House-sitting

Friday, Aug. 17, 2018
By Marie Mischel
Intermountain Catholic

The sun rising over the Wasatch range is now strong enough to warrant moving from my seat in front of the window because it has gone from warm to hot, but I am loathe to move because the finches and hummingbirds are providing an endless variety of unscripted entertainment as they gather their morning sustenance. The house finches and goldfinches, as many as five at once, cling to the mesh and tease out the black seeds. If there is no room on the feeder they will perch on the chain that suspends it from the eaves, or gather in the peach tree a few feet away to await their turn. I watched a juvenile house finch, drab in its brown and buff feathers, its streaked breast its only adornment, perch atop the feeder’s yellow roof while its father, sporting the bright red cap that makes the species so ready identifiable, enjoyed his breakfast without sparing one iota of attention for his offspring. Apparently sated, the father dropped down to the patio. The young bird followed. When the adult finally winged away the juvenile was right behind. Soon enough, I suppose, the juvenile will realize that the father who provided protection and sustenance up to this point is no longer willing to do so, but for now the young bird still hopes for handouts.

On the table in front of me are my two most recent books, Joan Chittister’s “Happiness” and a collection of Brian Doyle’s essays, but the battle between the hummingbirds and the wasps for the sugar water is much more engaging than either book.

The hummingbirds are outnumbered by the finches, which I can spot at any given moment on the feeder or in the peach tree or in the bushes along the property line. The hummers zip through sporadically, rarely more than one at a time, although I have identified males and females of at least two different species.

Brian Doyle’s masterful essay “Joyas Voladoras” asks the reader to consider the hummingbird, and from the tiniest bird Doyle progresses to the largest mammal, the blue whale, and then as if by natural progression to the human heart. It was this piece that led me to purchase “Eight Whopping Lies,” the collection of his that sits neglected on the table in front of me as I watch the flying jewels hover at the feeder in front of me. Unlike Doyle I can draw no deep philosophical thought from them; for me they are simply part of this peaceful Sunday morning in which my only responsibility is caring for my friends’ cats. I attended Mass last night, so today am able to spend every waking hour, if I wish, enjoying the avian antics on my friends’ porch.

One level of happiness, Chittister suggests, “is finding out where we fit, where we are most ourselves, where there is no struggle between who we are and what we do, between where we are and where we want to be, between what we’re doing and what we really want to do.” Perhaps tomorrow I will strive to mimic Doyle and find philosophical meaning in the hummers or the finches, but at the moment I’m feeling no struggle in simply basking in the sun and watching the birds. The first of this weekend’s Mass readings tells of the Israelites grumbling in the desert; the Gospel speaks of the followers of Jesus demanding another miracle. While at times I, too, grumble and demand, at this moment I have nothing but thanks and praise for God, whose grandeur imbues the flashy hummingbirds and the humble finches, who gives manna as well as the bread of life.

My friends consider house-sitting a favor I am doing them, but in truth they have given me a greater gift by allowing me this chance to be warmed by the sun, watch birds and wonder at creation.

Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.

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