An Excellent Birding Day

I went out with my friend Eliot last Saturday morning to see what spring birds we might find. It was a good day to bird: I added 17 birds to my year list!

The highlight of the day was a Golden Eagle. I have had only one really good look at a Golden Eagle before, so I was thrilled to see another. At first we thought it was a Turkey Vulture (Minnesota’s most common huge bird of prey), but we were both wait, wait, something isn’t right. Eagle? But not a Bald Eagle (which are happily fairly common here). OMG a Golden Eagle! Yes! This in and of itself made the day. But, as mentioned we saw lots of other birds too.

Many were water birds, especially ducks. Northern Pintail (very fun—not a bird I see every year), Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Ring-Necked Duck, Redhead, Green-Winged Teal, and Lesser Scaup; also Pied-Billed Grebe, Trumpeter Swan, American Coot, and Cackling Goose.

I saw my first Eastern Bluebird of the year—always a happy sign. Also a Tree Swallow, Song Sparrow, and Northern Flicker.

And just before we called it quits, at our last stop of the day, we saw a Great Horned Owl. I don’t see these very often either, so I felt doubly gifted.

It wasn’t until the end of our birding, at this last stop, that I finally saw a Great Blue Heron. I love these huge and beautiful birds, fairly common in Minnesota, but no less stately for that. I reverberate with joy.

I need Auden to help me with the words here. This sense you get in nature where you just beat with the world. I’m not sure it’s reverence, but it’s close to reverence. And then there’s awe. Awe definitely comes into play.

But after awe there’s breakfast. The excellent day continues.

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March Reprise

      March was a very wiggly weather month. I had scattered days of sitting on the front porch reading, but mostly the front porch was winter. I uncovered my rhubarb, covered it back up again (winter storm), and then again uncovered it (uncovered meaning I removed the pile of leaves). I saw a rainbow.

I read 13 books in March, overwhelmingly nonfiction (7) and 3 each of fiction and poetry. There were no huge standouts, but from the theme aspect, it’s a kind of fun list:

      • The Art of Living
      • The Art of Mending
      • The Ransom of Russian Art
      • The Art of Peace
      • Cocktails with Brueghel at the Museum Cafe
      • Waiting for Beethoven
      • Artful
      • The Lost Art of Mixing
      • Vermeer in Bosnia
      • The Art of Stillness
      • Birdsong

Art (also music and dance) was the March reading theme. My reading was very eclectic, but nothing totally grabbed me. The surprise of the month was my disappointment in John McPhee’s The Ransom of Russian Art. I’ve loved most of the McPhee books I’ve read (maybe 6 now?); I consider him a wonderful writer. He can make pretty much anything interesting. The first book of his that I read was Orange (an entire book about oranges, both compelling and fascinating), and I was hooked. While I learned a lot from The Ransom of Russian Art, it seemed lacking in an editor. Sentences that I had to read several times to pull the threads together (remember this is nonfiction, not poetry): This in particular shocked me. I have always found McPhee to be a most excellent and straightforward writer. Nonetheless, I learned a lot from the book (I think you can’t escape that when you read McPhee) and it will certainly not deter me from reading the rest of his books.

Also in March, we lost our heat (and not on one of those nice days when one might be reading on the porch but rather on one of those cold days where it looks like it might snow). We were only without heat for two days, and lucky that the temperatures were high enough that we didn’t have to worry about frozen pipes. It wasn’t horrible—the coldest it got in the house was 55 degrees. But I came to realize that 55 is comfortable only if you’re moving around quite a bit. I got a goodly amount of housework done. But I couldn’t focus on any kind of serious reading at all in those two days and ended up reading a childrens’ book (The Apothecary, by Maile Melay—fun fantasy).

The other major March event was my spouse retiring from the newspaper business. He had planned to retire at the end of the year, but a buyout offer came along and he accepted. It was a really fast thing with lots of hoops to jump through (notably finding other healthcare), and I think we’re both kind of reeling a little bit from our changed circumstances and routines. We have some ideas for plans—visiting most of our state parks for one. And any bookstores and BBQ joints in the nearby vicinity. Since he’s a transplant (Ohio, NYC before that, and Canada before that), there’s a lot of Minnesota he hasn’t seen yet. Pipestone. Red Wing. Bemidji. I think we’ll have a lot of fun.

Birding was not bad in March. I added 14 birds to my year list. The Red-Bellied Woodpecker is back—I heard it before I saw it (though I did finally see it, flashing its red head). My best day was in mid-March, on a drive to visit my mom. En route I saw my first Red-Winged Blackbirds of the season as well as my first robin, but also Trumpeter Swans, Horned Grebes, Northern Shovelers, and a Killdeer. Another particularly fun sighting was near the library. I was parked on the street and had just gotten into my car, and I noticed movement in the front yard just ahead of me. My brain did that quick thing that it does (crow? cat? dog? other odd mammal? turkey!!), but I so did NOT expect a Wild Turkey in this front yard that it took me a few seconds to even identify it. Funny: I drive along the parkway often on the alert for Wild Turkeys, and I’d recognize them in a nanosecond. But the unexpected—it takes a little longer but it’s almost always more fun.

