Monday, April 15, 2013
Morning Thanks--where his eye lies
Once upon a time, I kept track of how many I'd killed. The tally never really climbed all that high because me and my Daisy never were all that talented; but I remember thinking, once upon a time--when I was ten maybe--that I'd killed seven of 'em, should some kid ask.
They were, in fact, what I bagged first, shot out of crevices in barn rafters where they were sleeping, like shooting fish in a barrel. No matter. I was a man. I have no doubt that I remember that late afternoon slaughter in a classmate's barn, amid the milk cows, because it was just that, my very first real kill. Me and my bb gun had passed some unwritten test.
They were "sputzies," I remember, which is a German word, I think, although it may well have drifted into the Netherlands too and been carried over the ocean by my own Dutch ancestors. If you wanted to speak in a derogatory fashion about sparrows, you called them "sputzies." All us guys called 'em "sputzies" because they were what we killed. There were gadzillions of them, and they were almost colorless, just plain brown, like dirt.
Sputzies, the s-word.
These days we've got 'em in spades on the feeders on both sides of the house, and when they descend, they do so not as spies but in battalions. You can't help but wonder if the way they team up hasn't given their population an boost, as if hanging around in mass quantities is a well-considered survival mechanism. They're not celebrities, but neither are they stupid; they likely studied Darwin enough to determine that they're all better off if they run in schools. Stay in flocks, guys, something in their DNA whispers, and a thousand eyes and ears won't let us get gobbled by some miserable raptor with an overbite.
If I fill the feeders before breakfast, sometime after lunch whatever I put there will be gone--well, on the ground mostly because sparrows make vikings look polite. Black-capped chickadees, in their darling Batman apparel, take just a seed or two before flitting away; their memories are extraordinary, the book says, because they're capable of remembering as many as one hundred hiding places for the provisions they carefully choose and thoughtfully hide.
Sparrows gorge ruthlessly. One of them sits there on the feeder ledge and bats out the seeds, tossing out a dozen otherwise tasty morsels for every one he actually eats. Maybe he's picky--everything goes but the thistle seeds--I don't know. What I do know is that it doesn't take all that long and the feeders are empty, and down in the grass beneath forty little bobbing balls of brown feathers pick up the refuse. They're not dumb, those sputzies. They're survivors.
I'm told there are a thousand varieties, some of which can't be distinguished from others unless you've got one dead and in hand. They're decidedly unfashionable, so irritatingly common. We take memorable note when those reddish house finches show up; and when a cardinal stops by, we gather for worship. Juncos are darling, but sparrows are, at best, ordinary, barely worth a second look, and more than a little tiring when they act like Sherman's army, which is what they always do.
What I learned yesterday in church was that the psalmist, taking the kind of heavenly dictation he was, didn't just pull any bird out of his hat when he brought up sparrows. He didn't say indigo bunting, for instance, or double-crested cormorant or the American Bald Eagle (a bird whose name demands upper case). He didn't say purple martin or barn swallow either, or that magnificent ringneck pheasant that struts carefully across our yard some mornings. When he wanted a suitable simile to explain the divine immensity of God's love, he didn't pick a scarlet tanager or a goldfinch.
He said sputzie, just a plain old, ubiquitous and ordinary mud-brown sputzie.
That's what I learned about grace yesterday in church.
Good Lord, even the sputzies.