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.
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 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.
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.