"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Returning home on Monday, imprisoned in a space so small contortion was required to fit my body into it, breathing air both stale and sterile, and working to share the narrow armrest with my sleeping neighbor, I escaped into the memory of the day before. A day full of everything missing from the airplane.

When Suzy picked me up on our second bright and sunny morning, she handed me a packet with the most wonderful grin on her face. It was directions to and promotion for the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Newport, Rhode Island. I looked a question at her.

"You said you like birds, right? And we were going to Rhode Island anyway, so I found this online."

It took some mental searching before I remembered I'd been commenting on the Red-tailed Hawks that patrol the sides of the highways, just like home, only the east coast birds are a lot lighter. I'd done it often enough to prompt Suzy to ask if I liked birds. Because of the stereotypes surrounding bird watchers, I don't often tell people that I own enough bird guides to fill an entire shelf on my bookcase, that I always look and listen for birds in hopes of discovering one new to me, that one of my favorite places in the world is the refuge near our home where we see some new avian delight every single time we visit.

We filled the travel time with a continuation of the conversation that hadn't stopped from the minute I first got in Suzy's car at the airport. We got lost and didn't care. We laughed at ourselves, saw some amazing old homes, a lot of Rhode Island, and eventually drove across the long bridge from the mainland to Newport.

Suzy is a city girl with no real interest in birds or the outdoors. She really wanted me to have this experience (and I really wanted to have it), and she really wanted to not have it with me. An interesting test of a fairly new friendship. She had phone calls to make and a book to read and maybe a nap to take and promised all three were exactly what she wanted. And so I trusted her, accepted the gift, and walked into the sanctuary alone.

Sanctuary. Alone.

The sun shone. Colors vibrated. Song birds chattered in the brush. The wind played hide and seek. Each new turn in the trail I followed to a place called Hanging Rock so I could see the Atlantic offered some new visual delight. Bright berries against blue sky. A deer's presence revealed by the rustle of leaves under foot. The trail beneath my feet first grass, then gravel, then dirt, then boardwalk, then stone called puddingrock. I found myself scrambling along a ridge of both rounded and sheared rock, wondering if it was really a trail at all, until the end which revealed a glorious view of the ocean.

Not many birds. Wrong time of year. Some mallards. A sparrow or two. Chickadees. One hawk.

I didn't care. As I walked back, thrilled at the perfection of each step of my adventure, I breathed in air that held hints of sea and oak and rich earth, savoring and storing away. I was almost back to the entrance when a flash of red caught my eye. I sought its source in the berry bush just off the trail and laughed out loud when I realized it was a cardinal.

Cardinals don't exist on the west coast. I saw my first one last summer in Iowa, but didn't have the opportunity then to just be with these bright red wonders. On this day, I stood for the longest time, just watching a pair feed and flit. When I finally turned to go, another flew directly in front of my face. A little farther along, I'd stopped to take pictures of the stone fence, one last shot of beauty, when I saw one more cardinal perched on blackberry brambles in the sunshine like a king overseeing his realm.

I don't think it's ever failed me. I find what I'm looking for, eventually, even when I'm not exactly clear what that might be. Adventure always. Beauty. Gift after gift of magic and wonder. The love and generosity of fellow travelers. Fun. One new bird.

In the days since my return, there has been a bend in my path that could make me doubt all of it. But I can close my eyes and be in that sanctuary and feel the presence that promises wings and lift and sky to soar into. I believe. A friend asked me last week what I thought the trip meant. And without hesitation I replied that it was irrefutable evidence that I'm held and led and loved, even when the path becomes rocky and seems to be going in the wrong direction. All I have to do is remember one bright bird, one amazing friend, and four magical days.

Taken by our server at the French restaurant where we celebrated our last night together and where we were treated like royalty. 


Wanda said...

Suzy is my new best friend!

Believe it or not, I have seen cardinals in Hawaii--a couple different kinds.

Oh, and by the way...you ARE royalty.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I so regret we didn't take a photo while I was there - well, we will remedy that when I return to Oregon

We have Cardinals a-plenty here-- and when they are against the snow -oh!

Suzy said...

Wow, after reading this, do I feel like a dolt not going into the birdland with you.....

But I really am a city girl!

Love you

K.M. Weiland said...

Sounds beautiful - especially in contrast to that first paragraph! I've never been fond of plane travel. The only good things about it are the speed and the fact that I can read in the air without getting nauseated (which I can't do in the car).

sallylwess said...

