Staying Home Brings the Joy of Nesting

My usual enthusiasm for spring cleaning had so far eluded me this year, clouded by cold dreary weather and, oh yes, a pandemic. Fortunately, a lovely pair of doves offered just the motivation to do a little nesting of my own.

As I pulled into a long line of cars at the pharmacy drive-up, I caught a glimpse of an iridescent mourning dove through my rainy windshield. He flew straight into a large evergreen tree carrying something in its beak. Moments later out he darted out on an obvious mission.

He soon swooped back into the tree carrying a twig and a piece of grass. Again he disappeared into the dense foliage for a few seconds, flew out, and returned minutes later carrying more building supplies. Deep in the tree, I spied the bird’s mate busy at work. I watched the pair’s efforts continue for nearly ten minutes until it was my turn at the pharmacy window.

I returned home with the perfect prescription for the blahs. I was inspired to feather our nest! I shared my new-found enthusiasm with my husband by telling him what I’d learned about the nesting habits of mourning doves.

The female dove actually builds the nest with twigs, conifer needles and grass gathered by the male. In an impressive act of teamwork, the male stands on the female’s back and gives her the supplies while she assembles the nest. (I’m not suggesting this exact process, but teamwork is always a good idea.)

Our orders to stay at home during the Coronavirus outbreak is the perfect time to do what comes naturally in springtime ~ nesting. I don’t know what’s on your home to-do list, but it probably falls into similar categories as ours.

Tidying ~ Cupboards, drawers, closets, shelves and surfaces in every room can use a once-over to straighten and reorganize for the new season.

Cleaning ~ In addition to routine cleaning, spring is a good time to do those annual or bi-annual chores we tend to put off. Cleaning behind the refrigerator isn’t very exciting, but it might be more rewarding than another show on Netflix.

Decorating ~ Simply rearranging what we already have can help us appreciate our treasures even more. A few cut daffodils or budding limbs from the yard add a pretty touch of spring.

Indoor Projects ~ We all have those nagging little tasks that need to be done such as patching nail holes, painting chips and tightening loose screws. Make a list and tackle them one by one.

Outdoor Projects ~ When the weather cooperates, get outside and sweep the porch, do some yard work or take on a bigger job. Mike and I are tearing down an old shed and building a new one.

It’s a project that requires teamwork. He tried standing on my back, but it’s easier if I just hold the ladder. §

Thank Goodness Some Things Never Change

While we hold our collective, anxious breath and nervously adjust to the challenges of a pandemic, nature seems blissfully above it all. The sun still rises in the east and sets in the west. The moon still lights the darkness, and the Earth still steadily spins. Thankfully, some things never change.

Everything from school to restaurants to sporting events is cancelled or closed, but nothing is stopping nature from putting on its annual spring show. “That is one good thing about this world,” wrote author Lucy Maud Montgomery, “there are always sure to be more springs.”

Robins have returned with their round orange bellies. They poke their beaks into ever-warming ground with delight. Forsythia bushes bloom in wild sprays of yellow. Willow trees glow with a promising haze of green. Daffodils, crocus and purple snowdrops decorate tired brown corners with cheerful bouquets.

At a time when nothing seems certain, it’s as if nature understands the importance of offering something beautiful on which we can depend. The familiar signs of spring urge us to take notice of other comforts and joys we tend to take for granted.

We still have running water and electricity. There is plenty of food and, despite our concern, enough toilet paper. A free press keeps us well-informed. We stay in touch with loved ones through phones and computers. We borrow a tool from one neighbor and lend an egg to another.

We still sleep, work, play, talk, worry, love and laugh. Some things never change.

We know life may get worse before it gets better. If history tells us anything, we can trust the better angels of humanity will prevail. We will help each other and count on each other just as we can count on the sun to come up each morning.

No one could argue the joys of a pandemic, but it could bring us a positive shift in perspective and gratitude. Poet May Sarton wrote, “Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.”

Tonight, billions of stars will shine in our universe and billions of prayerful faces will look up to make a surprisingly similar wish. Some things never change. §

A Poem that Spreads Hope (Not Germs)

Long before the Coronavirus became part of our vocabulary, I planned to write this week about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers. I thought it a perfect poem to usher us through the last days of winter and into a lovely spring. Little did I realize the Belle of Amherst might help us find hope during a pandemic.

In this well-known poem, Dickinson uses a beautiful extended metaphor to compare hope to a selfless little bird perched in the soul of every human being. The poet reminds us hope and optimism are positive qualities we can all summon, especially during adversity.

In the first stanza, Dickinson creates the imagery of a bird endlessly singing a song of no words, just the purest form of hope. She reminds us in the second stanza that hard times don’t dissuade the little bird. In fact, that’s when the song is the sweetest. The pronoun I appears for the first time in the third stanza, revealing that hope helped her survive the tests and trials of her own life.

Dickinson is often thought of as a hermit, but perhaps she was practicing a healthy form of social distancing. She spent most of her adult life at her family home enjoying nature, writing poetry, and nurturing a close relationship with her siblings.

It seems we can all help stop the spread of the Coronavirus by following her lead and hunkering down for a little while. Maybe we can find time to relish the pleasures of home, watch spring miraculously unfurl, and hear the universal song of hope Emily Dickinson wrote about more than a century ago. §

(No. 314) “Hope” is the Thing with Feathers by Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

The third Sunday of the month, The Simple Swan is devoted to poetry. Nature has inspired poetry for as long as there have been poets. Reading these poems helps us slow down, contemplate the beauty in our world, and connect with timeless and universal themes. As a retired literature teacher, I want to do my little bit in keeping the classics alive. Thank you for joining me!

