Canada Geese on the North Fork of the Shoshone River
Early one morning this week I was struck by the sight of a large black crow precariously balanced on the very tip of the tallest spruce tree in the neighborhood. His loud, "Caw, caw, caw, caw, caw" reminded me of the early morning call to prayer that comes from the top of a minaret in a Muslim country. In just a few moments the sparrows, juncos and doves from various trees, shrubs and perches joined the crow in this avian prayer to welcome the dawn.
One of my favorite passages from The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin tells how Chauntecleer the Rooster crowed. He had crows for every occasion that expressed grief, joy, accusation or warning. And then there were the canonical crows which "told all the world--at least that section over which he was Lord--what time it was, and they blessed the moment in the ears of the hearer. . . By making the day, and that moment of the day, familiar; by giving it direction and meaning and a proper soul. . . At dawn, he crowed a fresh, green crow which sounded like chilly water and which awakened the Hens on the spot. . . But the seventh was the kindest crow of all. This was as quiet as nightfall. This crow was the night at peace upon her nest. This was settle, and rest, and 'You are safe,' and amen, and 'Go, now, to sleep.' For 'Done,' when it is well done, is a very good word."
Similarly, in her wonderful book, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day, Diane Ackerman describes the troubadours of dawn. She writes, "It's funny hearing birds trying out parts of their song as they wake, or perhaps to wake. I love this warm-up, wake-up, speaking tongues at sunrise, when creatures discover they've survived another night on this sun-and-storm, human-battered planet and, not knowing what to say about it, or needing to say anything, just babble for a while. Birds babble. Baby birds before they learn their songs, and sleepy adult birds before they've cranked up the old tunes. They all babble as we do while stumbling around in mental fog."
So as I wander the neighborhood babbling prayers from memory from the Morning Office, humming bits and snatches of show tunes, rock and roll, and folk songs as they come to mind, I find my direction, meaning and proper soul. Thinking of the two beloved passages quoted above, I found myself giving thanks for the ability to read and for the availability of books I've enjoyed all my life. Thanks, too, for those who read to me: Mother--Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Adventures of Cubby in Wonderland, Mrs Piggle-Wiggle, and the Teeny Weenies; Grandma--Bible stories and Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories; Mrs. Schoen in 2nd grade delighting us with the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Miss Stanley in 5th grade reading in perfect dialect Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom's Cabin. And those who encouraged reading: the country librarians, like Bess Sheller who heard oral book reports so that we could earn a summer reading award; and Miss McFadden who opened our eyes to travel and adventure and mission in choosing books for our "free reading." Certainly, there were the numerous faculty members who help me gain skills in critical reading. I often give thanks for Dr. Francis whose class on Southern Lit was one of my all time favorites.
Sitting in my home study, surrounded by literally hundreds of books that I've read, studied and used for teaching, preaching, research and used to travel to distant places for unusual adventures, as well as to get a glimpse of what unites, delights, divides and tries our common humanity, I am thankful for all the writers, publishers, printers, librarians and bookstore owner/workers.
Before I'm off to preside at Evensong and the annual Vestry Retreat, there is still sufficient time to fly away with one of six or seven books beside my bed. From a convent in Erie to Wall Street, from Paris in the 1920's to the mind of a dog, I've got a great choice. Oh what a day!
Bald Eagle over Brooklyn Lake in the Snowy Range