The wind took my sparrows. I didn’t believe it at first. For three days I told myself I must not have been paying attention. The wind was fiercer than ever before. It went on for a day and a night, and when it was done, my house sparrows were gone. They tended to be the most vocal during certain times. “I must have just missed them,” I told myself each day. On the fourth morning after the wind I couldn’t pretend any longer. Before the wind came there were more than 60 house sparrows living in the pyracantha. Now there were seven. Maybe there were only four.
On the fourth morning after the wind I faced the fact my birds were truly gone. And chasing that reality was my remorse. Had I been too preoccupied by falling branches, too worried about the safety of my garden? I’d prayed the birds be kept safe in the wind, more than once. But it was an undefined asking, not a focused plea the way I concentrated on my yard. Would it have made a difference if I had prayed for the house sparrows? If I had taken the time to think of my birds as individuals–my sparrows, my doves, my finches, my verdin, my hummingbirds–would aid have come to them? Could I have helped to keep them safe, to keep them here? This is how I tortured myself.
Once I reached past this agony, past these questions I could never know the answers to, past this new regret to add to my life list, I began to cry. The missing house sparrows screamed from the hedge. The emptiness was a breathing thing. They were loud, vocal birds, their chattering woven into the fabric of my days. The sounds lay beneath my last dozing in the mornings, underneath washing the dishes, below my work on the computer, throughout my qi gong, my first cup of tea, my morning paper. Their absence left a gaping hole. I rode an arching wave of loss, the way a new grief carries with it all the loss that came before. I missed the birds with an unbearable ache. I missed my father, Sanji, Trair, Patti, Oma.
I’ve prayed they might return. I wonder if it’s a little crazy to hope they might after all these days have passed. “Maybe you can be glad for the birds you still have there,” my mother said on the phone. I was upset and defensive. Of course I appreciate the birds I still have. I take in my doves, my finches, my verdins, my hummingbirds. Today I saw the Bewick’s Wren hopping about beneath the patio table, his curves elegant, his markings delicate. I was glad to see he’d made it through. But 60 birds disappeared. That leaves a lot of emptiness. But she was right, too. I didn’t appreciate the sparrows enough when they were here. There were always so many of them. I took their vibrant beings for granted. I did revel in them from time to time, but I know now their cacophony was the unseen bedrock of our home. And just as I forget to thank the earth for bearing my weight, I let their aliveness permeate without noticing. Now I cherish each chirp I hear from the few who remain. This afternoon there was a moment when I thought, oh, maybe there are more than seven here today.
I yearn for them to come home. I dream of the rest finding their way back to us. I dream of waking up to the hedge alive again with their chirping, a symphony of bird noises. They would have arrived at dusk without my knowing, crept into their old familiar spots to spend the night. I dream of walking out into the late afternoon sun and once again startling them from the ground beneath the feeder, that soft whir of wings rising as one to the pyracantha, a cloud of sparrows. I call out to them in greeting, in gratitude, whoosh air through my relieved lungs. I am brought to my knees. I kiss the ground, laughing.
[Editor’s note: I found this photo with a Google search on the blog whose link follows. The author of the blog has listed it as “source unknown.” After much searching, I am using it only because it is the only one who looks exactly like my own sparrows. http://awbirder.blogspot.com/2011/03/world-sparrow-day-20th-march-2011.html]