Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Con Vuelo, Destino a la Vida

They who bind to themselves a joy

Do the winged life destroy

They who kiss the joy as it flies

Live in eternity’s sunrise

William Blake (adapted)


Today I witnessed the release of the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot into the wild in Rio Abajo State Forest.  The phrase worn on t-shirts and caps as the ideal of this cotorro puertorriqueño here in Rio Abajo is Con Vuelo, Destino a la Vida – Destiny with Life with Flight.  Life lures these conservationists towards greater liberation, in fact demands, that birds and hearts be free. Life can and will find a way to flourish, and it has done so through this group of people and with these birds. 




(part of release team in blind near where birds were released this morning)


It has not always been so.  The night before this release of 20 captive raised birds, those who have worked with the project gathered and told “horror stories” of the past – of human fumbling and bumbling, of the divisive and conflictual character of human ego, and of frighteningly low bird numbers.  One man who worked with the project recalled a time when there were only two active nests in the wild, and only one produced chicks, both of which were sick.  There he stood under the nest tree, facing extinction.  For the chicks to survive they needed treatment, and if he brought them into captivity, this could be the last nest of Puerto Rican Parrots, ever.  For him it was a time of despair, anguish, and uncertainty of what to do.  It was a turning point in the recovery project for him.  He got on the radio, consulted others in the project, and the decision was made to bring one chick temporarily into captivity for treatment, and treat the other chick in the wild.  Both survived to fledging.  In turning to one another, they made the best decision they could, took risks, and placed one foot in front of the other, persistently following the call of the wild, the cry lost to more and more species as the years past.




(Dr. Antonio Rivera, project veterinarian)


I know of despair from my many years in avian conservation, and although I only worked with this particular species for a few years helping to develop the release protocols, I too can feel the ghosts of empty nest trees throughout El Yunque.  When Christopher Columbus arrived on this island, there were an estimated 1 million Puerto Rican Parrots.  In the centuries since then their numbers dropped to a low of somewhere in the teens.  Due to the persistence of many people over the last 4 decades in the face of little hope, as of today there are between 60-65 parrots in the wild and approximately 200 in captivity.  The birds indeed seem to have turned a corner, as have this group of people.  From these people a vision comes to mind that I now offer back to them from what I saw today as the birds flew to join the growing wild flock in Rio Abajo.*


Some day the children of Puerto Rico will gather around the wise elders and ask about the Great Turning.  And you will say…  

You've asked us to tell you of The Great Turning, of how we saved the world from disaster.

The answer is both simple and complex.

We turned.

For hundreds of years we had turned away as life on this island and over earth grew more precarious.

We turned away from the young men lost to gangs and drugs, the stench from the river, the silent forests, the children orphaned in Iraq, the mothers dying of AIDS in Africa.

We turned away because that is what we had been taught.

To turn away, from our pain, from the hurt in another's eyes, from the drunken father or the friend betrayed.

Always we were told, in actions louder than words, to turn away, turn away.

And so we became a lonely people caught up in a world moving too quickly, too mindlessly towards its own demise.

Until it seemed as if there was no safe place to turn.

No place, inside or out, that did not remind us of fear or terror, despair and loss, anger and grief.

Yet on one of those days someone did turn.

Turned to face the pain.

Turned to face the stranger.

Turned to look at the smoldering world and the hatred seething in too many eyes.

Turned to face himself, herself.

And then another turned. And another. And another.

And as they wept, they took each other's hands.

Until whole groups of people were turning.

Young and old, gay and straight.

People of all colors, all nations, all religions.

Turning not only to the pain and hurt but to beauty, gratitude and love,

Turning to one another with forgiveness and a longing for peace in their hearts.


            And everywhere, birds and the spirit of human joy flew free.


We have to face the horror and the beauty of the past and tell the stories, face what is perhaps the loneliest, starkest moment for anyone, the possible future of extinction, and then in this moment, turn to each other, for our own sakes, for all of life’s sake.


May it be so.


