Blackbird Artistry

To Laura, age 5 1/2:

I saw a wonderful thing this morning! Just as the sun came up, I was walking on the meadow path by the creek. It is down the hill from my and Mimi’s house. A hundred blackbirds ate their breakfast in the meadow grass. As I walked toward them, the birds closer to me flew up and settled on the other side of the flock. They did so continuously. They were a rising and falling wave of black birds against the green-brown field.

At once they decided—all together, as if they had the same mind—to fly to a tree. They rose in a wavery but true sphere of black bodies and wings toward a tree. It is winter, still, and the tree has bare branches. The tree has a teardrop shape, rounder at bottom, narrower toward the top that ends in a point. How marvelous!

As the ball of birds flew upward it took the shape of the tree, but larger at first, and then shrank to the size of the actual tree as the birds lighted on its branches. It was wonderful to watch this happen with the grey sky in the background. The tree seemed to have black leaves, too, but just for a minute.

So, blackbirds are artists in a flock! This morning they also reminded me that God is an artist. He makes art together with his creatures. Now, how wonderful is that? What a beautiful thing I saw this morning! I thought of my granddaughters, right then and there. I wanted you to know about it too. — Papa

Update, May 25, 2011.

David Lyle Jeffrey remarks on the poetry of Richard Wilbur in the June/July 2011 issue of First Things and mentions a poem on the birds.  Of course Wilbur’s observation recalled what I saw and reported to Laura.  He wrote,

As if a cast of grain leapt back to the hand,

A landscapeful of small black birds, intent

On the far south, convene at some command

At once in the middle of the air, at once are gone

With headlong and unanimous consent

From the pale trees and fields they settled on.

After a paragraph or two of Jeffrey’s comment, another stanza from Wilbur reads,

Delighted with myself and with the birds,

I set them down and give them leave to be.

It is by words and the defeat of words,

Down sudden vistas of the vain attempt,

That for a flying moment one may see

By what cross-purposes the world is dreamt.