About three weeks ago I was sitting in my lanai enjoying my God time and breakfast. I was so aware of the presence of God through His creation. Squirrels were scampering in the trees and enjoying breakfast at their feeders. Birds were calling out to their mates or calling out for prospective mates and swooping in to the feeders on the back fence of the garden. The trees and plants were budding out and everything had that lush look about it. The bare threads of winter were fast being replaced.
I was very familiar with many of the birds, those I could see and those I could hear. The sweet Titmice and many Sparrows jostled for spots on the feeders until the Cardinal appeared and claimed his place as “numero uno” in the pecking order! Some Bluebirds and Blue Jays flew across the garden creating magnificent flashes of blue. Occasionally a Blue Jay would drop onto the back fence, wait for the other birds to finish and leave, before hopping down to pick a seed or two, bang it open on the fence top, and then fly off.
Mocking Birds were aggressively buzzing the back yard and each other. I saw quite a bit of spring rivalry as one male chased another away from his prospective mate. Then he began courting the female but she was playing hard-to-get. And in between whiles, the first Humming Birds were starting to visit their feeders on a more regular basis.
High up in the trees, Crows would sit, each one claiming the pinnacle of a pine tree as his particular castle, and then would begin a cacophony of sound as they started their orchestral system of communication. Joining them from time to time could be heard the piercing shrieks of the Red Shouldered Hawk as he flew from tree to tree crying out for a mate to join him. From somewhere deep inside the small pinewood out back I could here the drilling of a Woodpecker on a tree trunk. And then a small, chunky House Wren decided to join my garden group and sang out his rich morning song; such a loud voice for such a small bird.
Then suddenly, from quite close by, I heard an unusual, never-before-heard, loud dry chatter. I looked up and around. The noise had seemed to come from my Bottle Brush tree which now stands about twelve to fifteen foot high. It was aflame with spring blooms and rich with new spring growth foliage. Then I heard the chatter again and caught a glimpse of something large and yellowish. The bird was definitely as big as a mature Cardinal but seemed slimmer, more elongated. But he was operating deep inside the tree and I could only catch occasional glimpses of flashing gold movement.
The next day, amid the same lively performance from all the usual birds, I again heard the loud dry chatter. This time I was prepared with binoculars close at hand, but my new visitor was more elusive than the day before. He seemed to bury himself even deeper into the tree and only at the last moment, as he lifted up in flight to leave, did I catch a quick sighting, a magnificent flash of rich deep gold as he flew up and away. This was way too tantalizing. I searched through my Kenn Kaufman bird book and thought perhaps it might be a female Summer Tanager.
The next day I heard the now familiar chatter and, after some minutes scrutinizing the tree, I got my first real clear sighting. He had come out on a branch on my side of the tree. This placed him in plain sight and also put him in the slightly shadowed part of the tree which meant there was no sun shining directly on him. And there he was in all his glory. From just under the beak area he was a rich golden reddish orange that went all the way down under his belly getting slightly paler in shade as it disappeared between his legs and back towards his under tail. His whole face and continuing over the crown of his head, down his back to his upper tail was black, while his wings had a touch of light gold at the shoulders but were black with distinct white markings.
He was a beauty, about 8-9 inches long. I began frantically flipping pages in the Kaufman. Triumphantly I came across a page full of Orioles, and there was my visitor. And visitor he was; a rarely-seen-in-the-south Baltimore Oriole. The picture was a perfect match and the description of his call note was exactly what I had been hearing – a dry chatter. I was so thrilled to have identified him, and so happy that he had chosen my Bottle Brush as his breakfast spot.
He came every day for about two and a half weeks and my husband was able to get some good photos of him. Then, just as suddenly as he appeared, he seems to have disappeared. Today is the fourth day that I have not heard his chatter nor seen his regal flash of gold. Even as I feel somewhat sad, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to make his acquaintance. But, in the meantime, as though in recompense, I have been treated to another new sighting. But that’s fodder for another blog.
On the second day of our retirement ride, Rich and I had a very unique experience. We were some where in Tennessee having left Marietta, GA on the Tuesday morning and we were headed toward Paducah, KY. Our norm each day was to ride for about one hundred and twenty miles, then take a rest stop and gas up if necessary. On that Tuesday morning we had taken a break at a rest stop somewhere in Tennessee. I had headed into the building to use the facilities while Rich took a stretch.
