July 14, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

The leastling sparrow: A life experience

“I believe you had a blessed moment with that sparrow,” my sister wrote in her e-mail, observing that I have a special way of connecting with nature.

If I do, I credit Beverley and her husband, John, for having property in Belleville, Ill., that perpetuates the appreciation of the great outdoors. I have spent many refreshing hours on their deck or in one of the swings on their peaceful front porch, joyfully observing wildlife.

The incident to which Bev referred was at the front door of my Indianapolis home. Recently when I looked out, I saw a huge male cardinal, a smaller male cardinal and several sparrows pecking around the front yard amidst tall grass that awaited the lawn mower.

I felt such appreciation for these birds, then noticed one of the sparrows about 10 feet away, staring at me. He then steadily hopped to the front stoop, where he stared at me for several moments. I felt as connected to this bird as I do to my well-loved indoor cats, Ziggy and Domino.

Then I remembered an incident years ago when our youngest daughter, Lisa, was still attending Bishop Chatard High School. A young man—her classmate and friend, who lived across the street—found a sparrow’s nest fallen from its safe perch.

Since his family was going on a trip, he asked Lisa to care for the three sparrow nestlings. We had an indoor cat so we placed the nest in a large box in a first-floor bedroom and closed the door. Calling several vets, I received differing advice. We opted for a plan that would nurture the birds.

Learning of this, another of Lisa’s classmates dug worms for food, even feeding the birds when Lisa seemed squeamish.

Unfortunately, two of the sparrows died, but the third survived and thrived. An adult friend said, “Birds harbor disease and sparrows are a nuisance,” but his pessimism did not prevent our care.

Eventually, we transferred the surviving bird to a larger box, placing it at the edge of our carport. Soon, the surviving sparrow left the box, and I witnessed the moment it gracefully soared away to freedom.

Naturally, we imagined the bird then living a good life, but only God knows the outcome. (Eventually, I turned this experience into a difficult and complex French poetic form, titling it “Sestina for Sparrow.”)

When I recently connected with a sparrow at my door, I wondered if this bird was a descendant of the family of sparrows from years ago. Again, only God knows!

What I do know is that experts differ on whether to rescue birds, but I am still glad we chose to try to preserve that tiny sparrow’s life.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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