In faith of feathers and fellowship,




I invite you to respond to me or to each other:  Where do you turn for comfort or hope in difficult times?



(From Luquillo Forest overlooking the island)



* (following words adapted from Christine Fey – The Great Turning).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Covenanting with Cotorros


Compromiso con Cotorros


Yesterday and today we did promising work.  At the Rio Abajo aviary I watched as Dr. Tom White and others placed radio telemetry collars on the Puerto Rican Parrot for their upcoming release. 




Most of these birds will wear these collars for life.  Perhaps a burden for them to carry with them this extra weight, and it’s a weight too for my heart.  With each placement then, this collar, this ring, is one of promising to do our best to use the data it sends to give to the Cotorro chicks of the future a flying chance. May they fly free!   


At this same aviary I spoke with the manager, Ricardo de la Valentin Rosa (http://www.fws.gov/caribbean-ecoteam/PRP_aviaries.htm). 



He explained to me how the work they do there is one of sharing their lives intimately with the birds, in some fashion melding into a community of mixed species.  The work is detailed, yet nuanced.  It is of exacting science, and is of intuition.  Living and loving with the birds they see how to gently guide the reproduction of the birds, and the birds in turn seem to respond to their human counterparts with an unspoken agreement.  El aviaro is a place of promise, of covenant, of compromiso. 


The God of the Hebrew Scriptures flooded the earth, destroying it except for an ark that held a small remnant of what once was.  Upon the falling of the floodwaters a rainbow appeared in the sky, a sign of the new covenant between heaven and earth that God would never again bring destruction upon creation.  Instead we humans have taken up that mantle, reducing parrot numbers to but just a fragile ark that holds a small remnant of what once was. 


Upon the falling of yesterday’s sun, I stood upon a mountain overlook with the field biologists to see if we might spy free flying Puerto Rican Parrots.  There in the midst a rainbow appeared in the sky, a sign of the new covenant between human and nonhuman that we would never again bring such destruction upon our beloved earth. 




With every bird banded, collared, treated, captured, counted, and set free these people of the promise renew their vows.  


Come, come, whoever you are.

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.

It doesn't matter.

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vow

a thousand times.

Come, yet again come.


- Rumi (Sufi Poet)





(last picture - www.fws.gov)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Puerto Rican Parrot Prayers

We pray to the birds.

We pray to the birds because we believe they will carry the messages of our heart outward

We pray with them because we believe in their existence,

The way their songs begin and end each day – their invocations and benedictions of earth.

The birds pray for us to remind us of what we love rather than what we fear.

And at the end of all prayers

They teach us to listen

-         Terry Tempest Williams


In this moment the songs of the Puerto Rican Parrot are ending this day in Luquillo Forest.  I listen to their voices that are just like a prayer, calling out love, and calling love out of me.  Here in this place, the people’s work to bring back the Puerto Rican Parrot from the brink of extinction is a prayer of service. 



Arriving yesterday afternoon, the aviary manager Jafet Velez-Valentin (http://www.fws.gov/caribbean-ecoteam/PRP_partners.htm)  showed me around the el aviario Iguaca.



Under the canopy of trees sheltering the somewhat isolated breeding cages I had the sense that we were on sacred ground.  The winding path that connects each cage connects the generations of birds and people that have gone before to the two of us. 




Each step we take approximates a walking meditation as we admire the work, the native flora and fauna, and each other’s hope for this particular species.  It’s as if an ancient labyrinth has sprung up in the tropical landscape, leading us on a shared journey into the past of neocolonialism and in general the good, the bad, and the ugly of our species.  Out of the darkness, we find the center; the beauty and love of birds.  Strengthened by this wholly interconnection, we remerge into the sunlight convinced we are nature’s own, and not alone, ever. 




In this new light after decades of the Puerto Rican Parrot Project, of which I was part over ten years ago, even the large flight cages with their reaching arches remind me of a natural cathedral.  It is not filled with idols or humans’ guess at the divine, but with living spirit flying over the earth.


