Phoebe H. Dishman was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother. An essayist and poet, she teaches adult Sunday school, compiles a monthly prayer calendar, edits the Big Thicket Association quarterly bulletin, and keeps a keen eye and ear open for birds.
And so it was, in the soggy aftermath of Tropical Storm Beta. While walking past the dense dark green of the magnolia outside our kitchen window for probably the 26,280th time (twice a day times 365 days per year times 36 years) I heard an unfamiliar cry. I stopped, eyes trained on the tree, watching for telltale movement. First I spied the cause—a blue jay, guilt written all over his hasty flight. Ignoring his departure, I kept watching. Ah! A bird new to me, gray above, whitish below, about 6 inches long. Unmistakable eye line. Something in my poet-soul said, “Vireo.” Something in my scientist-soul said, “Let’s not be hasty.” Half-confident, I went to my Sibley guide and scanned the Vireo section. And there it was: Red-eyed Vireo. Sometimes poets just know. And science refines the knowing. Wonderful!
David Allen Sibley says that when agitated the red-eyed vireo says “rreea.” Hmmm. Was that what I heard? I mean, what does rreea even sound like?
Next I checked Cornell’s online site. What Sibley calls “rreea” Cornell describes like this:
“A loud, catbird-like myaah call punctuates many social interactions. Both sexes use it to emphasize warning displays toward potential predators or interlopers.”
I’m pretty confident now in my ID, not least because when I heard the outcry I thought of a remark my dusky darling catbirds might make. But more pointed. “Myaah! Take that, you dang interloping potential predator blue jay!”
But wait, there’s more to say about the social language of the red-eyed vireo: “Males and females sometimes snap their bills in flight as they swoop at intruders and predators.”
“I warn, I swoop, I SNAP my bill at you!” This much is clear: You don’t want to get on the wrong side of a red-eyed vireo.
If, however, you want to see how pretty they are, and hear their good-mood song, check out this link:
Sometimes it takes a direct question from a faraway friend: “How’s it going?” Lately, I’ve wondered. Beyond the occasional Terminator-like computer scan of my systems to make sure I’m still viable, I really couldn’t say. Have never traversed such strange times, that’s for sure.
But Melissa asked, so to honor the question, I gave it some thought. How’s it going? Well, it looks like TS Beta may bring the Texas coast some big rain, which I wish would fall on the wildfires out west. With states further to our east beginning Sally-recovery, post-Laura Louisianians are still waiting for power. RBG has laid down her lawbooks. Sigh. Did you see the movie about her?
Ah, a shift to the blessing side!
But, how’s it going with YOU, my dear girl, hyperresponsible for the world? What are YOUR blessings? If you DID know, what would they be?
Well, my Sunday school iMovie this week is good if I do say so, not least because it’s a collaboration with an insightful photographer friend. If you’re interested in such things, here’s the link:
My circle of care are all well.
Hmm, what else? Yesterday a man showed me the inside of a yellow schoolbus he’s rigged up as a kind of traveling den. To date I’ve only ever seen the outside, parked in his driveway. The inside is a marvel of craftsmanship, repurposing of found wood, furnishings, etc. AND he has several bongo drums in it. Which he says he plays. Like so many things, who knew?? He kept apologizing that it was messy. I had insufficient words for how cool it was and how little I cared about the alleged messiness. Outside the bus along its east side he has containers of black-eyed pea vines growing on trellises. He gave me some dried peas to plant at my house, just for fun. (And better luck for 2021??)
Then, as I was driving home, I saw a duck and her child in a front yard. Rolled down the window to take a picture, could hear her whistling to beat the band! That’s because she’s a Black Bellied Whistling Duck (aka Tree Duck, so named because they like to perch and nest in trees.) I don’t know if she was lecturing the one or calling for its siblings — they usually have a passel of chicks.
As I wrote these blessings to Melissa, I got to thinking they should be circulated more widely. So, here you go!
Born some time ago, physical strength not what it was,
I can still help the cause by worrying.
I got awfully tired this week.
Note to self: “With cycles and circles we must abide.”
And so it’s Sunday again,
and I thought to abide by sitting outside
in the ‘hush of nature newly born.’
Made the mistake of bringing the newspaper with me.
Then, as if to counter the killing headlines, the usual suspects began to appear.
I had nothing to give them—not worry, not wisdom, not even a smile.
But smiles came:
Scruffy mocker, singing to himself.
Cardinal family, conferencing in the bottlebrush.
Carolina chickadees, unruffled at my close proximity to their feeder.
Jays zipping overhead.
Flash of woodpecker, then a long beak just visible.
Boisterous wren-song, glimpse of a narrow secretive head.
Tentative tail-wag of a white-wing.
Mystery warbler, evoking faint stir to go get the bird book.
Call it dereliction, but I did not go get the bird book.
“And in my hour of darkness She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be”
I thought of baby Shep, pulling up, practicing his scrunched up smile and royal wave, of his angel sister who got in trouble for throwing a plastic ball at his head—she is after all only two—and did she cry because she was corrected, or because she’s connected? May we all grow in wisdom and grace. God bless us, every one.
