“The Shadows that Fly after Birds,” Oct. 6, 2020

Things aren’t always what they seem to be. Sitting on the sofa, reading another depressing news story on my computer, I closed my eyes, trying to think of things that make me smile:

Seeing the faces of people I love. Hearing the laughter of my children and grandchildren. Smelling the scent of anything my husband might cook … especially snickerdoodles.

Grinning big, I opened my eyes and looked out the window at the Garden-of-Eden beauty of the valley and the rolling mountains we call “home.” That’s when I spotted it: the biggest bird I’d ever seen. Bigger than Big Bird on “Sesame Street.” It was flying low, a soft gray shape gliding gracefully over our driveway on wings that looked six feet wide or more.

What on earth was it? Could it possibly be a condor? I had seen those magnificent creatures once in the wild, but never this close to civilization. Maybe it was fleeing the wildfires?

Then I noticed another bird flying just above the condor. This one was a buzzard. Definitely. A buzzard that was casting a big shadow that I somehow mistook for a condor.

Could you hear me laughing?

My husband likes to say that those of us who can laugh at ourselves never cease to be amused. He should know. We keep each other in stitches, he and I. Or at least, we try.

Lately, it seems—after months of enduring a pandemic and back-to-back wildfires and air too thick with smoke to breathe—we’ve had to try a bit harder to find something to make us laugh or smile. But we keep trying.

Are you trying harder, too?

Snickerdoodles help. Not just the smell or the taste, but the sound of the word. Say it five times fast. I dare you. If it doesn’t make you laugh, maybe you should go take a nap.

Poetry helps, too. Somehow, giving voice to feelings, rather than pretending they don’t exist, frees us to smile, or even laugh.

One of the poems that does that for me is “I Go Down to the Shore” by Mary Oliver. It’s short, but that’s not why I like it.

I like it because it makes me think, as well as feel. And the last line always leaves me smiling. The poet tells the sea she’s miserable and asks what should she do? And the sea answers “in its lovely voice: Excuse me, I have work to do.”

We all have work to do, if only to keep finding reasons to smile and share them with each other.

Children, of course, are a great source of amusement, especially if you aren’t directly responsible for their care and feeding. My husband and I share eight grandchildren, ages 10 years to 18 months. Just the thought of any one of them is enough to light me up like Christmas.

Here’s an example. Randy is 10. He knows I like birds. All birds. Even buzzards. And their shadows. But I’m especially fond of hummingbirds.
So Randy made me a gift: The smallest bird I’ve ever seen. A perfect origami hummer crafted from cardinal red paper that he painstakingly folded just for me.

“Oh!” I said. “I absolutely love it! Where should we hang it?”

I wanted to put it where I’d see it often, so we tried a few places in the kitchen. But we both liked how it looked hanging in the willow branches I keep in a vase on a table in the dining room.

I wish you could see it.

At certain times of day, when the light is just right, Randy’s hummer casts a shadow that looks like a heart. It brings to mind memories of good times in the past, and fills me with hope of more to come. And it never fails to make me smile.

The best memories are like the shadows that fly after birds. They remind us of something beautiful that has passed our way, and give us hope that one fine day, we might see it again.

Things aren’t always what they seem to be. But sometimes, that’s exactly what they are.

Keep smiling.


  1. Dorothy J Singer says

    Oh thank you. It is beautiful in Ohio today, also. And grandchildren, Oh my, as you say. Wonderful column. wonderful.

  2. Jan Mielke says

    Loved this piece. Made me smile, get a bit misty, & reminisce & feel at peace. Thank you.

  3. Recently the company that bought out our local paper has begun destroying it……cutting it down to nothing, terrible delivery to the PO they have delivering it instead of good carriers, trying to get people to drop the paper news. I miss your column and am so glad it is in a simple place to find….not the confusing online mess of a newspaper. Thank you for your column. Once lived in Henderson and loved those columns, but now enjoy reading of a place in California where a lovely lady and her family live in peace. God bless you. You are blessing me.

  4. Always love your stories. They are so inspiring.

  5. Kate Sciacca says

    I’m smiling… and exhausted… and ready for a nap. A new grandson is a great joy… but four bottomless pit siblings with energy I wish I could bottle have my eyes drooping and my bones aching. Still, life is grand…. absolutely grand 😊

  6. Made me smile!

  7. Sweet message & thought provoking. Thanks!

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