This morning when I shared morning’s rise with the workers here we spoke of this place, of how my time here is like a spiritual retreat for me, and for them each day.  Our voices fall to a whisper, we look up to the birds, and give praise that we may live another day honored to be with these birds and with one another, and offer prayers to the holy that these birds may not just live another decade, but flourish.

May it be so.  Blessed Be.





(stay tuned - tomorrow I go in search of free flying Puerto Rican Parrots and to observe the placement of radio telemetry collars in anticipation of an upcoming release of birds into the wild)


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Parakeets and Paracletes


This coming week I'll be traveling to Puerto Rico to witness the release of captive-raised Puerto Rico parrots into the wild.  About 12 years I worked as a consultant on this project helping to design release protocols with Hispanolan Parrots in the Dominican Republic.  What we learned there would go on to help reestablish the very endangered Puerto Rican parrot more firmly and in more locations in Puerto Rico.  What I learned there and in all my work with parrots and people continues to help me reestablish the beauty and joy of the human heart more firmly and in as many locations as possible.  I'll be blogging from Puerto Rico, so stay tuned. 


For a complete version of the sermon go to:



Special thanks to Shelby Havens, producer of this video:  http://www.uuf.org

Video: Earth's Sacred Feminine

Monday, December 1, 2008

Earth's Sacred Feminine


Working in Guatemala during the 1990's I had an amazing realization. I was hiking one morning around the forest edges of our parrot conservation area with my Guatemala counterpart. He was speaking to me of his love of Mary and Jesus. I was struggling to really listen to what meaning these religious figures had for him when the sun tipped over the steaming forest canopy and a flock of parrots flew screeching into the sky. We both stood transfixed in wonder and gratitude, In that moment I knew that when he said Mary and Jesus it was the same as when I said trees and birds. From that moment on I was not afraid to enter a church for I now had the tools to translate the meaning of the sacred femimine and masculine into my own experiences.

Over the suceeding years earth's sacred feminine has come to embrace the importance of staying engaged when tragedy strikes, and mourning the suffering we see around us. In this way we might give birth to beauty and new love and life, or at least not forget wonder in our darkest night. The story of the Marys in the Gospels, of how they were present at Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection shows me the power of the abiding power and possibility of this planet and her beings, as long as we don't forget the whole spectrum of life's experiences, from pain to glory, from birth to death, and from wounding to healing.

I first heard the song, "Mary" when traveling in Chiapas, Mexico visiting the Zapatistas. Images of powerful women and Mary abounded amongst the scarred and wounded land and people, asking me as I now ask you, where are you denying what you and the earth have lost? How might you "clean up the place" as the song Mary suggests?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Video: A Prayer for Earth and All Her Beings


Penguin Toss

At the bottom of each blog entry are some "daily bird meditation" questions I invite you to reflect upon, and answer back to me or to one another in the comment section.

Go Ahead and Have Some Fun


I have loved penguins since I was a small child. They are birds and can swim, and can withstand harsh ocean environments. This combination made them irresistible and heroic to me. I was a swimmer myself who sometimes felt, like the penguins, a little round and off balance on land.

When I was in my early thirties, I lived in Alaska and California. I traveled often up and down the West Coast. One of my favorite stops was the Portland Zoo. A good friend worked there and would let me wander around with her while she fulfilled her obligations. One day she invited me into the Penguin enclosure. There the penguin caretaker introduced me to the fledgling Humboldt penguins and let me feed them their silver, slippery fish. After we fed the young penguins the caretaker picked up one of the young, somewhat fluffy birds and threw her or him into the swirling mass of penguins swimming around the rocks. The shock to me was as great as it must have been to the bird. "Why did you do that?" I asked.