Around ten this morning I grew tired of refrigerated air and artificial light (tired is not the same as ungrateful!) So I found a corner of the patio still in shade. Here I finished the newspaper, amused by the light breeze wrestling with me for control of the editorial page. While at this task I heard a high thin whistle. Not the questioning pe-teew of broad winged hawk, but the descending declarative of Mississippi kite. Eyes up and there he was, a male, quick sailing on the effortless up current of a blue true dream. Pale head flashing white as he turned, shading into dark. Buoyant, elegant, sleek. And oh what the sight of him did for my heart!
Later, purr of an engine announced a small airplane crossing the blue true dream. Sunshine yellow. It looked so jaunty and carefree. Again, good medicine.
Last sighting before I went back inside was a Giant Swallowtail butterfly, winging west.
Here’s one I met on this very patio, many years ago, when I was having a very bad day. And oh what the sight of him did for my heart!
So the other morning I was deep into weaving one of my iMovies. When my husband appeared I took a break to feed him his breakfast. While it was underway I glanced at our freezer contents, with an eye to our supper. Without thinking, I murmured, “O look, 12 dove breasts.” At which my selectively hard of hearing husband’s head came up from his paper, and he said, “Let’s have that tonight. We’ll do the slow-cooker recipe.”
At this, the base of my brain said,
“Hold it right there, Strange Unwelcome Idea.
The morning’s half-gone, the dove breasts a frozen block.
Someone will have to go to the store for mushrooms and cream of chicken soup.
The recipe requires every pan in our kitchen.
I’m in the middle of important work.
He should have married someone more interested in cooking.
To which my higher brain replied,
“He shot those doves and brought them home for us to eat.
Doves are mighty tasty.
Our evolved contract: When he cooks, I will happily clean the kitchen.
To every heaven-ordained purpose is given time to accomplish it.
So, why ever not?”
Before I knew it my hands were running warm water over the frozen block and he was off to the store and I had with only minor reluctance floured the breasts and then the kitchen filled with heavenly aroma. Which made a nice container for my creative work the rest of the day.
There was indeed a mess. Which my recovering perfectionist self walked by a number of times until my iMovie was far enough along that I felt like washing every pan in the kitchen.
This morning, a few days later, I found the leftovers in the fridge and heated three breasts, swimming in mushrooms, onions, and savory broth. It was so good I took my portion and headed out to eat it under our crape myrtle. High praise indeed, to give something my full attention in that holy place! (Contrast to mindless eating while editing an iMovie…)
On my way to the bower I met a sleek young squirrel, scrounging for sunflower seeds under the bird feeder. To my surprise she held her ground, regarding me with bright wary eye. I assured her it was dove in my bowl, not squirrel.
As a senior (wait, what? I’m still a young thing!) held mostly at home by pandemic, beset by the chill of dread that haunts us all, I’m at the same time strangely warmed by an unlooked for grace that makes me rise with a smile and work happily all day. Creating. Generating. It’s as if all the experiences and findings of my long life have found me. Something wants to be done with all this treasure. As if it matters. Does it? I hope so. I’ve heard that when love flows in, you are not to be endpoint but conduit.
Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
So, an outflow of poems and pictures and iMovies. Well and good. But sometimes I miss something. It’s true that we don’t notice what we don’t notice.
For instance, I’ve been rejoicing in the inexplicable surge of my old hoya vine, which has sat greenly on my sun porch for many years, and is now in a frenzy of pink I can only hope is not its last hurrah.
This was a gift from a friend, and before that a gift from a friend. By propagation.
Now comes this vine to the attention of another friend, who asked briskly, “Why haven’t you taken a cutting for me?” When I replied lamely that I never thought to, and besides I don’t know how, she said all you have to do is cut a piece and stick it in a jar of water.
So, next pause in Miss Hoya’s furious blooming, I carried her to the sink, unwound her – finding several new buds! – and took a cutting. We shall see if that’s really all you have to do.
I’m enjoying the antics of the immature neighborhood hawk. Active from dawn to dusk, sailing from tree to tree, perching in the Chinese elm, calling out his high hoarse kee-ee! kee-ee! The songbirds are invisible.
Other morning the hawk and I shared a pleasant time in “our” back yard. It was fun to watch him in his tree, snaking his head from side to side, the better to see what was traversing the airspace above us. Together we saw high fast flights of doves, egrets, chimney swifts. We spied pink. Roseate spoonbill, I told him. And no you can’t eat him.
Snaking his head. You heard that right. The sinuosity of his neck reminded me that birds are dinosaurs with feathers.
This morning’s reptilian move was inside. What should I spy in the corner by my bathtub but a very young ribbon snake? I mastered my terror enough to admire his dark-eyed striped beauty and sympathize with his waving about predicament. How did I get here? What do I do next? (We both wondered to ourselves.)
By the time I got back with a jar and enough courage to help him into it, he was gone. Where is he now? One may well ask. Sadly, I don’t know.