We have a guest in the house

In 1928 Eleanor Farjeon wrote a poem:


“People, look east. The time is near

of the crowning of the year.

Make your house fair as you are able,

trim the hearth and set the table.

People, look east: Love, the Guest, is on the way.”


Set to the tune of an old French carol, Eleanor’s poem brings special cheer to Advent, which is fast approaching.


Love, the Guest, is on the way.  It is of guests I wish to speak.  Last weekend my husband and I attended a basketball banquet at Lamar University here in Beaumont.  The guest speaker was Julius Erving, age 69.  That’s right – Dr. J!  He of elegance, and unearthly athletic prowess.  He spoke of being the son of a single mom, how with his life he always wanted to help her, not make her life any harder than it already was.  He spoke of his faith, of perseverance, of mentors, of lines falling for him in both pleasant and challenging places. He spoke of his promise to his mother that he would finish college.  Which he did. Eventually.


I was quite caught up in his story. But I had to listen hard: he is soft-spoken, and near me was a table of young persons caught up not in him but in their cellphones and comments thereon.  I really, really wanted to as the old folks used to say “snatch them baldheaded.” Not only were they ignoring the message he brought them, they were interfering with others hearing it. Ah, heedless youth.  I’ve been there.  But I hope I had better manners than that. I definitely had more healthy fear!


After a long while of this, Dr. J looked over at their table and said something about heads down, looking at cellphones.  “I see you,” he said.  Then he said mildly, “We have a guest in the house.”


Whether he meant himself,  the young people’s forebears and future offspring, their debt to life for having been given life, the Holy One within and among and all round us, or all the above, he made his point.


Their table quieted, and he continued.



Fast Away the Old Year Passes!

I am sick to death of Halloween for adults, done to death, with collateral overwhelming of little psyches.  The Gym I frequent has been draped in bats and skeletons and gravestones for weeks. On checking in yesterday I announced (per senior prerogative) that I was tired of it.  The  young man addressed looked surprised, then sympathetic.  Then he murmured something about it being over this week.  Hallelujah.
After the Gym and dropping off soup for the soup kitchen I went to a purveyor of seasonal decor, whose interior I circled twice, looking for a Thanksgiving wreath.  Again, my heart sank at the mandated expression of seasons – rows and rows of goofy scarecrows, wooden signs commanding ‘Be Grateful’, others announcing ‘Harvest Blessings’ — aisles and aisles of harvest schlock — and did I mention Christmas?– all lined up, waiting in inanimate splendor for agitated shoppers to pick through to find just the right ‘statement’ for their homes.  What a mood I seem to be in!  I left empty handed but with an idea.  Got home and removed a pepperberry wreath from the study wall, where it’s hung on a brass hook for probably 30 years.  I took it outside,  hosed off the dust, and put it on the front door, where it looks marvelous and good as new. Here’s a predawn picture of it. Hence the shadowy effect:
Reduce, reuse, recycle.  And still the schlock machine grinds on and the landfill mountains rise.
But my particular task is to communicate goodness not gloom.  I thank the Universe for opportunities. My brother emailed yesterday morning, asking if there’s room at the Thanksgiving table for his elder daughter!  She’s been overseas a long time.  So I emailed all the Thanksgiving invitees, saying, “As if November doesn’t hold joy enough – a new baby boy, a fourth anniversary, a fortieth anniversary, a 31st birthday, a 67th birthday – I’ve just learned that Rosemary will be joining us for Thanksgiving.
Our Rosie is over the ocean
Our Rosie is over the sea
Our Rosie is over the ocean
O bring back our Rosie to we.”
Keen eyes may have spotted the baby reference. Here’s a picture of the family said baby will soon be joining:
Goodness aplenty!

Angels Stoop to Look Into These Things


To descend from a superior rank, dignity, or status.

To fly or dive down swiftly, usually to attack prey.


