Strictly for the Birds

Recently I gave Rainey a writing assigment:

Think back to when you had a happy experience and remember where you were and what happened. Were you alone or with someone else? When did this happen? What were your thoughts at the time, and what did people say? How did you feel? Write a story about that happy experience.

She chose to write about a field trip we took to a nature preserve a couple weeks ago, and she asked if I’d write about it, too. Below is the result, hers first, followed by mine. Enjoy!

by Rainey

I was just finishing my vocabulary when Mom said, “Who wants to go to the Montour Preserve?” I was so happy that I grabbed all of my nature journals.

“I haven’t been there in a long time,” I said to my little sister, Lilla. She grabbed her nature journals, too.

We all got in the car. At this point I was so excited I thought I was going to explode. With every mile I got more anxious. Finally we pulled into the parking lot. We were the only ones there.

When we went inside, it was cooler than I remembered. There were animal exhibits. I ran to the American Kestrel. I pushed a button and a narrator taught me about the kestrel. My mom also showed me Indian artifacts. As soon as I finished looking at the exhibit, Mom asked, “Rainey, remember this?”

I looked over to where Mom was pointing. It was a bird spotting area! Mom told me to walk slowly so I wouldn’t scare the birds away. I did, but the birds flew away anyway. After I sat down, I started to see birds coming out of the woods. Golden finches perched in the trees. Chickadees climbed in the bushes. Cardinals pecked at the ground with song sparrows. White-breasted nuthatches and woodpeckers ate away at corn in a feeder. I took a lot of pictures.

American Goldfinch


WoodpeckerAt last Mom said it was time to go. On the way home I thought about all the things I learned and saw. That afternoon we had some tea and peanut butter fudge and read more about birds.

“Let’s make our own bird feeder,” I suggested to Lilla. We ran outside to collect pine cones. We covered them in peanut butter and used cracker crumbs because we couldn’t find the bird seed. We hung them up and waited. Then we started to play.

“Let’s see if any animals ate our treats,” I said to Lilla later.

We found two pine cones missing.

“Our plan has been successful!” I cheered. I had a very fun day.

by Mom

I wake early to put another log on the fire while a hundred fifty miles west of here a rodent stands poised to prognosticate what I dread most: six more weeks of winter.

I make myself some chai in the dark, listen to the crackling fire, and wait for his “prediction.” Today’s forecast calls for unseasonably mild temperatures, and with a relatively snowless winter so far, I’m pretty confident spring is on its way.

But moments later Phil disagrees, and I shake my head in disgust. I never did like groundhogs. But I forge ahead with my day, determined not to let a century-old superstition bring me down.

After breakfast I tell the girls to grab their coats and nature journals, we’re going on a field trip. And you’d think I just announced we’re headed for Disney World, they’re that excited. Seems I’m not the only one around here with cabin fever.

We drive under cloudy skies to the nature preserve and have the whole place to ourselves, another perk of this homeschooling gig. We listen to the American Kestrel kiosk, identify the mammals of Montour County and trace the paths native tribes once traversed in these parts. Mostly, though, I watch my children explore, see where their curiousity takes them.

It takes my oldest around the corner, to the bird sanctuary where she spots a dozen or so birds feeding. She’s mesmerized, trying to capture them all on film.

Bird Sanctuary

Bird Feeder

Bird on BranchSong SparrowShe could stay all day, she even asks me to, but the dirty diaper and napping needs of my youngest hasten us home.

Later, during afternoon tea time, she reads about birds in winter, how they survive, what they eat, how they stay warm. She dons a labcoat from the dress-up chest, the one she labeled “animal scientist” with fabric markers, then sketches the anatomy of a bird on the chalkboard. Next she gathers field journals from the downstairs bin.

I’ve retreated to the couch for a power nap, content with minds and bodies fed, while she gathers pinecones and slathers them with what’s left from our peanut butter jar. She sprinkles them with cracker crumbs and takes her treats outside, along with her sister, and waits for the birds to come. She waits and watches. She’s ditched her labcoat on the porch, those unseasonable temperatures rising. And all afternoon our backyard becomes the avenue aviary.

Back inside, I brush dirt and crumbs from the counters and wipe peanut butter smudges off the cupboard door and smile. I think of summer days, like the one last July, when I sat on our patio sipping sweet tea, studying scripture like she’s studying the wingspan of a woodpecker now. I was looking for some direction for our science curriculum this year, and I read this, and it deeply struck me:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world – Psalm 19:1-4

I remember deciding right there and then that it’s not enough to teach my kids about birds and stars and seasons. It’s not enough to tell them that God created everything. A good teacher would inspire them to look for His fingerprints everywhere. A good teacher would lead them toward a life of wonder. A good teacher would make worship the ultimate lesson plan.

I’m not always that teacher. But some days I surprise myself (and them). Like today, which started out cold and cursed by rodents but ended up full of wonder and worship and warbling anyway.

I agree with Rainey. I had a very fun day, too.

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