Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Grackle Friends

photo shared by Factumquintus

Five years ago, a group of birds woke me on an early spring morning, their piercing croak filling the space outside my bedroom window. I had never seen them at our feeder before, the brown-black birds with iridescent green and purple heads. They were substantially bigger than the house sparrows and cardinals we were used to feeding and they did not seem to be able to manage the cedar feeder without almost knocking it over. They were so flashy in the sunlight that I later had to look them up on the Cornell bird identification website. They were my first grackles.
Of the nine grackles that frequented our yard, only one figured the bird feeder out. He was a little larger than the other ones and he found a way to hook one foot on the side of the feeder and a second foot just underneath it. He bent his body slightly sideways to balance his weight, with his tail wrapped around the side corner. From there, he would use his beak to scrap the seed off the side, down onto the ground for his friends, feeding below.
I watched them every morning when they rolled through for breakfast. I would sit quietly and after a while, they didn’t even startle when I slid the window curtain to the side. My friend, the grackle acrobat, slowly learned some more skills with balancing on the feeder. When he spied me through the window, he would run through all of his tricks and land on the clothesline, staring at me. After a while, he even started calling to me in the morning from the feeder if it was empty, which was one thing the other grackles picked up. Still, above the din, I was able to discern his fuller rusty hinge croak from the others.
When they moved on in the summertime, I was sad to see them go, but grateful for the time I was able to spend with them. The next spring, they returned, my friend front and center, and I was overjoyed. We picked up where we had left off and shared our morning times together. Two years ago, when the grackles returned, my friend was no longer among them. Even though none of the others could manage the feeder, they kept returning, and I spread seed out on the ground to encourage them.
A week and a half ago, I knew spring was finally here when I woke to a sharp grackle cry outside. It is a small group this year, but strong. There is one among them who figured out the feeder first, a smaller female. I found her hunched over the landing strip of the feeder, tucking her tail underneath it for counterbalance, skipping seed down onto the ground for her grateful friends. She unabashedly jumped up onto the clothesline and looked through the window at me.
Over the days, others have mastered the feeder, each in their own way. There is a large pair of males who discovered that if they each land on a side of the feeder at the same time they can keep it from swinging wildly beneath them. I don’t claim to know anything about bird genetic memory, but even still, I allow myself some musings. I know that in the wild, grackles can live eight to twelve years. Maybe there will come a spring that they don’t return. And maybe the grackles will keep coming long after the ones who came with my old friend are dead. Maybe they’ll keep coming long after we move away from where we live now. Maybe the fact that our lives intersected at all have linked our journeys somehow.
I wonder if the young grackles in the group knew my old friend, or if he passed before they were born. I wonder if they remember, and if they do, if they remember him. And then I realized that it doesn’t matter whether or not they do, because I do. These grackles are here and I remember the first grackle that brought them here and found them food. These grackles are living their lives in the moment, eating sitting and throwing up leaves in the dirt. I am bearing witness to the larger journey of their small group. Their lives come and go and I remain.
It is like that with our world, we come and go and the trees in their lengthened years bear witness to our passing. Watching the grackles outside my window, I am reminded that the whole pattern I am watching unfold is what my ancestor work is about. I hold my hand to a thread of ancestral energy that is the pattern of birth, life, and death we humans keep marching through. I hold my hand to that thread, keeping it present and connected to the action of living my life now. That energy is there for all of us to connect into, waiting just on the other side of the curtain, hiding beneath the rusty creak-song of an early spring grackle.

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