Hawks 014.jpg

Yesterday morning found me on the patio, reading the Beaumont Enterprise, accounts of catastrophic deluge and small steps toward recovery. The various articles were like the facets of a prism.  I turned the spectrum of emotions this way and that.


Then there intruded the scream of a red-shouldered hawk. Really?? I’m not so easily taken in as all that.  I was pretty sure it was a blue jay, practicing his mimicry, trying to scare the other songbirds away so he could visit the birdfeeder in peace.


But then I heard two screams – one close, one answering from a distance. Unless a blue jay can split his voice and throw it high in the sky, these really were hawks.


So off with my readers and on with my regular glasses, just in time to see the closer hawk soaring, just in time to see him fold his wings, and “like a thunderbolt he fell.”


Either he fell upon a tasty treat, or hurt himself, for he began to scream from the ground, other side of a fence and a house from me.  I hope he was screaming to his mate: “Lunch is served.”


I went on with my day, which as days will, filled with many things.


This morning came a chorus of reminders.  Two wrens caroling. One cardinal chirping. One chickadee buzzing. One redbellied woodpecker chirring.  Facets of a prism, pouring out color, converging to say, “Remember what you saw?”


I had almost forgotten.   But, now that you mention it!


Here’s something I drew a long time ago:

hawk icon.jpg

But Wait, There’s More!

Last night I went to Liberty to hear a lady from the Houston Audubon Society talk about bird migration.  Which she did, with many  slides, in the dark. It was very interesting.  But my eyes were heavy.

When she finished her talk she called for lights.  And then, behold, she lifted a covered birdcage from the floor and set in on a table.  From the birdcage she drew forth a beautiful Purple Martin, name of Emilio.  Seems Emilio smacked into a window as a youth and sustained brain damage.  He can’t see, he can’t feed himself.  But he can sing, like an angel.

After telling his story and giving us time to admire him, she put darling Emilio away and lifted a large box to the table.  From this box she drew forth…a swallow-tailed kite.  This creature had fallen from her nest as a baby, mangling herself, but surviving.  She’s grown now. One wing is useless, she hasn’t got much of a swallow tail, she has zero coordination.  But oh that sleek, noble, beautiful white head!  Those fierce orange eyes! I was pleased to hear she shares quarters with a rescued Mississippi kite.  An interspecies friendship.


After her story was fully told, back she went into her box.  Another box even larger was hoisted to the tabletop.  There was a great commotion going on inside it.  The bird lady said it was this bird’s first time to be shown in public, and it could be a disaster, but she’d had a chat with the bird about proper behavior, so they were going to try it.  Quoth the audience, “What kind of bird is it?”  She wouldn’t tell.  She opened the door of the box, struggled mightily with the creature, and brought forth … a turkey vulture.  This we were not expecting!


This two-year-old young lady had a close encounter with a car in west Texas, necessitating partial amputations. So, like the other two birds, she can never live on her own.  Instead she gets mice and rats without having to work for them, and lots of human attention — a burden she must bear.
The bird lady pointed out her huge nostrils.  Turkey vultures have a keen sense of smell.  Black vultures, not being quite as blessed, follow them around.
One thing that surprised me was the color of her feathers.  I had pictured  a rusty musty black.  Not at all.  She’s a dense sooty black, a look that suits her.
Another surprise:  vultures have long been considered raptors.  But now we’re thinking they’re more closely related to storks.
Hmmm.  The stork bringeth, the stork taketh away?
The bird lady had withheld her food all day, because a turkey vulture’s inclination when overburdened by life is to throw up.  Sure enough, when the bird lady went to stuff her back in her cage, the bird tried to throw up on her.  But it was only a dry heave. I admire the spirit of both ladies.
To have a vulture in the room was strange.  You could see her intelligence.  And her keen appraisal of us, turning her eyes from one face to another.  I tried to look as alive as I could!

