In the last five weeks, I have gone every day but one to watch for the Eastern Meadowlarks that are nesting on a section of the Yorktown battlefield. While Meadowlarks are not endangered, their population has been decreasing at an alarming rate. Because they are ground nesters, they are vulnerable not only to other animals but also to the human appetite for manicured green spaces. This year, however, rather than being mowed every few weeks, the grasses on part of the battlefield have been allowed to grow up into a meadow, thus accommodating the Meadowlarks’ breeding season. What I watch for and report each day is the birds’ behavior, from which we can infer where they are in their cycle—and hold off the mowing until the season’s offspring are able to fend for themselves.
I have learned a great deal about Eastern Meadowlarks, not only from reading books and visiting websites but also from making and recording my own observations. But I have also learned a great deal from the Meadowlarks. They have taught me the value of physical presence. They have confirmed the goodness of watching, waiting, being patient. They have affirmed the merit of showing up, open to the moment, fully present.
These are not new lessons. For years, teaching writing classes, I have harped on the importance of showing up regularly at the blank page, even when (perhaps especially when) you think you have nothing on your mind, nothing to say. Likewise, for years I have heard people who give instruction in contemplative prayer stress the same thing. The first step is always to make oneself available, and to keep making oneself available day after day, even if it seems that nothing comes of the effort.
I know these things. But I forget. How good it is to be reminded that there will be a payoff. That if I stay with the process and show up, a poem will emerge. Or that if I stay with the discipline of prayer, there will be an inner shift, and with it perhaps some guidance, or healing, or peace.
I feel deeply grateful for my time with the Meadowlarks. As I continue to keep watch, sooner or later I will notice that they are doing something different from what they were doing the day before. Perhaps they are gathering sticks for a nest. Perhaps they are carrying in food for the hatchlings. Perhaps they are standing sentinel, calling the fledglings out of the tall grasses and into a mown swath on the perimeter of the field to gather seed on their own.
What about you? Where are you called to watch, to wait, to listen? I pray that the Meadowlarks will thrive here on our now peaceful battlefield. May you also thrive in those places and among those people where you are called to live, to work, to be present.
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