GNL number 109

a report of doings at meeting #109, Sunday, August 21, 2016

including liturgical notes, major themes, and other odds and ends


I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.

—–Henry David Thoreau

I realized that if I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes

—–Charles Lindbergh


Gail opened today’s conversation about Birds, and this was most fitting as there is a tradition in her family of loving outdoors, nature, and birds, especially. She said her dad and his dad and mom before him have all been great birdwatchers, and he now at 90, is still a very active birder, with much experience, eg., in Florida’s Tortugas. Further, now his daughters, Gail and especially Winnie, are also avid birders. Gail said Winnie used to run sanctuaries, and has been all over the world bird-hunting.

Sue again brought us some word origin information on “bird”, from brid, as from chick to chicken, and many quotes ancient and recent; she also recounted stories from Greek mythology, about such birds as the Phoenix, and the Nyx, and showed several beautifully illustrated children’s books, such as the Firebird, and others based on legends. And she also recalled the often-asked question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” which of course we didn’t satisfactorily answer. See AFTERWORDS for her notes and quotes.

NancyS first read a poem by Victor Hugo from Marge, who couldn’t attend today, and recalled that NancyN, who had to miss today too, had met her husband on a date also attended by baby bluebirds.

Then NS showed bird-books she’d brought, and read the Maya Angelou poem “Caged Bird” that Sue had mentioned; and then spoke of some encounters with birds from her bird-loving history. The first and most recent, about unplanned avian visitations to her family’s reunion at Titus Lake, then a wild chicken chapter from her Wild Animals of Cobleskill book for the grandkids, and last, an account of unexpected bird-communing in her backyard this spring. See AW for her notes on these, and quotes.

Ann spoke of the many enjoyable years she and Elliott have hosted the area’s Christmas bird count. And like Gail, cited a family legacy for birding, which Elliott and she as well inherited from his dad Alex and mom Lucy. Alex had also been the Nature Conservancy’s director for 4 years in the 60’s. She admitted a fascination for other fliers, like dragonflies, showing a book with photos, and recalling the sight of stunning big displays of them while kayaking the Mohawk. Also noted: there’s a bird, Anhenga, who flies underwater! And she read what may be Emily D’s shortest, loveliest poem, and the poet’s favorite. (See AW.)

Louise, our hostess today at the farm, spoke of her small flock of only 25 chickens early in the adventure here years ago—recalling fondly much detail, like the 3 smallish, slender sisters who could fly up to 100 feet or so, and Queen, the strong female who became head of the flock. And several of us noted how richly green with growth the farm had become since the much more open and bare early years, and her many plantings. Louise also had new babies that she wanted to let us hold and stroke to aid their trust, and make us happy, but we were running too late. (We’re betting she’ll have more babies for us to baby another time.)

We decided to send our offering to the Schoharie Land Trust, whose good work is well known to us.


Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.

—–Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds, 5+ Variations on Voice


Sunday, September 11, 2016, (1030) at Gail’s farm in Worcester. The subject is

RIVERS (or other water bodies).


from Sue:


“God loved the birds and invented trees.  Man loved the birds and invented cages.”

—–Jacques Deval, Afin de vivre bel et bien

“Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever remains to them?”

—–Rose F. Kennedy

“A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.”

—–Chinese Proverb

“I know why the caged bird sings.”

—–Maya Angelou

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.”

—–William Blake

 and last but not least: “What came first, the chicken or the egg?”


Bird myths:

Phoenix In Greek mythology, a phoenix or phenix (Greek: φοῖνιξ phoinix; Latin: phoenix, phœnix, fenix) is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the Sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. According to some sources, the phoenix dies in a show of flames and combustion, although there are other sources that claim that the legendary bird dies and simply decomposes before being born again.

Greek Myth:

In the beginning there was an empty darkness. The only thing in this void was Nyx, a bird with black wings. With the wind she laid a golden egg and for ages she sat upon this egg. Finally life began to stir in the egg and out of it rose Eros, the god of love. One half of the shell rose into the air and became the sky and the other became the Earth. Eros named the sky Uranus and the Earth he named Gaia. Then Eros made them fall in love.


from Ann:

In the name of the bee

and of the butterfly,

and of the breeze, Amen!

—–Emily Dickinson

from Marge:

Be like the bird who,

pausing on her flight

awhile on boughs too slight,

feels them give way

beneath her, and yet sings,

knowing she has wings.

—–Victor Hugo

from NancyS:

I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen.

—–Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge — An Unnatural History of Family and Place

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

—–Maya Angelou

and notes about some close encounters of the bird kind:

Just a few weeks ago, at our family reunion up at Titus Lake near Jefferson—a day of magical visitation. Really two of them. First, a series of 8-10 birds, flycatchers of some kind, developed in the air over the cottage’s west lawn, where for several minutes then they were doing wonderful acrobatics to catch flying bugs, what must have been a bumper crop. And after about 15 minutes they’d had enough and dispersed. But not long after, they were succeeded by something even more flabbergasting—a trio, a family, of beautiful bald eagles flying over the calm lake right in front of the deck! And they circled and circled for several minutes while the 12 or so of us on the deck whooped and hollered our amazement—which the eagles never even noticed, they were so intent on their prospects in the water. Finally they must have lost track, and flew off, leaving us with just our wows.

One more anecdote, from this spring on my back deck—One afternoon, so peaceful and fresh that when I went out on the deck, I of course immediately started whistling a soft little unknown tune to it all. And soon, this was joined by a bird warble in the distance. A bit later then, another, and then another, till there were 4 or 5 of us little voices. And it continued for a few minutes, until I needed to go in—so I softly closed my part, but stayed in place a couple minutes—and yes, one by one, the others were withdrawing (maybe they had to go to the bathroom too?) Was all silent when I went in. And 5 minutes later I checked again, still silent. Was it a coincidence, or my imagination? Or were we a chorus?

and some oldie-goldie bird-books:

Guide to American Wildlife, East, Central, and North

by Henry Hill Collins

A Treasury of Birdlore

edited by Joseph Wood Krutch and Paul Eriksson

Hand-Taming Wild Birds at the Feeder

by Alfred G. Martin

and a bit more recently and visually,

Discovery Channel’s Handbook on Birds

(full of info on flight, migration, bird song and lots more)


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