this lovely, lovely blog. And it is so beautiful. As you are!

    Birds are endlessly fascinating and amazing creatures. That must have been a wonderful shared moment for you and your mom. I’ve been spending some time under a very old, maybe ancient, oak tree and enjoying the astounding number and variety of birds that are stopping by. It must be spring 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      I felt such peace and joy while writing this piece, Colleen. (Peace: piece!) Have been experiencing a very peaceful week. It was such a delightful moment with my mom. magical. And yes, it’s spring!

  19. lucindalines says:

    How refreshing. You have inspired me to look for the spirit in nature. I need remindings to do that every now and then, especially after a day of cleaning up some cat smells.

    • Kathy says:

      Cat smells, oh no! I remember when we had days like that, especially with a certain male named Lancelot. There is something deeply spiritual in nature. It leads us into the silent heart of God more often than not.

  20. Heather says:

    Your description of Easter is just what my heart needs right now. Thank you.

    • Kathy says:

      Happy Easter Week, Ms. Heatherling! I am glad your heart was moved when the sharing moved toward Easter stories. (Although perhaps all stories are Easter stories if we look closely enough…even skiing stories…but don’t ask me to come up with one this morning, tee hee.)

  21. Your writing is so lyrical, Kathy. This phrase struck me – a delightful way of describing something so common when traveling – “noticing the same trees clicking by lickety-split next to the road which leads to our next destination.”

    My grandmother used to complain about starlings picking on the other birds in her garden, thereby influencing my perception of them. After reading your post I’m feeling a little differently about this fascinating bird!

    • Kathy says:

      Don’t you like it when you’re writing a little story, Barbara, and a line like that comes lickety-split out of your typing fingers? I am glad you liked that line. I did, too. Yes, people sometimes tend to demonize or disapprove of certain parts of nature. One fellow around here hates blue jays with a passion. Others, squirrels. A certain someone frowns at chipmunks quite passionately since a chippy ate all our peas two summers ago.

  22. marciescudder says:

    This is so beautiful! Love how you’ve woven in your past memories with this present moment. Yes – breathe in..breathe out..allow. Nothing more need be done other than that.
    Namaste’…my friend!

    • Kathy says:

      Marcie, thank you, that’s what I was trying to do–I think. lol. Kind of showing how the present moment can include even memories. And how the world can all dance together in this breathing in, out, allowing. Namaste to you, too, good morning Marci Starling.

  23. Karma says:

    I’ve experienced the starlings too! A couple weeks ago, I posted this video on my blog

    I pulled over and made that video with my phone because I was so taken in by what I saw. Your words, however, have described that feeling much better than even my video could.

  24. forestfae says:

    Hi Kathy,

    are you o.k? You are very silent, and I’m beginnig to wonder where you are 🙂

    Take care,
    FF

  25. Kerry Dwyer says:

    Humm – nothing in my email box and nothing here except one worried reader.

    Well here is another one – are you OK?

  26. Robin says:

    “Starlings are both very ordinary and extremely magical, don’t you think?” Yes, I do. 🙂

  27. Beautiful writing. I love whenever people connect nature to faith. In both, perhaps, it is too easy to overlook the beauty of simplicity. I’ve been reading my son a picture book called “Birds” and at one point, it says that when a flock of blackbirds sitting in a tree suddenly flew away, “it was as though the tree shouted, ‘Surprise!'” Now when I read that line, I’ll think of your starlings too!

    • Kathy says:

      Sarah, thank you. I enjoyed writing this post so much. Love that line “It was as though the tree shouted Surprise!” **smile** Simplicity can be such a gift. Your comment feels like a little gift right now.

  28. In another blog I read about how “they” disliked blackbirds….and I think I said something about everything had a purpose in the universe…this post is such a positive account of how we can be inspired by starlings, June Bugs and “peace be with you” hand shakes!
    I wish I had written about the little brown banded water snake I killed thinking it was a a posionous snake.

    • Kathy says:

      I am saying “tut, tut, tut” under my breath at the blog where they disliked blackbirds. 😦
      No, no, they are glorious when they turn and arc together in the sky, they are wonderful, beautiful, amazing! What was this person thinking? Wave that snake at their blog! (OK, I am sorry for that mean thought. There is a purpose for every blog under heaven, too.)

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