Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lessons from the Cardinals


Cami and the peeper toad
Cami follows a peeper toad around the grass for almost 2 hours.


Cami and I love nature. We’ll take 30 minutes to watch a caterpillar eat on a leaf, or a spider spin-wrap its prey, or a toad hide in the grass.

By far, our favorite nature activity is bird watching.


Lately, we’ve seen numerous cardinals. God’s been whispering encouragement to my weary heart through these beautiful red birds.

*Some food is better than other food.*A bird feeder hangs in the cherry tree in front of my house. Last year, I kept it filled with sunflower seed because the bird seed bag said sunflower seed would attract songbirds.

The songbirds showed up. But so did the squirrels. The feeder is supposed to be squirrel-proof, but the sunflower seed was an incentive for the squirrels to live dangerously. The squirrel (Cami calls them all “Chippy”) shimmied out onto the branch that holds the feeder. When Chippy reached the spot over the hanging birdfeeder, he launched himself toward the ground. On his way down, he grabbed the perch at the bottom of the feeder with his paw (sometimes the front one, most often the back one) and pulled himself up to the feeder. Then he wrapped himself around the feeder and munched away on the sunflower seed.


You have to admire that out-of-the-box thinking, don’t you?

I was filling the bird feeder with sunflower seed every other day–not because I wanted to watch squirrel acrobats, but because there were indeed beautiful visitors to the now-Chippy feeder: goldfinch, titmice, chickadees, purple finches, and cardinals. The local chipmunks and sparrows enjoyed the seed detritus underneath the feeder as well. I don’t begrudge Chippy his well-earned snacks. I’d rather watch birds and chipmunks.

This year, I’m trying a different kind of birdseed: safflower seed. Guess what? Chippy doesn’t like it. So the seed lasts longer in the feeder. I have seen more cardinals than I ever remember seeing in my life. They come in, eat their fill, then swoop up to the cherry tree branch and sing their songs. Maybe they’re letting all their friends know the Chippy-buffet has been converted and is again songbird-welcoming.

In Cami’s world, some learning environments are better than other learning environments. Our church’s homeschool co-op doesn’t work for us because the structure and class sizes hit all her hidden disability buttons, which trigger all my rescue instincts, so everyone goes home agitated and exhausted. Her best learning environments include kinesthetic activities with simultaneous visual input and clear auditory input with room to stop the activity if she needs to ask questions or tell someone a Pokemon fact she’s thinking.

I’m realizing more and more that it is up to me to create those learning spaces because her struggles with crowds so drastically affect her learning processes. (Thesis statement for another blog another time.)

*The best way to learn a song is to sing it.*


I love to sit and watch birds from my home office window. A few weeks ago, I watched a male cardinal high up in the tulip poplar behind the fence. While the tree branches swayed in the swift breeze, I discerned three parts of his song. (Do the females sing? I wonder.) What made the bird’s song change? Was he adjusting to the breeze, finding his footing on the branches as they moved in the wind?

Whatever he was doing, he was singing. Loudly. I noticed that he was a juvenile, not quite totally red, mostly dark gray with a red head. I thought, “That young whippersnapper has the right idea! I should have his courage.”

We should all have his courage. The “right idea” = sing for all we’re worth, which is a lot + don’t worry about what others think of our singing. Our homeschool life doesn’t look like anyone else’s homeschool life. But we are learning so much that we would never grasp if we had to learn it in the traditional classroom style.


*All I have to do is take the next step.*

Some days, I spend huge amounts of minutes just watching the cardinal activity in the front of my house. The mamma cardinals are busy this month. Last week, I saw a female cardinal in the parking lot, hopping along with a bundle of twigs in her mouth. She must have hopped for a good five minutes, all the while with those twigs in her mouth. (So maybe they don’t sing—with all those twigs in the way. . .)

I thought, “Wow. She isn’t thinking about her husband’s business travel next month. She isn’t thinking about the church schedule for next week. She isn’t thinking about the homeschool plan for tomorrow. She’s just making a nest because that’s what time it is: spring means egg-laying time.” She was so busy, hopping about, taking only the next step. She wasn’t fluffing the nest yet because she was still building it.

There’ll be plenty of time to fluff later, when she’s sitting on those eggs in her sturdily and timely built nest.


All my children will be taught by the LORD, and great will be their peace.I am a servant of the LORD, and this promise is my heritage.
(Isaiah 54:13, 17)

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