A Classic Re-post from 2005
I slept outside in a tent with the boys this weekend. The weather was ideal to sleep outdoors. The air was cool but not at all cold. The sky was clear. We enjoyed a fire each night including s’mores and a good-natured jumbo marshmallow war. We slept as well as you can on the hard ground, but well enough to sleep in until awakened as I suppose our Creator intended, by the first light of morning through branches of oak and pine and the natural music of birdsong.
One of the things that keeps me young is a long list of things I intend to do running just below the level of conscious thought in my mind. Some of those things are important and momentous. Others are simple but not less important in their own way. I was reminded of one Sunday morning at dawn. It was a beautiful birdsong too rich and musical for me to describe with a pen. That is when I was reminded of a simple project that has been waiting patiently on my list for a few years.
I would like to learn to identify birds and their songs. Maybe it was one of my mentors, Vance Havner, who first stirred this desire in me, in fact I am sure it was. Havner loved to describe his walks outdoors wherever he was preaching. It was rare for him to describe any time outdoors without some illusion to birds or birdsong.
For a few blissful years we lived in a quaint and quiet retreat at the dead-end of a road. I had a garret study on the second floor of the house with a window looking out to the east over fields. From that window I could often see the children at play with our dog. In the winter colorful birds gathered there to feed, brilliant against the white snow. I watched leaves blow down like rain from the huge Chinese Elm at the corner of the house. I could see across the field to the trees lining the creek and the hillside dotted with Dogwoods every spring.
Often I would start my day in meditation high on one of those hills overlooking the valley were our simple white farmhouse set. At the right time of the morning it was a symphony of birdsong.
I painted the small, enclosed back porch of our house bright white. On the porch I hung jackets on the wooden pegs for every season of the year as my grandfather had done. I put a pair of field-glasses there and a colorful field guide to identify birds. That’s when the idea for the project formed in my mind. My intentions were good but our time there was cut short by the sudden death of our landlord. We had to move and my education in ornithology would have to wait.
A few weeks ago at Camp Barakel we conducted the Thursday night chapel outdoors at sunset. Most birds sing in the morning, a few sing in the night, but there are those that make their most beautiful music for twilight vespers. The wind was blowing in the pines all around us. While we stood listening that evening the music drifted out of the woods, beautiful and sweet. I said to Paul Gardner, “Paul, I wish I knew what kind of bird it is that sings like that.” Paul said, “That is the song of a Wood Thrush” It pleased me to know it. You can listen to the song of the Wood Thrush here.
A few nights later the young people to whom I had been speaking for the week walked quietly to the natural amphitheater in the woods for their final reflections on the week of camp. Their words were sweet to the ears of those of us who’s hearts long for young people to “remember their creator in the days of their youth.” Between their testimonies the silence was broken by the popping of the wood fire and beautiful birdsongs like I had never heard before.
The amphitheater was ringed by rows of white pines with wispy-green needled branches. The birds must have been calling to each other from the branches of the pines. They were very near. I don’t know what you call the birds that were singing the song in the woods that night but I will. Someday I will. I will stroll though God’s creation and I will identify birds by their song and by their appearance.
The Master himself said, “consider the birds of the air.” He even took note of the fall of common sparrows so it must please him for us to study the sound and color of his birds. Their color and their song, their flight and their antics were all programmed into them for our study and delight. We worship and serve the Creator and admire all of his creatures. (Romans 1:25). Something as simple as birdsong stirs worship in our hearts.
“Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11 KJV)
Riverfront Character Inn
July 11, 2005