An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of December 29, 2013
issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center
in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas,
on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

TEACHINGS OF A SPARROW
AT THE FEEDER

After a satisfying meal of greens and cornbread, midday sunlight warmed and mellowed so agreeably that I just let my back slide down the birdfeeder's post being leaned against, and I lay on the deck's floor with closed eyes. Nice breeze, Wild Turkeys scratching beneath the junipers a few feet away softly clucking to one another, and I drifted toward a snooze.

But then birdseed peppered my face. Above, a Chipping Sparrow would grab a seed, peek over the birdfeeder's edge to see what I was doing, and repeat the operation again and again. He was super vigilant, but taking care of business.

The feeder has been up for a month or so, but still very few birds visit it. In town, flocks mob well supplied feeders and if food disappears from one feeder the birds simply shift elsewhere. But here there's no other feeder within range. These woods birds aren't used to being coddled, and they keep their guard up. Out here, basic rules for survival -- basic laws of Nature -- are still respected.

Under the influence of warm-sunlight drowse, thoughts wander in unexpected ways. At first there's simple admiration for how alert and fine-tuned to his world this little being above me is. That thought morphs into a reflection that maybe the Chipping Sparrow has a message for anyone willing to accept it.

For example, after a minute or two, without staying and gorging as a city bird might, the Chipping Sparrow flies away. In doing so he keeps his food sources diversified. Our society, in contrast, offers most of us just one option for our food, that of buying it commercially. Yet the infrastructure supporting that system is unsustainable, not only because it depends on such shaky things as currency stability and availability, a functioning Internet, and untold numbers of bridges and tunnels, but also because it requires economic "growth" to maintain it -- on a planet staying the same size, and where resources are only diminishing.

The beauty of the bird feeding above also reminds us that adorning our lives with the motifs of sustainability, such as well maintained gardens, orchards and greenhouses, enriches our lives, the produce itself being a delight to behold, to smell and taste. And that's just the beginning, for kitchens redolent with odors of herbs, baking bread, pungent garlic, and bubbling pots of beans not only nurture strong, healthy bodies seldom in need of the medical industry, but also happiness. Ordering and simplifying life so that there's enough time for idle thinking, for art, and for just looking around, enables us to enlarge ourselves as human beings.

Here at the beginning of the New Year when one welcomes ideas for rethinking and reinventing ourselves, the Chipping Sparrow suggests good ideas as he flits into pure air and sunlight, like a thought on its way to becoming a prayer of thanks.

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