The daily haiku project continues. From March:

all this healthcare crap
does it have to be so hard?
single-payer please!

with nowhere to go
I keep drifting back to sleep
listening to the rain

just two feet away
watching me through the window
two turkey vultures

a rich day, last day
bird seed, mail drop, happiness
robins, rain, rainbow

Wishing you good books, good birds, and lots of laughter.

My Pentecostal Adventure

I went to a Pentecostal church service last night. I am not a churchgoer by nature (having gotten my fill and more in childhood), but my friend in seminary was attending the Pentecostal service for a class she’s taking, and I volunteered to go along.

I will admit I was a little trepidatious. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church, but we were not Pentecostal (though my church was on friendly terms with the Pentecostal church). I am somewhat familiar with Pentecostal beliefs—particularly exuberance and speaking in tongues. I tried to speak in tongues once. The Pentecostals did a special service at our church, and they had a van where people could go to get prayed over and they would speak in tongues. I must have been in junior high. They prayed over me a long time and I tried really really hard, but all I could do was a kind of grunt-moan. It was excruciating; all I wanted to do was escape. I’m sure the van wasn’t locked, but it may as well have been.

So I kind of thought that going to a Pentecostal church would be a good idea. It would reset the bar and update this lifelong impression I’ve had based on a childhood experience.

We arrived a few minutes before the service started. We were not bombarded by people welcoming us, though many people smiled and nodded and one gentleman shook our hands and welcomed us and gave us bulletins. The congregation was extremely diverse. Before the service started a woman from Brazil stopped by to welcome us, and then an African American man who was the youth director stopped to say hello. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a diverse group in a church, or anywhere for that matter. Latinos, Asians, Africans, African Americans, whites. I couldn’t even tell you which group predominated.

There was an African American woman two rows ahead of us with the most beautiful white hat. Almost all the men were wearing suits. I found myself severely underdressed. I wore black pants and a modest blouse. I believe I was the only woman there in pants. I was also one of the few women who did not have her hair in a bun. With possibly one exception (excepting us), every single woman in that church had long hair. Usually in a bun (but at least one in dreds).

When the service started they called everyone up to the front to sing. Most people went. We didn’t and a few others didn’t, but most did. And there was a lot of singing. Good, joyful, fun singing. And the main singer (on stage) had a beautiful and happy voice. The congregation was quite exuberant, with jumping and arm waving, yelling and clapping. And then I noticed that all the men were on the left side and all the women were on the right side. Huh. Later, when people went back to their seats, seating was integrated. But when they went down front again at the end of the service, again, men to the left, women to the right.

New frames to add to my Pentecostal image: hair buns, segregated ecstasy.

Throughout this whole first part of the service, there had been a very diverse set of people on the stage—mostly women and men of color. But when the music team left and it was just the ministers, it was all oldish white men. I found that completely jarring. Four of them, in their black suits and red ties.

And just when I had decided that Pentecostals were more focused on joy than I had realized, and started to look forward to the rest of the service, the sermon began.

It started out on a good note, with references to Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks, a bit of humor, some attempts to quantify the vastness of eternity, and a sentence that I absolutely loved:

“The longest thing you will ever do is live.”

Not bad, huh? I thought that was a really good message to leave the church with.

But then the sermon turned south. All hellfire and brimstone. Seriously. “Let me tell you about hell.” “Everlasting torment.” “Lake of Fire.” “Weeping and gnashing of teeth.” “A consuming fire and it will be dark.” “Tormented day and night.” And, truly, “fire and brimstone.”

I completely deflated. I have heard this sermon so many times before. (See above: fundamentalist upbringing.) There is nothing inspiring in this sermon, nothing joyful, nothing hopeful; the whole you-should-be-a-Christian-out-of-fear approach. I loathe this. There are so many beautiful things in Christianity. Why would you focus on fear rather than love?

And then I get annoyed, and I start to quibble with specific wording. Here is one example:

THERE IS NO GOD IN HELL. (Umm, but god is omnipresent. If hell exists, god has to be in hell. Unless god is not omnipresent? But then is god really god?)

You see how I can get.

After the sermon, there was a bit more music and then some praying, and (again at the front of the church, men on the left, women on the right) a lot of people on their knees, some wailing, a lot of crying, and it seemed to me very like weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We left at this point. (Almost at the end of the service.) We talked about it a bit on the way home, but I declined an offer of coffee, wanting to sink into it and process (here is where my introvert side comes out in a big way).

Writing is a good way of processing. I have also realized that churches tend not to be places where I feel god (though I do often admire their architecture).

I most often feel god in nature. I feel more awe and reverence in a forest than in a church. A prairie. The desert. The ocean. Tundra even. I guess this could be called generic god worship—not tied to a specific code or creed—but rather to the earth itself. It’s a small planet, as planets go. But it’s a good one.