by John Howard Farmer

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A Fine Feathered Morning

   Life is so rich for me that I am often found just sitting about, contemplating the greatness of nature: “preachereze” for lazy, late summer activity. My mind is so full of yesterdays plopped down on our former cottage porch overlooking the Corrotoman River, before taking up residence in the Irvington parsonage. Early on it would just be me and old Sol, dragging himself out of his Eastern bed. With one eye open, he warmed the neighborhood to sound the alarm for our many feathered friends.

Having tiptoed to a chair, coffee in hand, I would usually find a blue heron marching deftly through the shallows. One summer season we were host to a family of three, their water ballet an odd sight to behold. They are indeed an aerodynamic wonder: broad wings wide a-flap, neck recoiled to the pilot position and feet folded neatly behind. Landing is wondrous. With awkward abandon, legs and feet search for a spot. Wings balloon to catch the breeze. Necks wobble about as if they had trouble seeing around themselves; so gangly dangling as if puppets, slipping free their strings. With hardly a plop they awkwardly danced ‘neath the piers, nibbling at creepy-crawly things alive at the tide’s discretion. Their once official flying necks cascade to mammoth proportions and seem to be flung about on lengths of rope as they dart towards a minnow. Yes, quite a show.

Songbirds awake they flit to and fro, while warbling a most contagious “good morning.” Each family of birds is busting to out-sing the other. Trees all around awoke to the scratching, bustling throng searching for some buggy-good breakfast. Limb to yard, back and forth they’d go. It’s exhaustingly entertaining to witness. A thumbnail size hummingbird would rush and dip toward the screen wire to announce that we should do like our neighbors and have a sipping spot for him. He’s such a bully. The summers when we filled the plastic red feeders, he spent the whole season pushing every other of his kind away. Yes, a classic bully!

Seagulls, not to be outdone, flew back and forth over the dozen or so piers, quite expecting some two-legged citizen to flip leftover bacon, eggs and toast into the river. Their cry, adding to the din, began to muffle the smaller birds, which literally yell their own songs anew. The fish crows are yet in voice training. Such a pathetic “caw,” I’ve never before heard. They bounce down on the galvanized boathouse roofs, scratchy feet and voice imitating an amateur drummer learning a ballad by Sammy Kay (1910 –1987 American bandleader and songwriter).

One morning I witnessed quite an ornithological pageant, while sipping the pot dry. Having procrastinated away most of the morning it was time to head for the office and do some things theological. Up on River Road, in front of preacher Bill Wright’s granddad’s place, I happened upon a group of old men in black coats: turkey buzzards alighted on the field. Stepping gingerly around, as if to avoid further dew dampened toes, they poked out their wings with great authority — a majestic sight. They’d awakened, soared about; then stopped for a road pizza. Licking their chops, they preened and stretched while offering their wings to any unannounced warm updraft. Meanwhile strutting like Supreme Court justices preparing for a photo session. I’ve seen them gathered atop old dead trees. Some work part-time for the Forest Service and can be seen, break times, draped ‘round the railing of the Miskimon fire tower, near nephew Dennis Shelton’s home.

If it took more coffee to get the preacher in me sharpened up I’d stop at the Golden Arches. Say, I thought to have left the seagulls on the river. Yet they populate the parking lot. Shrubs that keep Mary Ball Road out of the parking lot are home to a host of feathered creatures and their families. Traffic is put up with due to the frequently spilled shakes and dropped fries, upon which one might feast. Such a dangerous place for a nursery, even a harder place from which to catch your first flight. I’m reminded that the good book says “Yea, the sparrow hath found an house and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God,” (Psalm 84:3). Might not God enjoy seeing us at his altar as well?

In Irvington, early or late, the biggest show-off around most often greeted me: Sister mockingbird all aflutter, vocalizing, intent on singing loudly every single song she knows or has ever heard—and always in someone else’s voice. She must have trained with Wagnerian soprano Helen Traubel (1899-1972) hoping to wrench tenor Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) from the bushes.

Other welcome parties were a flock of tiny wrens and a few sparrows. I am amazed at how much attention God has showered upon our fine-feathered friends. Yet the real amazement is that He holds inventory of our feathers as well: “But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows,” (Luke12:7).

See you Sunday? A church pew makes a good enough perch. Sing while there, won’t you?