Of Private Mythologies and Indigo Buntings

I am waiting for the Indigo Buntings to arrive.  Thanks to a couple recent donations, I have a special feeder out for them with millet seed, which they prefer.

I also found this nice piece on the blog Anecdotal Evidence

It caught my eye not only because of the Bunting reference, but also because of the quotation of John Ciardi, who is well-known inter alia for his translations of Il Poeta… as well as a certain word!

Friday, April 09, 2010

`Let There Be Bread and Seeds in Time’

In memory, uncommon events, often the humblest, turn into private mythology. [Nice.] Seated alone at our kitchen table in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., some ten years ago, I stared idly through the sliding glass doors and across the deck into the wild cherry trees bordering the rear of our property. From the left entered a flash of unnatural blue, settling among the bobbing branches. The mind takes its time. I thought first of shimmering fabric, a silk scarf, before the analytical powers kicked in: an indigo bunting, perhaps the third or fourth I had ever seen. In seconds it fled.

I questioned the reality of what I had just seen, like the witness to a crime (or a miracle) who doubts the evidence of his eyes. It was not only the bird’s unlikely beauty that made its abrupt appearance feel unreal, but its sense of prepared unexpectedness. I wasn’t looking for it but it arrived and I felt ready to see it. I felt like a theatergoer who discovers the play he expected has been scrapped for another, and is pleased. John Ciardi’s “Bird Watching”:

“Every time we put crumbs out and sunflower seeds something comes. Most often sparrows. Frequently a jay. Now and then a junco or a cardinal. And once – immediately and never again, but as commonly as any miracle while it is happening, and then instantly incredible for – ever – the tiniest (was it?) yellow warbler as nearly as I could thumb through the bird
book for it, or was it an escaped canary? Or simply the one impossible bright bird that is always there during a miracle, and then never?

“I, certainly, do not know all that comes to us at times. A bird is a bird as long as it is there. Then it is a miracle our crumbs and sunflower seeds caught and let go. Is there a book to look through for the identity of a miracle? No bird that is there is
miracle enough. Every bird that has been is entirely one. And if some miracles are rarer than others, every incredible bird has crumbs and seeds in common with every other. Let there be bread and seeds in time: all else will follow.”

Ciardi suggests the uncanny, ineffable [OH! THE HUMANITY!] and wonderful arrive unbidden. We can prepare ourselves, live and look and think in such a way – “Let there / be bread and seeds in time” – as to ready us for the miracle, the yellow warbler, the indigo bunting, but such things don’t arrive on demand.


A great blog post.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Gabriella says:

    A great blog post … and a beautiful picture :)

  2. Tim Ferguson says:

    I think private mythologies would go better with pictures of bullfinches. :) [ROFL!]

  3. Nathan says:

    Fr. Z: “I am waiting for the Indigo Buntings to arrive.”

    Mea culpa, Father. I glanced at the post, saw this sentence, and thought, “Oh, my, is that what they’re calling blue colored felt banners these days?”

    I was very relieved and edified to actually read the post and realize that you were referring to some very pleasant birds.

    Tim Ferguson, I would submit that, on a blog belonging to a curial priest incardinated in the diocese of Rome, we would expect private mythologies to be posted with pictures of cardinals…

    In Christ,

  4. wanda says:

    How wonderful that you are able to attract Indigo Buntings. Only once did I have the joy of seeing one of these beauties in my back yard. Looking out the window, under the tree near the feeder, a little ordinary looking bird was on the ground but then..it hopped into the sunlight and oh, how dazzling he was. He looked like he was lighted by a neon light, he was beautiful. And, just as quickly and un-expectedly as he came, he was gone.

    Methinks I will give the millet a try!

  5. Incaelo says:

    That is a lovely poem! Thanks for sharing that with us, Father. I’d never heard of John Ciardi before, but I love the flow of that poem.

  6. frjim4321 says:

    Indigo Buntings are my favorite bird as well. They have not been on the property here for a few years, but they are nearby in the park. The Eastern Blue Birds are favoring us quite a bit, though, and whereas they are not as bright as the buntings the are nowhere near as shy.

    I would love to see the cousin “Painted Bunting,” perhaps the most beautful of all birds, but they are not available in this part of the country.

  7. q7swallows says:

    I have never seen an Indigo Bunting, but this poetic description reminds me of the striking impact certain individuals have had on me — as well as the flashes of insight that come especially during Holy Mass and private prayer.

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