"It’s because the birds need to learn to swim and need to socialize with the flock, and they won’t go into the water unless there is a physiological impulse, which we don’t have here in captivity. So we have to throw them in. Would you like to throw one?" I was appalled and shook my head no. I watched her throw a number of penguins. It didn’t seem to hurt the birds. The urge to throw one began to grow along with the awareness that I might never get another chance. So I stepped up the mound of rock upon which the remaining dubious looking youngsters huddled, choose a likely candidate, did my penguin pitchers wind up, and let her fly. With a satisfying plunk the bird entered the water, came up bobbing, and scrambled onto the rocks next to me. I smiled deeply and broadly, my glee originating in imagining someone picking me up and throwing me in so that I could swim with these mighty ocean goers. Empswim

Where do you hold yourself back from having fun? What will you do today that connects you with the world and bring a smile?

Photo Credits:  http://www.watfordareaartsforum.com/USERIMAGES/BarryJuvenileHumboldtPengui(1).jpg


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tears in the Field

Tears in the Field

My first call as a parish minister was to El Paso, Texas. Neither Meredith nor I had lived in the Southwest. Our first November there the two of us went on a camping loop that swung through Bosque del Apache (Apache Woods), a wildlife management area that offers winter habitat for many species, most notably waterfowl and Sandhill cranes. This stop was an obvious no-brainer for us both. I delight in watching other people discover birds and sharing with them the beauty of winged life. My spouse Meredith delights in watching me watch him watch birds.  


As we drove around the refuge I couldn’t believe the diversity and abundance of birds we were seeing. I was ecstatic and Meredith was being a good sport trying to understand how this place was a slice of heaven for me. On a dirt road next to a flooded field we came within 15 meters of a flock of croaking Sandhill Cranes. Not taking his eyes off the birds, Meredith also croaked: "What are those?"

"Well, those would be Sandhill Cranes." Silence followed until he whispered, "And those browner ones – are they a different species?" "No, those are their babies, on their first migration from the winter nesting areas."


More silence. I turned to Meredith. Was he bored? Distracted? He stood transfixed. Tears streamed down his face. Joy had surprised him. He broke into a weeping laugh.

Since that day, he looks for birds on his own without me and always reports back what glory he was gifted to see. And every time I see a crane – the most ancient of all bird species – I remember their power to transform and grow us into happier and more aware beings.

I now live in North Florida and soon the cranes will arrive here, echoing across the skies throughout the winter their haunting quesitons:  When have you been surprised by joy? How has your life been changed by unexpected gifts that interconnect you to all of life?   


Photo Credits:  




(Jerry Friedman at Bosque del Apache)


(close up)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Prayer for Earth and Her Beings




I created this as a prayer for our species so that we might learn to love our neighbors of all species as our selves. I'd be interested in hearing what these images bring up for you as you ponder these questions: What does it mean to be human? Given what we are as a species, what is ours to do in this world, with our one precious life?


Con esperanza,


Friday, October 24, 2008

Starlings Over Africa: Wisdom in Flight


This past week in a sermon I gave Politics, Faith, and Wisdom I spoke of starlings and how they might have things to teach we humans, especially in this time of elections, turmoil, war, economic uncertainty, and the hardship and strife for those caught in the web of life. After the service one man came up to me and said, "one individual starling is just about the most beautiful thing on earth, in a flock though they are pests and of great concern."

I thought how true for our own species as well. In Darfur atrocities continue, a swarm of oppression, anger, hurt, and devastation has descended upon these peoples. African culture and people are immensely wondrous, for they are the holders of our ancient roots. Roots of beauty, and roots that feed upon the suffering of others. People harming people and now the starlings have descended upon them.


         Earth week in late September ((www.earthweek.com/2008/ew080926/ew080926c.html) reports:

"Sudan’s troubled Darfur region has received another blow to its stability — this time

from an invasion of starlings, known locally in Arabic as zarzur. The Sudanese daily

Alray Alaa’m

reports that large flocks of the winged pests have descended upon South

Darfur State, destroying crops and threatening to bring even more acute food shortages

and higher prices. A spokesman for the Sudanese Revolutionary Front said government

neglect had allowed the bird invasion, but stated that his forces would not interfere with

any airplanes dispatched to combat the birds with aerial spraying."


