Lately, the news for wildlife has not been good. It started with Galveston Bay, when 160,000 gallons of crude emptied into the Houston Ship Channel just miles from critical bird habitat and feeding grounds at Bolivar Flats. Mere days later, there was the 20,000-gallon pipeline spill into Ohio’s Glen Oak Nature Preserve, and the BP oil leak into Lake Michigan. Then there was the discovery of an apparently years-old spill at Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument—reported to the Bureau of Land Management not by the oil company responsible, but by a pair of hikers who sent photographs of oil damage to the agency’s Utah state office. And this was just one week in the US.
Like a boxer too long in the ring, our recent and repeated assaults on nature had me reeling, unbalanced and searching for some relief, something to re-root me in the positive. A grounding in the hopeful, perhaps. Yesterday morning, I found it, in the guise of a small, unassuming little bird. My son spotted it eating voraciously at our feeders, breaking its fast at the end of its long journey north. A regular visitor from spring thaw to the intimations of winter’s bite, this was the first of its kind we’d seen this year. The Chipping Sparrow had returned.
The Chipping Sparrow is a delightful little character, whose charms grow with repeated viewing. It’s a small, spunky bird, boldy-patterned and dressed, unlike its flashier warbler cousins, in handsome tones of russet, black and white. Long one of my favorites, it seems to embody the spirit of joy, and exudes a playfulness that I find entirely captivating. Watching it at our feeder, I began to feel serene and unburdened. Simply by virtue of its existence, this little bird stood in defiance of the crushing gloom, incandescent against the darkness. It was the straw I needed—a connection to the beauty and wonder of the world, and a reminder that, even in the face of the frightening unknown, there are reasons yet to hope.