Last Saturday, I joined a flock of 5000 strong in Bend, Oregon. We gathered first in snowy Drake Park below great ponderosa pines harboring chickadees and nuthatches, and beside the nearby pond, where ducks and geese found shelter in open waters. Children rode the shoulders of their fathers and mothers. A group of older folks held up a banner proclaiming “The Vocal Seniority, Raising Cane.” A few people played drums and we couldn’t help but sway to the pulse of this day. Everywhere, people held up signs, smiled, and showed the best of who we are and can be. Hope lives on.
Across the world, the Women’s March numbers added up to 5 million peaceful marchers. Women and men, old and young, people of all faiths and cultures demonstrated for tolerance, love, compassion, peace, and kindness; for voting reform and fair representation; for the rights of women and immigrants; for affordable health care and public schools; and for public lands, clean water and air, for wild lands, climate change action, and for science; and most of all for the future of our precious, struggling planet and for all living creatures, including birds.
It was a powerful moment. Joyous. Empowering. Determined. Safe. Nourishing. I’m sure I join many others who act now with more courage and commitment, knowing that we are not alone and not all is lost in these dark times. We are part of a movement. Our actions matter. And we’re protected, safer from danger, and more likely to find sustenance for life.
By flocking together of our own volition, we’re like the birds who’ve followed this strategy for eons – like the thousands of robins fluffed up in trees in the recent blizzard in Bend; like crows filling an entire tree; like Bohemian waxwings swirling into our northern towns from Canada each winter to feast on red mountain ash berries; like Canada geese in Vs overhead; like the millions of western sandpipers I once witnessed in their annual congregation on the Copper River Delta in Alaska; like flocks of gulls on the beach and the colonies of nesting seabirds on the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge that I’m so fortunate to write about for a living now; and like the mixed flocks of tropical songbirds that feast on ant swarms in the Yucatan I encountered when visiting the Mayan ruins of Coba.
As I write this morning Blog by the wood stove in our home within Deschutes River Woods, a chorus of coyotes sings the sunrise as if to remind me – don’t forget about us. Coyotes know, too, what it is to feel the bond of family and community.
They’re survivors against all odds –persecuted, poisoned and trapped–the coyotes still find a place to den and raise their pups and to yap and howl in a way that stirs up wildness within whenever I hear them. Take courage from the coyotes.
Take courage from the fluffed up robins in zero degrees, packed close in the ash trees with red berries in Bend. Perhaps we’re most like them in our action of last Saturday. Robins don’t often come together this way in huge numbers. They scatter when times are good–weather benign and food plentiful. But when the harsh times come, they know to find each other. Together, they share precious berries. If a predatory raptor flies in–like a Cooper’s hawk–the first robin who notices sends the alarm to all others. In numbers come safety and cooperation. And surely, there’s more, too, in the comfort of proximity to one another, sometimes even touching feathers.
Our country appears to be entering hostile times of great divides and of an all out assault on our sacred earth. Yet, we know that millions and millions of people care and want the change for the good that our already missed President Barack Obama articulated so eloquently:
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Last Saturday, I felt that at last we were awakening. How do we stay awake? I believe we must come together again in flocks when called, to step up and raise our individual voices into a collective chorus, and in our own lives to model the values we seek of peacefulness, kindness, generosity, tolerance, good will, and love.
Find the ways that give you strength and fortitude. Hold your loved ones close. And turn to nature. Breathe in the crisp air, marvel at constellations on a clear night, lean into the trunk of a favorite tree, explore a wild trail, share nature with a young person, and pay attention to birds. While I seek the kingfisher as a favorite bird, everywhere I go I find a constant contentment in the presence of avian companions.
Years ago, listened to the unforgettable words of the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko who spoke to an assembled crowd at University of Montana with his arms opening wide like spread bird wings as he recited these lines:
“Why is it that in folk songs of all nations and all ages people express the desire to become birds? Because birds know no borders.” (From Divided Twins, 1988)
Birds know no borders – no artificial country lines to fight over, no walls to keep others out, no religious divides, and the list goes on. I believe that is our task as well, to strive to live and act in a way that removes borders and opens our hearts, so we can experience the ecstasy of birds who fly, flock, and express joy in every swoop and glide.
(All photos by Marina Richie, with the exception of coyotes-found online)