Monday, July 26, 2010

A Mockingbird Tale

And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Saturday morning, after a pot of black liquid motivation, I grudgingly dragged myself out to the back yard to tackle the unwanted, albeit necessary task of yard maintenance. I know people, younger than I, that actually pay for someone else to enjoy this pleasure. Imagine that!

As I was donning my yard-working shoes, I heard something that sounded halfway between a screech and a squawk coming from the midst of my big ash tree. (Yes, that ‘h’ is supposed to be there; it’s an ‘ash’ tree.) At first, I was unable to see what kind of creature was making the noise, so I whistled. All I got back was a screech/squawk. This went on for several minutes until I finally spotted him – a single mockingbird flitting from branch to branch oblivious to my presence or my feeble attempts to communicate with him.

Obviously, something had this little bird upset. I’m used to watching mockingbirds as they gaily (now there’s a word seldom used in this context!) dance high atop utility poles singing their endless variety of songs. But this was no song this bird was emitting. Finally, I saw something move in the crook of one of the gnarly branches, something grey or white, maybe both. I couldn’t tell. The mockingbird kept hopping from branch to branch all around this thing as if to attack but with some trepidation, squawking the whole time.

Soon, a second mockingbird showed up to join the fray. Both went at the thing, which was either indifferent to its attackers or too scared to move. The second mockingbird (I assume – they rather all look the same) directly left the battle and shortly returned with a third mocking bird to join the battle. This had to be serious! I went into the house and found a binocular to get a close look at what was causing these normally happy birds such agitation.

When I returned the cacophony of squawks and screeches was louder than before. There were now five mockingbirds surrounding the cowering bulk. It was difficult to aim my binocular to the right spot in the tangle of branches and leaves, but I finally spotted something rather large – larger than the mockingbirds – and feathery. There where white feathers on the bottom and grey feathers with white spots on the back. I couldn’t see the bird’s head, so I maneuvered under the tree to a place almost directly below the bird. I was still having trouble training my binocular on the bird, so I located the branch on which he was perched and followed it up until I spotted it. A hawk! Not large compared to some I’ve seen in these parts, and its markings were unfamiliar to me. I surmised that he was a young bird just learning to fly. He was probably out on a test flight and landed in my tree for a rest. Now he was being attacked by these vicious hawk-eating mockingbirds and playing possum was his best defense. But now there was another complication – me; I had spotted him. He knew he had to do something or be eaten alive by a flock of mockingbirds or be captured or killed by the human below. He found a branch with greater clearance to the open air and moved to it. The mockingbirds, although never physically touching him, continued to circle, attack, and evade. Soon the little hawk took to the air with a line of mockingbirds on his tail. He landed in a neighbor’s yard, and I don’t know what became of him after that. The mockingbirds called off the attack and returned from wherever they came. The original mockingbird returned to my ash tree obviously satisfied that they had fended off a vicious predator. My Saturday morning drama was over, and I still had yard work to do.

As I thought about this experience, it occurred to me what a small number of individuals can do when united against a common enemy. One sounds the alarm, another joins in agreement. Then that one calls on another, and that one calls another and then another until an army is built to confront the common foe. One can screech and squawk until his voice is gone and nothing is accomplished and he himself may lose his life, but when others hear the call, and perceive the common threat, and join in force, the enemy will be defeated and will flee. We are living in such times.

Ecclesiastes 4:8-11:

8 There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.

9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.

10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

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