Embers from the Fire
A weekly blog by Deacon Dan Wagnitz for the Quad-Parish Community
Free as a Bird – 12/11/2020
There does not seem to be another creature truly as free as a bird. The gift of flight is a marvel and the basis for this vast freedom. The seeming effortless soar of an eagle, the powerful thousands-of- miles migration of the tundra swan, even the international migrations of the hummingbird all taunt us creatures whose feet seem almost fixed in place by comparison. Even in our spirituality, one of the ways that that angels are superior to us mortals, is their ability to move at will between the physical and spiritual realms – a gift that artists through the ages have depicted by illustrating them with wings.
All the more curious then was a day recently spent on a deer stand. My blind was on the northwest corner of a small woodlot. Across a 50-yard strip of frosted but still slightly green alfalfa there was the remnant of an old fence line. The barbed wire was gone but an occasional fencepost stood at uneven intervals, most of them leaning more precariously than anything in Pisa. There were shrubs and a few stunted trees, but mostly there was a chest high line of brown and withered grass stretching east and west dividing the alfalfa field from the neighbor’s field to the north.
It was against this backdrop that I watched a small group of red polls – just five or six birds spend the entire day. They began peeping and flitting along the old fence row in the predawn. They didn’t fly in – they just kind of materialized out of the grass. One would flit down the fence row about ten or fifteen feet or so, then another would kind of arial leapfrog them and fly past another five of ten feet. Then another bird would flit past those two, and so on. I watched them leapfrog their way all the way to the end the row. I expected that they would just keep right on going but I soon realized that they had reversed direction and were now leapfrogging back out in front of me, then another 25 yards to my left where there was a twisted little ash tree. They seemed to take turns flying up into the tree and then dive bombing back down into the grass. They didn’t even look like they landed in the grass; instead the grass seemed to swallow them one by one.
After just a few minutes they came up out of the grass one by one, chirping. Then they started heading west again along the fence line. I watched them work east to west and west to east all day. Even in the twilight as I emerged from my blind and gathered all my things for the hike out, I could see them still flitting back and forth. All that freedom – and they spent it working back and forth along no more than a hundred yards of old fence line. Where is the excitement – the imagination – in that? I don’t think that red polls dream dreams. It seems like a wasted opportunity, squandered freedom.
Still – the old fence row must provide all they need or they would certainly fly off elsewhere. Cover from the wind, enough weed seed to be full. For them it is enough. They are content. They are free.