patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Monday, January 16, 2012

at first I didn't see anything

Just got back from visiting my dad out in California before his chemo starts up again. We spent many hours alone together—longer than I remember ever being alone with him—roaming the Irvine Ranch’s strange and wonderful expanses of wilderness, still nestled in the midst of suburbia. Bommer Canyon, miles of hilly desert grown over in cacti, grasses, sage scrub, wild artichokes, and fennel and dotted with decaying working pens and other cattle equipment. Various parks and natural areas of Turtle Rock, the community where my dad lives. The marshy San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, an estuary sporting numerous ponds and a local chapter of the Audubon Society. Crystal Cove, a 1930s movie set on the sand just south of Newport Beach that was squatted by well-to-do beach bums until the 1970s, when it was acquired by the State of California and has, in addition to its old beach huts—some of which have been renovated for use as hotels—tide pools and a thriving wildlife refuge.

Needless to say, we saw lots of birds, and I was in birdwatcher heaven the whole time I was there. We saw ospreys on two different occasions, a tern dive-bombing into a pond not ten feet from us, every kind of duck, sanderlings and yellowlegs, stilts and avocets, house finches and goldfinches, black phoebes and other flycatchers in abundance, Western jays and bluebirds (so different from the eastern ones I’m accustomed to), kites and hawks, and two of the four local species of hummingbird: Anna’s (green with a brilliant magenta hood) and Allen’s (orangy-glinted green with a thin white collar and vermilion throat).

My dad was, at first, only mildly interested. He couldn’t really see differences between them, he said, and he had never been able to use binoculars to his satisfaction. He liked the ospreys. They are large and easy to recognize, and one of them sat on top of a pole eating a flopping fish. But the tiniest birds of all, the hummingbirds, when I pointed them out to my dad—sitting motionless, as hummingbirds do for long periods to digest, atop reeds and the upthrust limbs of small trees—were the ones that finally enthralled him.

“At first I didn’t see anything, but then there was this hummingbird with a purple head, just sitting there!” he reveled to my stepmother later. Never mind that their backyard is buzzing with them.

We did not talk about the Bible, didn’t talk much at all, but I thought about it. Especially that where God displays his sovereignty and power to Job—Who are you to question me?!—by cataloguing, at length, the great variety of his creation. Mountain goats. Wild donkeys and oxen. The ibis and the rooster. Hawks. Eagles.

God’s funny celebration of the ostrich came to mind several times, as I watched the phoebes loop out from sprinklers and the sanderlings skitter drunkenly back and forth, like miniature Charley Chaplins, after the tide.
The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
though they cannot compare
with the wings and feathers of the stork.
She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider. (Job 39:13-18 TNIV)
I tried to imagine God thundering these words, as I usually think of his doing in this speech to Job—“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?” (38:2 TNIV), it begins—but I can’t. God has, by that point in his diatribe, softened, so much so that soon he is imagining putting whales on leashes as pets for his daughters.

There is something so healing, so joyful, about nature. Even God can’t help being thrilled by it.