Ministry of a Bird Feeder

I haven’t given much thought to birds in the past. Once, when visiting India, I remember noticing that when a flock of pigeons would fly all around you it was like breath, like molecule, their noisy wings thrumming to the beat of your own heart. You were altogether surrounded. As if you were the same. As if they were part of each other, and also you.

But mostly, otherwise, not much thought.

And then, a series of events: My days began to feel overwhelming, bloated and stretched, as everyone’s days are prone to do. I began to search for a healthy distraction to calm my soul – something for when the whispered prayers and deep breaths and memorized Psalms felt empty, for when the glass of merlot and Instagram scroll felt unhealthy, for when I found myself being pulled out of myself and swallowed by habit, by vice.

And I thought of joy, and how I hadn’t seen it in a while, hadn’t been looking for it around here. And I thought of the small happiness of a hummingbird, a sparrow, a finch.

I thought it might be nice to pay attention, is all.

pinecone bird feeder

I read somewhere that happiness is directly linked to vision, not in a metaphorical sense, but in a very real, scientific sense. The further your eyes focus on something beyond your horizon, the smaller/lighter/happier you feel. The study argued that, in particular, the people of Tokyo experience high levels of depression on the regular, simply because there aren’t a lot of places to look beyond the crowd or the buildings or the dense, pulsing population. There aren’t enough wide open spaces to observe, not enough areas to stretch out beyond yourself. To be free, or some small definition of the word.

It works for chickens, I remember thinking.

The long of it is that we’d had a bird feeder in the garage, a gift still boxed, meant to be installed a few years prior but forgotten. Ken set about securing it in the garden, but we installed it too low and the dogs kept batting at the seeds, knocking it over, having third and fourth lunches. The birds (wisely) never came.

But then Bee had recalled a few gathered pinecones from our last nature walk, had asked for some peanut butter, had seen a particular project where seeds could be rolled onto the peanut butter, the pinecone, hung with twine in a tree.

Children hold many of the answers.

pinecone bird feeder

And this morning, the first bird arrived. I don’t know the particular species of bird, we’re still learning. But I know I brought my tea into the sunroom as the kids shrieked and fought over a ruined pillow fort, and I looked out the window beyond my own horizon, beyond my own tiny, imagined world full of seen and unseen worries. And as I watched, a small and momentary joy returned.

Sometimes, a small and momentary joy is all we can fight for. Sometimes paying attention is hard, not because we’re fidgety or bored, and not because we can’t, but because we don’t have to. We can avert our eyes to the hard, if we’d like to (and why wouldn’t we like to?). There are hundreds of distractions ready to pull us in another direction. We can look anywhere but here. We can look everywhere but here.

pinecone bird feeder

But I’m finding that the true joys are often in plain sight, just beyond the pillow fort fights. Sometimes we run smack dab into them, full force, and other times it takes a bit of setting up, a bit of luring, a bit of peanut butter smeared on a pinecone.

But it always arrives, quietly lingering. Begging us to look outside, just beyond our smudged windows, just long enough to wait, to watch, to witness before it flits away and visits another.


P.S. A few lovely bird feeders if you’re on a joy-seeking mission of your own: Tire Swing Birdhouse ($12), Modern Stoneware Feeder ($25), Copper Antique Feeder ($18) Or, enjoy my daily jotter here.

  • I like this so much. With a teen in the throes of college admission angst, the looking beyond is just what was needed. Thank you.

  • Love love love! I live in a place of much flatness, no ocean, not much to see and so I find myself driving home and playing this game where I pretend to crop out everything from the car line down. I take in those beautiful Texas skies and I imagine that far in the horizon is the sea. There is spot, right where I turn right at a light on my way home where sometimes, if I am lucky enough to pass by at the right time of day, I’ll catch the flocks of birds hanging out in the tress. I’ll roll down my window, turn off the radio and for a second I’ll close my eyes and just take it all in. The birds “singing” although it’s something more like screaming, and just the livelihood and chaos of it all and I’ll usually have a laugh to myself. I’ll actually pray for that red light! So much to live for. Like you said, you just have to find it.

  • This post spoke to me so much. Thank you, Erin, for continuing to share your insight with us all. It is both appreciated and admired. I am reading your book for the 2nd time and somehow, it is even better than the 1st time I picked it up. You are my favorite author. “Blogger” seems like such a small title for the talent you portray. Thank you for bringing us back to what is important in life. Love and blessings to you and your family this Christmas season.

  • I recently moved to the Midwest from the mountainous West. I’ve struggled in finding beauty here, the wide open spaces and ruralness of it all seemed disenchanting and lonely at first. I’ve missed all of the people, the distractions, the option to escape to the mountains and reminders of the Earth’s magnificence. But there is something to be said for open spaces, looking beyond the horizon, and seeing more than what’s just in front of us and not beyond. Thanks for your tips and reminders, I needed this today.

    • you’re so welcome, drea — i can only imagine how much you miss those absent mountains! blessings to you.

  • I have Always been fascinated by the Nations that share THEIR Earth with us! I have a Hummingbird feeder, bird feeders & a Squirrel feeder which I faithfully tend to every day! My 6 year old Grandson has gained an appreciation for our Feathered sisters & brothers & the fluffy squirrels who give us joy by just showing up. We also appreciate the visual treat & auditory chorus of the migrating Canada Geese that Grace our skies! Nature renews our Souls & brightens our Hearts on a Daily basis!

  • I enjoyed this post very much. I’ve been a bird lover for some time now. I thoroughly enjoy watching the variety of birds come to my feeders. You were fortunate, my friend almost lost her dog from his filling up on sun flower seeds. But your message reminded me also of my love to go to the Great Lakes and sit and look across the horizon. I have collected bird statuary for years and when asked why I would say, “He watches over the sparrows, I know He watches over me.” A simple reminder.

    • oh my goodness – thank you for the dog warning!!!!! (and yes, yes, yes, i do love that old hymn.)

  • Thank you! Your words connected me to other words like boundaries (which may sound confining to some but comforting to me:)) and choice (which can sound overwhelming or empowering). This time of year can easily spin out of control. Mindless goings and doings without boundary; without consciously recognizing the choices we make. We may unconsciously begin to think that life is happening to us as in choosing to not make a choice…choosing to let others make choices for us. This season is a great opportunity to teach our children( not by words but by action) that we can make empowering, soul searching, and wise choices that breathe life, joy and energy into our day!
    Your words and wisdom make me smile! It took me much of my kiddos childhood to learn the things you know! I treasure the gift of you and your words coming to my mailbox!

  • I have bird feeders outside this computer room window, and derive much joy from seeing my visitors, changing with the seasons. Sometimes it’s a real “Oh!” moment.

  • “The true joys are often in plain sight.” Profound and true. Lately, I’ve been finding myself paying attention to more of these and it does naturally mean focusing less on stuff that would bring me down. Thanks for this!

  • This is such a refreshing and wonderful read, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I always feel energized when I get to read another of your posts, they are soul food.

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