Enneagrams Help Us Appreciate Ourselves & Others

I never could resist taking a personality test. It started with those silly ones in Tiger Beat magazine and continued with more sophisticated tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DISC Assessment and Enneagram of Personality.

The Enneagram is a model of nine personality types that can help us better understand the curious nature of ourselves and others. There’s much to learn about this theory, but here’s a broad look at the nine Enneagram personality types. 

Do any of these types shout your name or the name of someone you know? 

Type 1 The Reformer  ~ The rational, idealistic type described as principled, purposeful, self-controlled and perfectionistic. Belief: I must do things right. Motto: A job worth doing is worth doing well. Try not to criticize a Type 1. Famous Quote: Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching. ~ C.S. Lewis

Type 2  The Helper ~ The caring, interpersonal type described as demonstrative, generous, people-pleasing and possessive. Belief: I must help others. Motto: Home is where the heart is. Try not to take a Type 2 for granted. Famous Quote: Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty. ~ Mother Theresa

Type 3 The Achiever  ~ The success-oriented, pragmatic type described as adaptive, excelling, driven and image-conscious. Belief: I must succeed. Motto: Winners never quit and quitters never win. Try not to ignore a Type 3. Famous Quote: The whole secret of a successful life is to find out what is one’s destiny to do, and then do it. ~ Henry Ford

Type 4 The Individualist  ~ The sensitive, withdrawn type described as expressive, dramatic, temperamental and romantic. Belief: I must be unique. Motto: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Try not to tell a Type 4 what to do. Famous Quote: I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it. That’s all I know. ~ Billie Holiday

Type 5  The Investigator  ~ The intense, cerebral type described as perceptive, innovative, secretive and isolated. Belief: I must understand. Motto: Good fences make good neighbors. Try not to underestimate a Type 5. Famous Quote: The unexamined life is not worth living. ~ Socrates

Type 6 The Loyalist  ~ The committed, security-oriented type described as engaging, responsible, anxious and suspicious. Belief: I must be prepared. Motto: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. Try not to lie to a Type 6. Famous Quote: Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it. ~ Dale Carnegie

Type 7 The Enthusiast ~ The busy, fun-loving type described as spontaneous, versatile, distractible and scattered. Belief: I must be happy. Motto: Eat, drink and be merry. Try not to control a Type 7. Famous Quote: My focus is to forget the pain of life. Forget the pain, mock the pain, reduce it. And laugh. ~ Jim Carrey

Type 8 The Challenger  ~ The powerful, dominating type described as self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontational. Belief: I must be strong. Motto: He who is not with me is against me. Try not to betray a Type 8. Famous Quote: Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far. ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Type 9 The Peacemaker ~ The easy-going, self-effacing type described as receptive, reassuring, agreeable and complacent. Belief: I must be at peace. Motto: Live and let live. Try not to talk over a Type 9. Famous Quote: In seeking truth, you have to get both sides of a story. ~ Walter Cronkite

Like most personality tests, the point is to increase our capacity for personal growth and self-awareness. As Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

The Goodness of Snow

Even though the calendar has flipped to March, heavy wet snowflakes transformed our woods again this week taking me back to the very first time I saw snow.

It was a sunny Easter morning, and I woke up as happy and light as a five-year-old could be. Wearing my bunny nightgown, I stepped into our tiny blue bathroom and gasped. Just outside the window was a bright orange robin perched on a branch covered in white. She chirped excitedly, “Snow! Snow! SnowSnowSnow!” 

Standing on my tip-toes and peering over the window ledge, my whole world glittered. The smell of daddy’s shaving cream lingered in the bathroom. The fluffy layer covering every budding tree limb and blade of new grass looked as if it came from a can of Old Spice. I was certain it smelled just as clean and fresh, and I could hardly wait to scoop up a handful and hold it to my nose…

The fifty-year-old memory melted away, and I noticed it was snowing harder. Thick snowflakes floated to the ground in slow motion whispering magical words.

Soft…

In his poem The Dream Keeper, Langston Hughes spoke of the “too-rough fingers of the world.” A dear friend recently confided that the world was making her hard. I understood her concern, but I know better. My friend has the kind of heart that will allow her to stay soft. The more jagged and edgy the world becomes, the more I want to be a softer presence.

Pure…

Purity is synonymous with virtue, goodness, integrity, honesty and decency. We are never going to be perfect, but aiming to live a life of good character isn’t old-fashioned or unsophisticated. We have a choice about what we listen to, watch, read, say, do and even think. Being aware of what we put into our heads and hearts helps us reflect what we value.

Gentle…

St. Francis de Sales wrote, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness and nothing is so gentle as real strength.” My husband is one of the most gentle human beings I know. He inspires me to be more tender in my actions, interactions and reactions. We can learn to be gentle without being a pushover or a doormat.

Quiet…

It’s a noisy world. Restaurants are so loud it’s impossible to converse. Music thumps from the car in the next lane. Shoppers blab into cell phones while roaming store aisles. People interrupt to make their point. It’s useless to shout over the din. It’s said if you want someone’s attention, whisper.

Grace…

The freshly fallen snow makes everything appear perfect and beautiful, not the slushy dirty mess that is real life. Perhaps a beautiful snowfall is nature’s reminder of the grace that falls down on us to cover our imperfections, heal our hurts and return us to the innocence of a child amazed by her first snow. §