Heart for Hawks

So I’m at my computer, putting together a prayer guide for the month of October.  I had just put the finishing touches on Day 1:

The Christian church continues to observe the season we call Ordinary Time, which runs this year from Pentecost Sunday to the first Sunday of Advent. We call this season ‘ordinary’ not because it’s common but because it’s ordered and numbered, as in mile markers on a journey. How wonderful that each new day offers an on-ramp to heaven!

I was viewing this with some satisfaction, with little expectation of affirmation beyond that, when down swooped an angel.  He perched on the back of a patio chair, just beyond my window.  Here he is:


A poor image, I realize, but it’s a wonder my thunderstruck self was able to operate a camera at all!  He stood there a while, surveying the patio, the spring-loaded chair trembling under the weight of him.  He turn his back, he ruffled his gorgeous feathers:


He stretched his magnificent wingspan, turning this way and that.  Then he winged over to the fountain, where he had a refreshing sip of water before departing.

Broad-wing? Red-shouldered?  I was too rattled for close observation.  But he gave me just enough of his time.  That’s often how it is with angels.

I offer you what I beheld through the screen. Tis all I can do!


Eastern Phoebe





Budding Naturalist

At twenty months my granddaughter has not been still for a long time.  But today she was recovering from a tummy bug, not up to full speed.  After we had drooped around the house a bit, doing next to nothing, I decided we needed some fresh air.  We sat a spell on the front porch, as in days of yore. This time, though, rather than perch upon my knee she chose a low chair close to the bench where I sat.  Ah, she’s growing up!  She examined the dirt on the bottom of her feet.  She twirled a yellow leaf from a gum ball tree.  Then she came and sat by me on the bench.  Again, a whole lot of companionable nothing.  Time passed. A dark swallowtail butterfly fluttered by.  She said, “Hi.”  After a pause, she aimed an air kiss at where it had been.


photo by Amelia’s aunt Katy

A fish crow called its group together with a doubled-up nasally caw.  I said, “That right there is the voice of a fish crow.”  She solemnly repeated, “fish crow.”  We practiced the nasally caw. We watched the congregation wing by.



Then, high above, I heard the wondrous sound of  Mississippi kites.  I could just make out the two of them, pinpoints swooping in front of a brilliant white  cloud.



I explained to Amelia that although the high pitched call of a kite is something like a broad winged hawk’s, the two birds of prey are nothing alike. The kite is small, dashing, elegant.  The hawk is bigger, darker, stockier. The kite catches insects, such as grasshoppers.  The hawk catches small creatures such as mice.  She registered this in silence, then got down and sat on the doormat with her back against the front door.  So we went inside.



“May we ever enjoy Your consolations.”

This morning I arose with a powerful need for some lecture notes from 2001.  Once breakfasted and into my files, I knew I was in trouble: Years and years of notes, in disarray.  Undated documents.  Dated documents scrambled.  The good news?  In making what year-stacks I could, the exhilaration of lectures past suffused me.  It was so wonderful, such a privilege, to be in all those decades of lecture halls. I’m so grateful for the fierce compulsion to learn.  I’m confident there will be more! The bad news? The very notes I need are not there.  Loaned out, I suppose.  But still, a trace of their excellence lingers, in my files.

One thing I’ve learned is the futility of attacking memory head on.  Memory needs to be approached obliquely, with clear breathing,  with easy expectation.  If Memory sees I’m moving casually about my business, she just may appear, with a wink and a nudge.  Or not.   I’m still waiting!

And the wait can be such a delight.  After much rain the backyard is drenched with sun. And activity.  What sounds like the corner of the roof being broken off is merely a squirrel, convinced he’s the one to master the baffle on the birdfeeder.  No, he is not.  A wild rabbit is easing along the hedgerow. A rollicking wren breaks cover, allowing a heart-stopping glimpse of his tiny self.  The teenage cardinals are pestering their parents.  All’s right with the world.

But where are those notes, and what did they say??