The starlings tell us of what we are doing not just to each other, but to our earth. Flocks increase in size, some say due in part to climate change. The starlings used to go further south before Roman winters warmed up. Now they overwhelm parts of our urban and rural landscapes throughout the world, as do the human counterparts. Each of us is so beautiful, but in great numbers, what are we to do with ourselves? Is the final answer that we are to be feared as a dark, voracious multitude with violence or despair as the only answer?


I believe that we can find beauty in the darkest hour, in the most complex unnerving paradox. A swirling flock may wreak havoc upon the land, and can also inspire gratitude for the chaotic interconnection in which we dwell. Starling flocks, "murmurations," whisper to us, coaxing out our wisdom, much as they did in ages past when people studied flocks in an art called augury that sought meaning in the patterns of bird flight.


A flock of European starlings over Africa swirls and moves as one. When a predatory hawk or falcon attacks the group, they scatter only to regroup once again, undulating nearly as one organism so perfect is their flight – no one bird hits another and there is not one bird in control. Instead they each follow simple rules – stay to the center as much as possible, stay 2-3 bird lengths away from the next bird, don’t hit another bird, and get away from the hawk.

Our rules can be simple too. Go into the heart of understanding, to the center of where beauty and joy lay. But don’t stay fixated on that center, there really is no center of truth. It’s constantly moving as more and more different people enter our communities and realm of influence. With every new stranger encountered get as close as possible to the other, but not too close. Don’t hit them and do no harm, but stay engaged with who they are. We do this by listening and paying attention to where the other is. We don’t hole up year round in our homes or our nesting sites, but join another in public. Our greatest hope as humans is to build a public life where we don’t try to get away from uncomfortable conversations that create chaotic energy beyond our control. Instead we stick together, undeniably free and beautiful on our own, and ever more powerful and wise together, and only together. In this way we may avoid the hawk of desire that plagues us, and in turn not ourselves be a plague upon the planet.

May it be so.

Fly free and blessed be.


Picture Credits:

Individual starling:




NY starlings:




African Starlings -


Starling Tree:


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Nature Has Rights: La Naturaleza Tiene Derechos

907846984_ec8b0702ba_5 Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

- Rumi (Sufi Poet)

Ecuadorsunsetb_3 On Sunday September 28th Ecuador passed a new constitution, becoming the first country in the world to grant rights to nature.

In the First Article of this Constitution: La Naturaleza o Pachamama, donde se reproduce y se realiza la vida, tiene derecho a existir, perdurar, manetener, y regenera sus ciclos vitales, su estructura, funciones y procesesos evolutivos.

Nature has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Earthflag1514web_3 I nearly wept while reading this vision, put forth by a people, proclaiming that they are one community of mixed species, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. How glorious it might be if in this country that pledges allegiance to a flag, instead we raised our hands to the skies, covenanting with all of life as we seek freedom for all beings. When ever I am present and the people among me recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem, I do look to the skies and to the oceans, over soccer fields, over head in courtrooms, and into the depths of the seas out of which we emerged, swearing before all of life, I belong, you belong, all gods’ critters belong!

I thank the people of Ecuador for their vision, for it seems as if my soul may lie down at last in peace, beyond words, beyond the despair of our species’ fumbling and bumbling, and speak no more, or at least for awhile while I rest in the beauty of wild things.

The Peace of Wild Things

78983755_e1livae0__mg_6216cap1_4 When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
Milky_way_5 of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

Picture Credits:






Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Beauty That Never Dies

                                                  They who bind to themselves a joy
                                                  Do the winged life destroy
                                                  They who kiss the joy as it flies
                                                   Live in eternity’s sunrise
                                                          (adapted from William Blake)


One in eight bird species faces extinction, warns Birdlife International in a new report and website released on September 22, 2008.  (State of the World’s Birds, birdlife.org/sowb). This report found biodiversity "continues to get worse, and that, if anything, this deterioration is accelerating, not slowing."  Threatened with extinction include 82 percent of albatross species, 60 percent of cranes, 27 percent of parrots, 23 percent of pheasants, and 20 percent of pigeons listed.  In the 20 years since 1988 and 2008, 225 additional bird species have been listed in a higher category of threat.


