I live beneath an amazing superhighway. I have not lost the ranchero in a wild Texas poker game. I refer to the turquoise skies above my New Mexico home.
I stare in constant amazement at the steady stream of flying creatures that follow the Rio Grande north and south in search of their winter or summer nesting grounds. I often joke that one day the flock is sitting up north and one foul looks at the other and says, “Time to head south!” They all nod and hit the skies.
The huge Sand Hill cranes are the big kids on the block down here. I’d guess that their wingspans stretch for at least six feet, and their spindly legs visually challenge their ability to stand upright. The cranes fly over my house in military V formation, and their distinctive call alerts the community of their regal presence.
Elegant hawks circle lazily (thank you Rodgers & Hammerstein) in the sky above the large alfalfa fields that constitute my neighborhood. The hawks are especially active after a cutting, and they swoop down for the morning meal with precision. One pair nests in a huge cottonwood tree that dominates my neighbor Ramon’s fanciful compound. When the leaves fall, I can spot the hawks sitting in the topmost branches, going over the evening menu.
My favorite birds are the families of roadrunners who dart through my yard. Sure they can fly, but to see one of the crew racing after a tasty morsel is to see a perfect avian running machine. Readers of this column will recall that we have a regular stream of coyotes, especially late at night. I hate to contradict the Warner Brothers cartoons, but I’ve yet to see an Acme anvil drop in my yard. I’ve not spotted empty cases of Acme dynamite. In fact, I’ve never seen a road runner/coyote moment since we’ve moved here. Oh yes, one more thing. They don’t make that “meep meep” sound. In fact the racing birds are as quiet a creature as can be.
Butterflies also use the Rio Grande Valley conduit. Once a year, the alfalfa fields are covered in what must be millions of small yellow butterflies, and their cousins the Monarch butterflies visit with regularity born of instinct.
We had two early snowstorms this past week, and now the winter chill has set in. Where earlier the birdfeeder outside my studio/office was the location of random visits, it now appears as if a bird neon sign, “Harry’s Birdfeeder, Now Open,” must be sitting on the banks of the river to the north.
Out my window today I have observed a stunning array of small birds jockeying for position on top of the feeder. Others hop around at the base of the feeder and for the good, as the creatures are anything if not sloppy eaters. Plenty for all and birdseed is as cheap as, well, birdseed.
The first birds to head south from the yard this year were my large flock of hummingbirds. Perhaps their fragility and the need for the sweet nectar of blooming plants trigger their early exit from the valley. They love Ranchero Musselwhite due to my bride’s skill with blooming flowers that encircle the house, and the fact that we keep the hummingbird feeder full of sweet water through the season.
At my first church music job out of graduate school, I led the choirs at First Presbyterian Church of Huntsville, Texas, where I taught at Sam Houston State University. Every Sunday an elderly gentleman would gently approach me after the morning service and say, “I want you to sing ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’ at my funeral.” Six months later, I did just that.
That old hymn says that if God can watch over the tiny sparrow, well then, He certainly can watch “over me.” It appears to be, at least in writing, a basic tenet of the faith: taking care of those less fortunate than others.
Now a different kind of migration is in the headlines, families fleeing oppression and death threats follow the same pathway as the beautiful birds flying over my house. These families, at least in my observation, are just as fragile as the little birds outside my window. At the border, children are still living in prison-like cages, traumatized so dramatically that they often don’t even recognize their own parents if and when they are reunited.
“His eye is on the sparrow,” I used to sing. I hope there will be innocent others who will sing the rest of that song, and soon: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.”
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The above words are from a famous book called the Bible. Just saying.
Former Roman Harry Musselwhite is the author of “Martin the Guitar” and is an award-winning filmmaker.