The birds have something to tell us. As I said this to Jackie, I had no idea their message. They were keeping it to themselves at this point. All day, they had gathered – flocked together, if you will – until a gigantic conga line of them were draped across my telephone wire. It was quite a sight. People stopping by the farm stand were even taking pictures.
As I walked back to my harvesting, the phrase ‘the birds have something to tell us’ took on more meaning. I remembered the story my grandmother told of losing her eldest son. She was born in the Turtle Mountains in 1920 and raised by her Metchif-speaking grandparents (Metchif is a mix of Native languages and French). Even though she had spent her life trying to get away from the reservation and being ‘Indian’, the story of her son’s passing was every bit as mythical as stories told by the oldest and wisest of medicine men. She told me how a raven had perched itself on the window near the sink where she was washing dishes. As the bird turned its eyes to meet her own and pecked at the window, she said that she knew. Upon climbing the stairs, she discovered that Scarlet Fever had finally taken him even though Billy lived but 20 minutes before. She recounted this to me some 60 years later with the lingering pain of a mother’s heart, but also the wonder of a story that held great meaning. The raven was not a coincidence, but a messenger from another world. To my Catholic grandmother, a messenger from God.
For me, my grandmother’s stories pulls my imagination to a pre-modern time where people better heard the messages that nature provides. She could have told stories to me that illustrated the abject poverty she lived on an Indian Reservation, but instead she chose to share images of a supernatural America now lost to time. Toys purchased from a Jewish peddler who drove his donkey cart across the prairie from Grand Forks. Her devout grandfather who knelt before he planted each row of crops to perform the sign of the cross. Family members who freely walked across the national border to gather chokecherries, just as their ancestors did. Animals communicating important news.
I don’t think the stories of humans learning from nature are exclusive to Native Americans. We don’t need to fetishize Native knowledge as if it were the only tradition available to unlock some human mysteries. If you go back far enough, every cultural tradition has respect for nature and belief in the power of nature’s spirit. Even the most modern Western European can find an earth-centered spirituality in the not too distant past, whether you call it folklore or paganism.
So, again, what are the birds telling us? At this point, A HELL OF A LOT. Are we too distracted to listen? In our obsessive pursuit of consumption, we are passing the point where nature can repair itself. We owe it to our ancestors to at least listen to this message, whether given to us by our neighborhood barn swallow or a girl from Sweden.
In the Box:
- New Orchid watermelon
- Cippolini Onions
- Japanese eggplants
- Black Spanish radish and some red radishes
- Regular red tomatoes
- A sample of heirloom tomatoes: They are ugly but good
- Greenleaf lettuce
- Mix of grape tomatoes
- Colored pepper
- Mixed color beans