Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Fog shrouded The Mountain yesterday just after daybreak, and in the midst of heavy mist, a brilliant cardinal appeared in the herb garden by our back door. We have placed a bird bath in the yard, but our visitor sought food rather than a morning bath (not that he needed one). Hunched over one of our plants, his posture appeared to be that of an old man, but his familiar "chip" sounded youthful and threatening.

I knew that if he were mating, another cardinal intruder might become a victim of some dive bombing and combat activity. If this cardinal had engaged in combat and chased an intruder away, his victory song would have been unmistakably joyful. I've read that if a cardinal is placed in front of a mirror, he perceives his reflection as an intruder and may spend hours trying to get rid of his image. During my winters in New Iberia, Louisiana, I enjoyed a cardinal visitor who, seeing his reflection in my window, sat on the sill outside my study for weeks. Little did I know that he was in defense mode, protecting his territory against another male cardinal that might be seeking a mate. I thought he was befriending me!

I think that my yard cardinals live in a thicket near our drive and consort with their neighbors, a thrasher family. They probably share meals of unwanted insects and seeds from weeds. The thrashers graze brazenly in my front yard, especially after heavy rains like the ones we've been experiencing.

Although most people regard cardinals as bearers of good fortune, humans are forbidden, by law, to keep a cardinal as a pet. I've read that the male cardinal shows his affection for the female by feeding her, beak to beak, to express his love, but I've never been a witness to this courting activity.

Cardinals are among the most difficult birds to photograph, particularly in a dense morning fog, but I'm sorry I didn't try to snap one of the bird that landed in our herb garden yesterday morning. If I hadn't been due to attend Morning Prayer and Eucharist at St. Mary's at 7 a.m., I would've  staged a stake-out. Later, in the afternoon, I did do a one-hour stake-out, and one flew over the front porch daring us to catch him in flight as he disappeared into the woods.

I'm among those who believe that cardinals bring messages of blessing. They also symbolize power and wealth. My daughter Stephanie and I believe that they represent a deceased loved one who has returned for a visit. In our case, it's my mother Dorothy (who loved red) who's telling us she'll always be with us, assuring us that we can handle any difficult problem and that we'll have everlasting vitality. At 82, that's a message I want to hear her "chip."

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