I live in a small city, in a tree-full neighborhood, true, but more people-centered than natural. I do what I can. Native plants, fresh water supply, lots of shrubs and as many trees as I can fit. And lately, after a rat-infestation-driven hiatus, a birdfeeder. Mostly my visitors are “junk” birds; house sparrows, starlings, pigeons. Occasionally I attract a pair of cardinals or a blue jay. And there is a flicker who comes when I remember to put out suet.
I was buying seed at the local store and noticed that they are offering a course on how to keep these pest species away from your feeder.
I don’t want to.
Not long ago, I read The Moth Snowstorm, by Michael McCarthy. A beautiful book. In it, there is a long passage about house sparrows. How communal they are. To his ear, their constant chirps are asking, “where are you?” and “who’s still here?” and announcing, “here I am.” Each flock sticks together within a range of about 1 kilometer. That’s just a little more than half a mile so I’m imagining that the chatty little flock in my backyard is the same group that hides in the hedge I pass on my way to work, the same birds I hear when I walk the dog. I find that comfortable.
I watch them calling to one another, swooping to the feeder and then back to the pine tree where they shelter, responding to signals I can’t perceive, bathing in the dusty soil beside the driveway, hopping about on the ground, and I see joy. I see community. I see vibrant aliveness shining forth.
These dull brown, non-native, noisy upstarts have become delightful to me. They remind me of—me—just another faded, white, middle-class woman. Without the showy plumage of capital A accomplishment, or capital B beauty or capital W wealth. Ordinary and yes, non-native. Invasive, you might even say. And I don’t mean to offend, but this is true for most of you, too.
And yet we are beloved. As we are. In all our plain brown wrapping, we are seen, known and beloved. And in that, extraordinary. We move about our home ranges chirping and chatting, maintaining that connection of care and love with those around us. The sun warms us. The trees shelter us. We are fed through the work and kindness of strangers.
Is there, in this sense, such a thing as an ordinary life?
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside of God’s care.” Matthew 29:10
So I will be welcoming house sparrows, these beloved of God, to my feeder, grateful for the reminder that the divine shines even in the ordinary.