A mirror and a book

A baby Robin that has just left the nest, photgraphed on our front lawn in 2005

A baby Robin that has just left the nest, photographed on our front lawn in 2005

“If thy heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life and a book of holy teaching. There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.” — Thomas à Kempis

Our backyard borders on a wooded lot that is part of the property, protected wetlands that cannot be disturbed or cleared.  We are lucky enough to have a variety of creatures who frequent the area, probably for the protective shelter of the vegetation and the creek that provides water most of the year.  I have come to think of them as friends and enjoy watching them season after season.

Most people see the ubiquitous Robins as more pesky than precious, but I may love them best of all because they build their nests in our shrubs, low enough that I can watch as the eggs become hatchlings and then fledglings.  Often I experience the tense anticipation of watching them leave the nest and fly for the first time.  The bird pictured above, however, was the subject of no small anxiety on my part because I felt responsible for it.  I had come around with my camera when it was the only one of four fledglings left in the nest, and it became so frightened it jumped out of the nest, but was unable to fly, its fluttering wings barely breaking its fall to the grass.

I was overcome by worried guilt about having chased the bird from the nest before it was ready.  I hung around in the area watching it from a short distance, whispering prayers that the tiny bird would be protected.  I was prepared to scare away any cats or dogs or other threats, but instead I saw a fascinating drama unfold.  As always when I approach a populated nest with my camera, a great noise had erupted from two birds I assumed were the parents.  The brightly colored male bird hopped along closely beside the tiny young one, as the grayish female bird kept up what I fancied was a continual stream of nagging directions.

Gradually, but without interruption, the male bird led the baby in short hops and very brief flights for a relatively long distance, all the way from the front of our house, across the back yard and into the wooded lot, where I finally abandoned my long watch.  The last I saw of them, the male bird continued hopping alongside the younger one in a clearing, as if giving flight lessons.

When I read this quote from Thomas à Kempis, I thought of the many “critters” I have been watching all these years, especially the young who seem so tiny and vulnerable in a world that is often cruel.  The continual presence of these animals reassures me that God does keep a close eye on creation, and we have much to learn from their ability to survive and thrive.


  1. amen, BeLOVED Julie. He has the whole world in His Holy Hands. Therefore Fear Not, the task he gives us are already completed in Him. Peace & Healing be with you & yours. LOVE.

    • Thanks so much Kate, I am trying to live out the faith of those words and it always helps to be reminded. Blessings to you and your family.

  2. Sheila

    Julia, a beautiful morning to jump start our weekend and hoping yours as well. I hope Jeff continues to feel well. Your blog this morning touches on another subject of such pleasure for me,too. Years ago,an empty flower pot on our deck collected water and became a drink for several birds.You guessed it! It’s still there and I maintain it and enjoy it throughout the day.Recently,when it froze over,they were ice skating so I had to add warm water to it! I told Bill the good Lord entrusted them to me. Thank you everyday for the pleasures you give by your photographs and words. Sheila

    • Sheila, what a beautiful story! The idea of “ice skating birds” brought a smile to my face. I always try to avoid having anything collect water (due to mosquitoes, which are not as fun as birds) but I never thought about leaving something out in the winter. Maybe I’ll try setting one up for our birds. I don’t even feed the birds in winter, as my parents do, but perhaps I should. Do you ever have any hummingbirds? My sister keeps a hummingbird feeder, and her son (a photographer) has made some awesome photos of them. Thanks for your kind words about the blog.

      • Sheila

        Julia, a birding column,Bird Notes,in our local paper this week had a photo of a Baltimore Oriole on a hummingbird feeder recently. The writer suggests keeping clean sugar water in feeders for thirsty winter birds. We see an occasional hummer
        In the summer. Love my birds! Sheila

        • Birds truly are endearing, aren’t they? I found a website to help me identify their calls – that is my next project – in that mythical place where I have more time than I do now!

  3. Bobby Harris

    I have fond memories of a Bluejay teaching its fledglings to fly. The adult bird brought a bit of food and had the babies come to get it. First the distance was just a couple of inches, then six, then a foot. On and on until after about two hours the little ones were flying. I only had experienced robins who usually fall-fly out of the nest, so watching birds learn to fly through encouragement was a surprise–a wonderful surprise.

    • Isn’t it amazing when we are given such glimpses into other worlds? How we tend to underestimate our animal friends sometimes! It reminds me of a beautiful quote about animals that my father sent me, taken from the book The Outermost House; perhaps I will use it here sometime. The gist of it is that animals live in a different world than humans, one that is not necessarily inferior to ours, but very different, and that we “err greatly” to assume our ways are superior to theirs when the two cannot really be compared fairly.

    • Rene

      I have not-so-fond memories of a bluejay dive-bombing my head while I was hanging some clothes. He had taken residence somewhere in our yard (we called him “Sonny”) and I guess he took offense at my spoiling his view.

      • Wow, I always heard bluejays were pesky, but I’ve never been around them enough to know. I always thought they were so pretty, like blue cardinals. I do get nervous about flyovers when I have anything outside that I don’t want soiled! That’s one reason I like to have an awning over my porch swing!

  4. When we built our home I knew the builder owned the lots around us and intended to build on them but I have been very sad the last few weeks as they have begun the clearing. This summer there were several foxes and their babies and untold numbers of deer. I have wondered where they are now that the lots are being cleared and people are moving in. I pray they stick around and see them this summer as they do serve as a great reminder that God is able to make all things adapt. That even though man encroaches on the territory the creatures find a way to thrive and come back each summer. I hope I am right. Take care my friend. Love you.

    • Amy, this just means I will now HAVE to prioritized getting back down to your house for tea time soon, before all the lovely woods behind you are hacked away. One reason I insisted on hanging onto our York home is because the protected wetlands on our lot mean that the area around them can never be cleared or built upon. I remember one recent time when I came to see you, a deer stood about mid point of your long driveway and looked at me as if to say, “And just who do YOU think you are, coming onto our land?” I loved it!!! Until then I had seen many watch-dogs, but never a watch-deer!

  5. Don Buckner

    That was a very inspiring read! I know you come from a family of hunters, but I’m refreshed that even though you do not hunt, you see nature through the eyes of the hunter; the first conservationalists and lovers of nature. I also know that you appreciate that God is the author and sustainer of all natural things, and that we are an integral part of His masterpiece.

    • Thank you, Don! As you know, my Dad taught us that deer were to be hunted only as food, and not killed purely for sport; he was so averse to killing animals needlessly that he once scolded me for asking him to kill a noisy cricket that was keeping me awake in my room one night! Although I don’t care for the taste of deer meat, I came to respect my parents for their organic gardening (which they were doing long before it was cool) and their diet of venison, even using ground deer meat for hamburgers! Eric explained to me why he felt deer hunting was far more humane than cattle processing plants, and after driving past such a plant (in California) many times, I nearly lost my taste for beef altogether. So I did come to see that the tradition of hunting, as practiced by Native Americans for centuries, really is in keeping with the principles of conservation and the balance of nature that God established. Thanks for visiting here and for your comment!

  6. Nancy

    Your post, Julia, reminded me of Matthew 6….”Look at the birds of the sky…they don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?”

    • Exactly, Nancy…a verse I’ve always loved, but is especially comforting lately. I owe you a long email, hope to update you soon!

  7. MaryAnn

    Julia…sending my love & prayers; plus my gratitude for your ongoing, continally uplifting words & photos!

    • Thanks so much, Mary Ann. You have always been such an encouragement to our family.


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  2. A book of holy teaching | Defeat Despair

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