This sounds like a wonderful experience. I've never seen a cardinal either. I would like to see one. I will add that to my "bucket list" as a reminder that I need to go somewhere to see them.

Amber said...

Oh cool! I love that you see how you always find what you need. That you are held! What a beautiful truth to know.

Love that little red bird.Like a little ball of fire. I want to see one now.


Wanda..... said...

The Cardinal is the state bird of Ohio. Last winter we had 28 at our feeders...they are beautiful against the snow.

The first time I visited your blog, Deb...the lovely post was about a walk and an owl! You write so well!

Sandi Babbitt said...

Oh Deb, I loved it all! I loved that despite your recurring clamoring honest belief that you really aren't worthy of love, Suzy made a believer of you, of yourself. What a treasure that journey must be for you. I'm so glad that you have these delightful and inspiring memories to savor. And I'm so glad you found the cardinal . . . or did it find you?

Cheryl said...

What a beautiful post, a lovely friend and a fantastic bird sanctuary. What I loved best though is your ability to see with gratitude always. You're an inspiration!

Niki said...

my very favourite bird...it would, of course, have to be a cardinal :)

#1Nana said...

"I find what I'm looking for, eventually, even when I'm not exactly clear what that might be."

This sentence jumped out at me as I still am not sure exactly what I'm looking for. But, I am sure that eventually I'll find what I really need.

You are blessed to have such a wonderful friend.

LauraX said...

oh Deb, "I find what I'm looking for, eventually, even when I'm not exactly clear what that might be." YES...how true when this is when we open our hearts to possibility and trust!

This is so exquisitely written, the entire post...and the memory of the single red bird held so brightly in your heart/mind...a sign, a message, a candle's flame for finding peace in the midst of dark moments.

Terri Tiffany said...

I didn't know cardinals weren't out west--we have so many here in Fl.
Your friends sounds amazing. I want to meet her!!

Barb said...

A wonderful adventure - physical, emotional, and spiritual. I hope the glow lasts forever in your heart and in your memory.

Carrie Link said...

Great picture and great post! Love how you know what the trip meant!

kario said...

I love your wonder and willingness to accept being led (and held and loved). And I love Suzy's willingness to be honest and read her books and take her nap and make her phone calls but "be there" with you.


Charlene: the Polarblogger said...

What a memorable adventure you have had! I've always wanted to see a cardinal too but I've never had the chance yet. Good you have a good capture of the bird.

Patti Lacy said...

Girl, do you ever have some friends and some blessings.
I thank God for your Suzy...and for you.

Jody Hedlund said...

What a beautiful story, Deb. We see Cardinals all of the time at our bird feeders and in the woods behind our house. We see them even more vividly this time of year when the leaves are down and snow is on the ground. Hope all is well for you! :-)

Jerri said...

You both look SOOOOO beautiful. Held. Led. Loved.

Tabitha Bird said...

Wow! What a trip.
"Sanctuary. alone." Perfect words.

Janna Qualman said...

It sounds so lovely! And Suzy sounds like an amazing friend.

I love the message you took from the sanctuary, and I certainly find inspiration in your words.

Katie Gates said...

Woah... the tears are rolling down my cheeks. What a path you are on, and how smart of you to follow it!

M said...


I don't think I have any more words for this amazing adventure!



Ask Me Anything said...

I'm so happy I serendipidouly (?) came to your blog today to find out about this perfect trip with Suzy. Wow!!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"I find what I'm looking for, eventually, even when I'm not exactly clear what that might be."

Deb, how many people can say that? Puts you miles ahead.

Cardinals are truly a lovely sight. I often wonder why they were blessed with such color and many have only brown shades to mark their beauty.

Kathryn Grace said...

What a touching, delightful, full, joyous story. You are beloved.

I know you had a hugely rough beginning, that there have been some terribly painful events since, and yet, anyone who can say "I don't think it's ever failed me. I find what I'm looking for," is blessed.

Whatever bumps you are experiencing now, I pray this holds true yet again and again and again. May you know where to look!

deb said...

this is exquisite.

and I'm so behind , and want to read all of these posts I've missed without feeling rushed...
so it will take me some time ( being Christmas and all .) but I will. your heart is so beautiful.

and I feel so connected to you reading this.
I am going to visit a writer/blogger tomorrow who wrote a book called Sanctuary about a birding reserve.