It does indeed seem like we are binding to ourselves a joy, and thus destroying the bird life we treasure.  In turn we cage ourselves into a world with diminishing beauty.  Ecotherapist Howard Clinebell writes, “There is a general sadness and desperation that undercuts our lives as we witness the steady decline of biodiversity at our own hands, and if we wish happiness we must address the ages old injury our culture and beings have suffered.” 

Carolinaparakeets I look into the future and feel the weight bearing down on me of the increasing barren landscapes once so luxurious around my subtropical home.  It seems I have a choice though.  Do I bend into the ground and bury what beauty and joy is in me or do I dance under any and every winged wonder that flies over, no matter its alarming conservation status?  Weeping comes naturally enough, but it is not enough.  For I know that no matter what the coming years bring, beauty once was, and even its memory keeps beauty before and around me, for it is in me.  In you.  In our species, though we are throwing away the greatest gifts in the world.  The gift cannot be extinguished, though the way is dark.  Somewhere in the deep reaches of our minds still flies the Carolina Parakeet screeching in the trees that exist here only by our species’ permission.  When shall we give ourselves the permission to fly free, to live with abundance.  What shall we do to liberate ourselves as we liberate the birds from extinction? 

For me the answer lies partly in this poem by Wendell Berry in his most recent book on poems, Given

Ytwa7904415 The yellow-throated warbler, the highest remotest voice of this place, sings in the tops of the tallest sycamores, but one day he came twice to the railing of my porch where I sat at work above the river.  He was too close to see with binoculars.  Only the naked eye could take him in, a bird more beautiful that every picture of himself, more beautiful than himself killed and preserved by the most skilled taxidermist, more beautiful than any human mind, so small and inexact, could hope ever to remember.  My mind became beautiful by the sight of him. He had the beauty only of himself alive in the only moment of his life.  He had upon him like a light the whole beauty of the living world that never dies.

I pray that we may not be left alone with only memories.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


They who bind to themselves a joy

Do the winged life destroy

They who kiss the joy as it flies

Live in eternity’s sunrise

- William Blake (adapted)


Once upon a time there was a FireBird known far and wide in many cultures. Often named Phoenix, the bird lived on dew, hurting none during her long life span. Year after year as she flew all over the earth she witnessed the toils and troubles of humans, and became increasingly sad. Eventually, the burden of what she saw and knew tired her, and her feathers became dull. Her time on the earth was ending. Though she desired to live, she knew she must say goodbye to the earth and the sun so that new life could come from her. Using the last of her strength, she gathered twigs from ancient Redwood trees and cones from even older Bristlecone pines that were young when she had been just a chick. She then added leaves from her favorite tree, the fragrant Sassafras, until she had a soft mound upon which to lie. Before settling into a deep sleep, she looked out upon the painful beauty around her one last time before she closed her eyes. The human peoples gathered round her, confused and afraid because Phoenix’s brother, Thunderbird, began to rumble. The despair of one so beautiful angered him, and his rage lit the sky with lightening. One bolt struck her tinder-ready bed, and she was consumed in flames. The ashes had barely cooled before a bright rainbow head poked out, and the beings of the land cheered to see their prophet, their witness, and their winged hope alive once again. Beholding the death and reemergence of the FireBird, the people felt that they too had come through the fire of desire, and felt as if their souls had been burned. Even the fledgling FireBird knew better. The humans had not stepped but one toe into the fire. They did not yet know what it meant to give of one’s self so hope could be born.


