Papa Cardinal

As we sat in the kitchen one recent evening, one of the kids read aloud an end page commentary she had found in a weekly news magazine. It was one woman’s tale about getting a gun and learning to shoot it so she could blow to kingdom come a cardinal bird that was relentlessly tapping on her windows. Her victory was the bird’s death.

All of us were both horrified for the bird and sorry for this woman.

Families have unique vocabularies referencing shared events. My grandmother always referred to something that was not worth wasting time on as “bad crab meat.” She coined the phrase when her mother said that watching bad television was like eating bad crab meat . From there, the whole family took up Grandma’s phrase as a shorthand way to sum up something not worth doing. Nicknames are part of family vocabularies too. My sister and I used to call my father “Banana Slippers” referencing an April Fool’s Day moment when we put peeled bananas in his slippers. When he stepped into the slippers on that fateful morning, he went, well, bananas. Another banana nickname helped a friend when she couldn’t figure out how to resolve a fight with her sister. Since she and her sister had called each other “Banana Face” as kids, she decided to send her sister a card saying “I Love you Banana Face.” With that card, the fight was behind them.

So why were we appalled by the woman who shot the cardinal bird and then saw it as an act of self empowerment and glory? Nicknames, unique slang, and shared symbols are blessings born when people live, work, or play together. Additionally, the smallest things can be experienced as blessings when we open to see the world around us as significant not accidental. Specifically, for all of us at Green Hope Farm, cardinal birds have been a major symbol referencing the loving presence of God in our lives.

Jim’s dad died unexpectedly in a car accident right after we moved to Green Hope Farm. He had helped us to build our house and yet, no sooner had we moved in, than he was gone. In the months after his death, we noticed a cardinal bird almost every day sitting in the oak tree we had planted in Jim’s dad’s honor. It felt like the cardinal bird had come to remind us that Mel was still with us. Later we came to feel the cardinal bird was also reminding us that God was there with us as well.

In the wild summer of 1993, the summer when the gardens were open, we had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of visitors instead of the three or four we expected. I had my own encounter with a window tapping cardinal bird that made the summer possible for me.

There were four of us humans maintaining the gardens, giving garden tours, answering questions about our process of gardening with the Angels and Elementals and running the shop of garden Flowers, vegetables, and Flower Essences. We were overwhelmed with things to do and started to squabble about who was to do what. One day we realized we had to surrender our individual agendas in order to handle the unexpected flow of people. One wonderful thing we decided to do was to begin each day with a group silent meditation. This is something we have continued to this day, as from the first meditation, we found it an incredible tool to help us let go and let God.

The other thing that happened was that a cardinal bird began to tap on my bedroom window at five each morning. Despite being someone who usually likes to sleep a bit later, I found myself wide awake at five. Not only that, I found myself bursting with the desire to go down to the first of many computers to type a message as best I could from the spiritual beings working with us and the God within me.

This happened every day. The cardinal bird would come at five. I would leap from my bed and go type for a couple of hours. Then I would share whatever I had written with anyone who wanted to read it. We put the guidance out in the shop for visitors to read and we all soaked in the humorous, practical, and profound support of these messages. With the cardinal bird arriving at five each morning as regular as clockwork, all of us began to write down questions to ask the next day. This guidance combined with the meditation carried us through the great adventure of 1993 and on into the future of Green Hope Farm.

After the summer season, the cardinal bird stopped tapping, but I remained focused on getting guidance for our rapidly expanding enterprise. It wasn’t always at five in the morning that I received help, but no matter how things changed, I always associated the cardinal bird as the beginning, a divine call to listen, to receive, and to know that God was with us.

For all of us in the family and in the office, cardinal birds have become a wonderful symbol for the truths that God loves us, God is supporting us, God is nudging us this way or that, or simply the truth God is. We mention to each other whenever a cardinal bird is at the feeder or whenever we encounter one in the woods or on our journey out into the world. Various animals and birds have encouraged each of us in various ways to keep on keeping on, because at the bottom, all of us have come to think there are no ordinary moments, no insignificant encounters and in this big fantastic experience of life, everything is a kiss from the divine.

I am so very grateful that for whatever reasons I was able to experience the tapping of the cardinal bird as a gift not something that had to be stopped. So much of what has happened here is because of that cardinal bird. Those encounters with that cardinal bird make me pay attention to most everything more carefully because the gifts that arrive in our lives aren’t always wrapped with ribbons and bows. Sometimes they come tapping on our windows all dressed in red.


Papa cardinal at the feeder yesterday. Mama cardinal, also beloved, in a nearby shrub.

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