The Joy of Starlings

By Steve Dragon

There is seldom a week that goes by when I don’t take the opportunity to acknowledge the Law of Relativity. I can often be heard to say, “Well, THAT could have been a lot worse!” My wife Beckie has many times been irritated with me when I’ve said to her, “We have to look at the eternal perspective.”

There have been several times when I have been driving on my way to somewhere, especially when we’ve been a bit late, when traffic has suddenly come to a crawl. The first thought is inevitably one of irritation and inconvenience. But then when we come upon the crash site after a mile or two of inching along, it became easy for me to recognize that, had we been just a minute or two earlier, “that might have been us.”

I did much of the construction on the house we’re living in right now. We were so anxious to move in during the spring of 2000 that there were a few things that didn’t quite get finished before we did. One of those was some of the finish carpentry work—still not quite done twenty years later! Another was about fifteen feet of soffit on the northeast corner of the roof right above our bedroom window. And, of course, once we moved in, the urgency wasn’t quite there to take the time to finish it.

The headboard of our bed was up against the wall under that particular window. I used to love having the window open during the night to feel the cool night air while I slept. The first spring after we moved in, I frequently woke up to baby birds chirping not far away outside the window. It was always a wonderfully natural wake-up alarm in the mornings. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had recently heard a quote from Joseph Addison that said, “I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs.” It helped me to appreciate their morning chirping even more.

It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that the chirping was coming from inside the unfinished soffit. I began to hear wings flapping just outside the window accompanied by the sound of little clawed feet click-click-clicking along on the inside of the soffit for a distance. The chirping would stop momentarily. And then I heard the clicking again and the flapping wings as the parent exited the open soffit. Adult birds—I suspect starlings—had gone into the hole of the unfinished soffit, up to the ridge and back down to the northwest corner of the roof, and built a nest inside the soffit there at the bottom. The morning chirping, of course, was from the newly hatched chicks.

I was grateful for having previously heard Addison’s quote. Although it was not a convenient place for birds to be living—for either one of us—I nevertheless greatly appreciated the beautiful morning music. I knew I couldn’t let them stay there forever: I expected they were making a mess of the inside of the soffit and might even destroy it over time. Eventually, sometime after the chicks had grown and fled the nest, I cleaned it all out, finally finished the soffit and closed the hole.

I may have been irritated about the birds’ choice of that nesting spot for a while. I really don’t remember. But I do remember speaking in a sacrament meeting at our local assisted care facility later that year, before I removed the nest and closed the hole, where I related the story of the morning songs and the quote from Joseph Addison. I found joy despite the inconvenience and taught even then to choose recognition of the good in a bad situation. Hard experiences in life are always much easier for me to accept and deal with when I remember “it could have been so much worse.”

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Steve Dragon
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