Thus the cycle or death and rebirth of the FireBird repeated again and again. The people not only continued, but also increased their devastation of one another and their brother and sister beings. Each generation of the Phoenix lived shorter and shorter life spans, because the Great Bird could only carry the burden of so much suffering and loss in one life-time. One day it came to pass that so greatly had the climate changed that the Phoenix no longer had to build her own funeral pyre or Thunderbird to light it. She simply burned while she flew through the gray skies full of the ash of the burning lands below and of the bones of others whose flesh and habitats were consumed by human desire. In this not so distant time, the ashes of life constantly fell and never cooled, and there never was seen another Phoenix that could love, care, and hold beauty and tragedy together.


This story speaks of common human experience and directly to many hearts whose work with birds, ecology, and conservation have left them with confusion and despair. I count myself as one among those. My first trip to Guatemala witnessed the burning of old growth tropical forest and with it acres of nesting trees. Even after ten years of working in conservation there, the burning continued as field upon field of sugar cane supplanted the food, nesting, and roosting trees of generations of wild parrots. To harvest sugar cane the fields are first fired and the ashes rain down as "nieve negra" (black snow). Now the north forests of Guatemala are aflame, endangering the remaining 200 Scarlet Macaws there. Once this rainbow colored bird flew throughout Guatemala in the tens of thousands and now there is but a remnant, waiting, waiting for new life and hope to emerge.


As an avian veterinarian and later as minister, I have been waiting. I’ve worked in avian research, on large scale poultry farms, in the pet bird industry, and on the front line of avian conservation. Time and time again I’ve seen hope go up in flames, ever expecting some new idea, some research, some new religious or ethical understanding, or some collaborative project to arise and illuminate what we might do to save ourselves and the life around us. Each year, the ashes of trees and bird bones fall ever more thickly, as do the tears.

Though it seems we are in darkness, not all is lost, yet. Sparks exists in each of us that if kindled and cared for, may provide enough light to lead us out of the darkness that is our brokeness and our disconnection from the whole of nature. To walk this path, I believe the time has come, must come, for humans to be the FireBirds themselves and carry the firebrands to light a new way. This new way shines in my heart through the story of Tsesuna, a FireBird of the Abenaki tribe of North America.


Tsesuna the Raven was the son of Thunderbird and went all around the Earth seeking good. In those days, he was a bird with exceedingly beautiful plumage that shone with the colors of the rainbow. His greatest hope was to find light, for the world and its peoples lived in perpetual dark. One day he came upon the Fire of Life burning brightly in a great house. This fire he knew would warm the hearts and hearths of humans, and light their way. Singing a sad song that it had come to this, he jumped into the hot fire to secure one brand for the people. In the process all his feathers were burned black and his voice, once melodic, became only a harsh croak. He flew towards the people, who at first ran from the apparition that spoke their worst fears that were also their great truths. "The light of wisdom and the warmth of love comes not from the cloying darkness of perceived separation, and denial of the harm we perpetuate in our lives. It comes from jumping into the Fire of Life and letting the flames burn our egos away. The songs we hear may be sad and the news harsh, but the giving will allow us to spread our wings to hold all that we see, and give light unto others." Tsesuna passed on the fire to the people, who in turn carried it throughout the earth, no longer waiting for light, but singing.


My hope is that this blog inspires you to pick up firebrands where you may and carry their truth back to the people. No doubt you may wish to run and hide. I know I’ve spent most of my life doing the same. Perhaps like me though you have heard the disappearing songs of birds that you can no longer ignore. I hear the birds calling us to jump into the fire so that our ego may be as ashes at our feet as we spread our wings in joy to hold all that we may. This holding is of the "whole dang" world that nurtures our spirits and heals the earth. In this shared healing, we become whole as we act from the deep knowing that the fate of one is the fate of all. Through our actions we affirm a covenant that we can live as one people and as one earth. Then in some not so distant time, I pray, the promise of life will arc over us as rainbow wings, and with the birds we shall fly free.

Credit pictures: Fire Bird:www.scorpiodream.com
Raven: www.westbynorthwest.org/winter00/raven/Raven.jpg
Scarlet Macaw: www.cityparrots.org/media/Parrot_Macaw_frontp...