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Where Are the Birds?

What will it take to get them to nest in our branches?

by Christian Walther

Gospel Reading: Mark 4:26–34

For Sunday, June 17, 2012: Year B – Ordinary 11

Did I feel guilty moving into a brand spanking new suburban development a few years back?

Kind of, to be honest.

But it wasn’t the commute—my wife and I work very close to home. It wasn’t the mega-mall/big box dependency—we’ve got some great local shops and restaurants and a revitalized old downtown close by.

That Mound

More than anything, it was that mound to the west that made me feel guilty for moving into our development. All that valuable farmland, millennia of topsoil formation, stripped off and piled up like some misplaced mountain rising from the desolate wasteland of yellow clay and thistle that was our new neighborhood. OK, so they sprinkled a few precious inches back on my yard and rolled out some sod, but the ecosystem had been raped.

Almost every nice evening I could sit on my front porch and see that hulking mound of soil to the west and, wonder, as I did, how come there were no birds by us.

Where are the Birds?

Seriously, no birds—not at sunset, not at sunrise. Nada. I may have bought high, losing a lifetime of equity in a pre-downturn real estate transaction, but the birds aren’t stupid.

There’s no tree worth perching or nesting in, no rich subsoil habitat for worms, grubs and other delectable creatures. Humans are using gobs of weed-killers and fertilizers to make their pitiful patches of lawn grow. But the clay sucked up whatever water pooled on the surface, the heat of the asphalt almost instantly turned puddles to vapor. The noise of construction is what filled the air –not song birds, that’s for sure.

Things Changed

But slowly things changed. The killdeers arrived making their nests in the rocky soil that used to be farmland. The hawks started prowling the daytime skies for the mice that were attracted to human occupation. Then a humongous great owl came to patrol the night, deciding that our next door neighbor’s roof was the perfect hunting platform for what was left of the fields to the south—much to our neighbor’s consternation.

Robins started coming, mourning doves, neither all that special I know—even a bit annoying—but I learned that hawks enjoy an occasional robin. I also learned that a flock of gold finches can save a robin from a voracious hawk, especially the female finches. What they lack in color they more than make up for in chutzpah!

We started composting and our soil is getting much healthier. The scraps from our table were literally making the yard come alive. I remember picking up the compost bin for the first time. I had never seen so many worms and creepy crawling things as I didi in those 3 cubic feet of yard waste and kitchen scraps. And the soil underneath? Sweet and dark and warm.

Back to Nature?

The proof of the feast we were providing is in the displaced mulch around our patio—birds picking through it for a meal. Our rain garden, with the native plantings that surround it, becomes a veritable water park after a rain. Birds are returning that I haven’t seen for years. The bird book is back on my end table. The ecosystem may not be what it originally was, but something’s turned a corner.

Sure, it would be great if things were pristine again, but ecologists argue it will never be. So our goal needs to be that of symbiotic collaboration, rather than a purist “back to nature” pipe-dream. We’ve made a mess of it, it’s time to own up and develop some global sensitivity, beyond just what I want for my Church.

Whoops…sorry, I meant to say what I want for my yard. Or perhaps not.

The Hardest Question

What’s good for the birds?

What will bring them to roost in our branches?

Oh, and by the way, the humungous mound of topsoil is gone. Some of was sold and carted off. Most of it was returned to the farmland after the developer decided it was ridiculous to try to build any more houses there. Soybeans last year. Corn this year. How often does that happen?

Christian Walther – now there’s a name and a face only mother could love. But I’d be amiss not to quote my namesake regarding the Word and Sacraments: “They contain my treasure. Whoever does not go to these places to lift the treasure will not fetch any gold. What he gets may look like gold, but it is mere tinsel” ( C.F.W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, Sixteenth Evening Lecture).


  1. Christian Walther — what a great name! My mother’s maiden name was Walther, connected to the Missouri Walther’s (in some way, probably to C.F.W.) Thanks for the reminder!

    But thanks especially for the reflection!

  2. The father of uniquely congregational brand of American Lutheranism! Not to mention a guy who could differenitate law and gospel like nobody’s business. Fascinating legacy, Bonnie.

  3. Christian says:

    For sure, Bonnie. I’m glad the post spoke to you as well.

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