Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John H. Farmer
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God counts the hairs and feathers

Ah, yes, life is so rich for me that I can often be found just sitting about, contemplating the greatness of nature; “preachereze” for lazy summer activity. My mind is full of yesterdays plopped down on the porch overlooking the Corrotoman River. Early on it would just be me and old Sol, dragging himself out of bed. With one eye open, he’d warm the neighborhood and sounded 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 ballet an odd sight to behold. They are an aerodynamic wonder: broad wings wide aflap, 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. With hardly a plop they are gangly dancing ‘neath the piers, nibbling at creepy-crawly things that live 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. Once I’d located them, I’d stay for the show.

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

Seagulls, not to be outdone, fly back and forth over the dozen or so docks, quite expecting a two-legged citizen to flip leftover bacon and eggs into the river. Their cry, adding to the din, begins 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 an old Sammy Kay ballad.

Some mornings I would witness such an ornithological pageant while sipping the pot dry. Having procrastinated away most of the morning it was time head for the Irvington office and do some things theological. Up on River Road, in front of Preacher Bill Wright’s ancestral 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 they strutted 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 tower.

At the sign of the “golden arches,” along north main shrubs that keep Mary Ball Road out of the parking lot are home to a host of feathered brethren and their families. Traffic can be put up with due to the frequently spilled shakes and dropped fries, on which to feast. It is a dangerous place for a nursery, even a harder place 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.” Might not God enjoy seeing us at his altar as well?

In Irvington, early or late, the biggest show-off around most often greets me. Sister mockingbird, all aflutter, begins vocalizing: intent on singing every single song she knows—and always in someone else’s voice. Other welcome parties are 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’s had oversight 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.”