All it takes for something to be a mystery is for it to be unknown to the one seeking it. Would you agree? So, though the bird who spent an hour perched on a dead pine limb outside my home may be very familiar to many, if he’s unknown to me, he’s a mysterious bird.
That’s all I know to call him right now. For bird enthusiasts, here’s a rough description. He appeared to be somewhat larger than a mourning dove with a larger head but a smooth, rounded one with no crest. He was white breasted with darker wings, dark grayish blue. His tail was long and in a straight line with his body. I had heard his call several times that day not knowing what he looked like but knowing I’d never consciously heard him before. It was a whistle starting somewhat shrill and high, then coming down in a long smooth swing. It was a little like a boy’s wolf whistle but more musical, almost like a circus balloon with a whistle in it.
I was trying to describe its whistle to Charles when I heard him again. But Charles really didn’t hear him. He’d cock his head and mumble a “maybe” but I knew if he really heard him, he’d be more interested than he was. It was not, as he implied, like any other bird. No mockingbird, cardinal, mourning dove, sparrow, wren or titmouse ever sounded like that mysterious bird.
“Wish I could just see what he looks like,” I said. And right that minute that bird came flying across from a neighboring pine and lit on that dead limb. I knew it was the same bird because he continued to whistle right there in plain view.
I quickly tried to absorb what he looked like knowing he wouldn’t be there long. Charles kindly went after the binoculars. We both studied him. He sat there whistling for, yes, close to an hour. There was another one answering from a distance. That bird was so beautiful sitting there in the sunlight silhouetted against a blue sky.
I’ve heard him several times a day since then but haven’t seen him again. I’ve studied my Audubon bird book but have found no match. I thought maybe he was a predator, some kind of falcon, but his bill was straight, not hooked as theirs are.
Now. A couple of ideas have come to me as I considered this bird. One is downright funny and not really related to him other than that he is a bird.
My mother loved a good joke and could laugh until she had to pull her dainty handkerchief from her bosom. But she couldn’t tell one. She always, as I do, got mixed up on the punch line. But in her eighties she learned a joke she could tell very effectively and she used it over and over. A young man, she said, was taking a class in ornithology. He arrived in class one day to realize the professor was giving a test in which the student had to identify various birds by their legs only. The poor young man was quite horrified, not having studied the bird legs for spending time studying more shapely ones instead. The whole test was on birds’ legs, and he’d be making a zero. He walked up to the professor to complain. The professor adjusted his glasses and asked coolly, “What is your name?” The young man, gifted with quick wit, raised his trouser legs and said, “Identify these legs.”
Another idea I’ve had is that this could be a comfort bird.
On Saturday morning, August 18, 2012, our phone rang with the wrenching news that our daughter, Julie, aged 42, had died in her sleep. It was six years ago but we still miss her. The initial shock was so bad but now we know that the missing part goes on and on. She’s still not here, when we set the table for family gatherings, when we fill our Christmas shopping list. Her little grandson whom she never saw has asked, “Why didn’t I get to see her?” She’s not here for birthdays, outings, or plain old days. We know where she is and that she’s happy and enjoying Heaven’s beauty which we can only imagine. But we can’t call her or text her and the children can’t give her “grandmother pictures.” We can’t hug her, sip coffee with her, or give her a candle, one of her favorite things. We can’t pray with her or sing with her.
Near the anniversary of the date she left us, we naturally think a lot about our Julie. And we miss her poignantly.
No, I don’t think that bird was Julie sitting up there on a dead pine limb. (She’d have chosen a brighter place, maybe a branch of the pink crape myrtle.) But maybe he was a comfort bird, come to remind me God remembers our sorrow and cares. It wouldn’t be the first comfort bird God has sent me. A number of times, in answer to a prayer, God has sent me a bird at a particular moment–at a window, on a branch, in the path, flying in front of the car. But it’s always been birds with which I was familiar–a cardinal, a dove, a sparrow–never a mysterious bird like this one.
Even today, August 18, I’ve heard that bird whistling high in the trees. I’d love to see him again. I’d love to know his name.
But having a mysterious bird in the neighborhood is pretty special. Especially if God sent him!
I was not close enough to the bird to take his picture. But I do have one of Julie.