I was inside for a while because a bus had made a pit stop just minutes before we had arrived and there was quite a line for the ladies room. When I came out Rich was standing beside the bike deep in conversation with an older gentleman. I hung back a little giving them room for their discussion. Then Rich looked around and saw me there, motioned me forward and introduced me. I very much regret that I do not remember the gentleman’s name, but I can tell you some things about him.
I learned he was a retired Navy man, a Veteran from World War II. He, too, had owned a bike back in the day and had met and married his wife shortly after joining the service. He said that they really enjoyed riding together back then. His wife came out of the building at this point and joined us and we learned that they were from Knoxville, TN. They were very committed to their church back in Knoxville and they told us they were in fact on a day trip with fellow church-goers. We asked where they were going and the gentleman, with a chuckle, said that they didn’t know. They were on a “mystery trip” and had no idea what their destination was!
At this point, reaching out his hand, Rich thanked him for his service to country and said we needed to get going as we had quite a few miles to cover that day. The gentleman grasped Rich’s hand and thanked him in return for his service to country too. Then, to our great surprise, he extended his left hand toward my right hand and asked permission to pray over us. With joy in my heart I reached out to take his hand and he connected with his wife on his other side, and she in turn clasped hands with Rich.
And right there, the middle of a rest stop parking lot somewhere in Tennessee we were blessed to receive prayers of gratitude and prayers for protection from two strangers. He asked the good Lord, our Father, to watch over us, to keep us safe from all harm. He asked for blessings upon us as we continued our trip and prayed that we would have a wonderful and enjoyable ride. With full hearts we said our goodbyes, mounted the bike, and rode off leaving our parking lot friends to enjoy their mystery tour.
Although I do not remember their names, I can picture them in my minds eye. I can see the four of us standing beside the bike, the big tour bus in the background, holding hands and praying together. It was beautiful and was most definitely a highlight of the ride for me. That memory will be with me in years to come, and I hope that Rich and I will be able to do the same for someone else one day as we ride our Harley around God’s creation.
In my previous posting God’s Creation-Minnesota, I mentioned that through the trees on Greg and Sherry’s property you could barely make out two other houses – their neighbors. Connie and Joe live in the closest house, while Deb and Crystal live in the other house along with Deb’s Mom, Mary, and Deb’s younger sister Paula. Deb and Crystal live in the main part of the house while Mary and Paula share a delightful apartment on the lower level which, because the whole structure is built on a slope, is also on a ground level of its own.
We got to meet all the neighbors because on one of the evenings that we were there we participated in a “travelling dinner”. I’ll share details of that event in another posting. Here I want to talk about Paula who is somewhat mentally challenged and is quite a delightful character. She is actually forty-five years old, I believe, but looks like a teenager.
When we entered the kitchen at Deb and Crystal’s, Paula was seated at a table on the far side of the room of the room next to her Mom, Mary. Paula is not very tall, maybe not even five foot. She has rich auburn, curly hair that she wore pulled back from her face that day. Her face is very round and when she smiles her eyes crinkle up, Chinese-style, and she looks like a mischievous pixie!
Richard had stopped at the kitchen island to pick at some appetizers, while I walked around it and went over to be introduced to Paula. She did not look up at me immediately, but then Deb said, “Look at this Paula”, and pointed to my hair. At that, Paula looked up at me and her face lit up in pure delight. She clapped her hands together like a little child and exclaimed, “It’s purple, it’s purple, my favorite color!” Looking into that innocent, beaming face, I felt as though someone had given me an exquisite gift. My heart lurched and I fell in love with Paula right then and there.
She continued to smile up at me and I pointed over to Richard and said, “And that’s my husband, Richard.” Without skipping a beat, Paula looked in Richard’s direction and once again clapped her hands together. Her smile widened and, in such genuine innocence, she exclaimed, “Oh, he’s so cute!” And she chuckled. The whole room seemed to light up and people laughed, not at her, but right along with her, joining in her delight at the situation. And I fell in love all over again with Paula.
Later on in the evening, Paula brought me a piece of cake. I thanked her and kissed her cheek. A dazed look came over her and she slowly put her hand up to her cheek in wonder. As she returned into the kitchen, I heard her say to someone, “I’ll never wash my face again.” The person asked her why and she responded, “Because Margo kissed me.” I felt my throat constrict and my heart welled up with love.
There are moments that I recognize as pure God moments. I know I experienced the love of God in that sweet pixie of a person, Paula. I have often heard people question “why” about many things that happen on this earthly journey, including the “why” of people like Paula. My answer: they help us to experience a special kind of love – if we are open to it. I will remember Paula with great affection and I hope I get the opportunity to see her again.