My latest column, for the Christian Courier.
Up until a few years ago I had never seen them. I didn’t even know they were around, so didn’t know to look for them. But every Spring they are here. In fact, we are at peak season right now so there’s a good chance you will glimpse them if you look carefully. And it would be worth the effort, too, given how beautiful they are in their blues and greens and reds and yellows – especially the yellows.
Perhaps you’ve guessed that I’m referring to the birds that make their way north each spring, particularly the warblers that rest each night in the trees around us on their journey. There is the Blackburnian Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler, the American Redstart, the Chestnut-sided Warbler, and the wonderfully named Yellow-rumped Warbler. The picture accompanying this column is of a Yellow-rumped Warbler that stopped over, ever so briefly, in my backyard last May.
For so many years, I missed this annual wave of feathers and song. While I have always enjoyed watching common backyard birds (finches, cardinals, jays, juncos and chickadees), I assumed that beautiful, multi-colored birds were a unique preserve of more tropical regions. Now that I know better, I’m learning to recognize the telltale movements of these tiny creatures in high branches as the sun warms them early in the morning. Continue reading
I’ve just finished reading a lovely book by Rod Dreher entitled The Little way of Ruthie Leming. It tells the story of his sister’s struggle with and eventual death from cancer – but the book offers so much more besides. It is above all a story about place and belonging, and a reflection on what it means to be at home, to stay at home, to leave home, or to return home.
Rod Dreher’s sister Ruthie was the one who stayed home, in small-town Louisiana. He was the one who left home and then (following her death) returned home. The book is also a plea for us to acknowledge and rediscover the gifts of deep community – the kind of community that can only be built over generations and by way of a commitment to life in a particular place. His story and reflections are a plea for the humanizing of our lives, a humanizing that he discovers in Ruthie herself.
Dreher’s book gets me thinking, in the first instance, about my identity as the son of a minister. Being a preacher’s kid has meant that an establishment of the kinds of local roots described by Dreher has been impossible for me. I spent formative years as a child in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and then in the towns of Beaverton and Hagersville in Ontario – calls to new congregations meant calls to new towns and schools and relationships. And while I have some sense of attachment to these places, that attachment and identification does not go very deep. In my youth I never had the experience of needing to run away from the suffocating life of a particular small town (in the way that Dreher did). Rather, it’s that I was never given the opportunity put down roots in any such place. Continue reading