Monday, May 22, 2017

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

Text and photos by Nancy Partlow©
At long last, our weather pattern  seems to be changing, but it was a hard winter and early spring.  In addition to the months of relentless rain and gloom, I lost my father.  We were very close, and since his death, the lack of  light and warmth outside has been the persistent accompaniment  to the internal struggles of a wounded heart.  The challenge has been to find a way back to some sense of normalcy and peace, and for that, as so often in the past, Nature has come to my rescue.

Dad wasn't a nature nut like I am, although he did enjoy getting outdoors.   My outdoor enthusiasms focus greatly on things with wings - native bees and birds. His passion centered on the kind of wings that allowed him to fly.  He was a flight instructor, which he loved doing.

Unfortunately, as he aged into his ninth decade, he was forced to give up this thing he loved. Truthfully by then, even walking had become a problem for him.  I tried to compensate  by taking him places in a wheelchair.   One of our most frequent haunts  was the Capitol Lake Interpretive Center, a great  place for a "nature fix", and the trail is well suited to handicapped access. 

We did this for several years until last fall.  The months surrounding his death were difficult, and although I was able to grab the occasional respite to observe the many beautiful ducks on the lake during the shortest days of the year,  I very much looked forward to the return of neotropical migrants.

It was almost a relief when the vernal equinox brought the first splashes of vibrant color to the CLIC in the form of Yellow-rumped warblers - a lot of them.  To my surprise, they  persisted for several weeks, enthusiastically hawking for flying insects from the  thicket of willow and alder trees that line the shore of the lake and the dike trails:  Yellow-rumped warblers hawking for insects from Capitol Lake shoreline
The rain didn't seem to bother them, and the beauty and antics of these birds, known as "butterbutts" for the splotch of bright yellow on their rear ends,  helped to lift my spirits at a time when I needed it most. 

I've always known that there are two forms of this warbler - the Audubon's and Myrtle races, but I was under the impression that we didn't get the later type here.  I was wrong. Both kinds were well represented at the CLIC this spring.

Audubon's warbler 
Myrtle warbler

By late April, I began to hear and see other kinds of warblers, like this Orange-crowned:

Orange-crowned warbler

In mid-May, after nearly two months at the CLIC, the Yellow-rumpeds  finally departed for their breeding grounds, to be almost immediately replaced by the vibrant Yellow warblers, with their "sweet, sweet, sweet, I'm so sweet" songs.  Some of those will stay at the Interpretive Center for the remainder of spring and early summer to nest and raise young.

Yellow warbler

Slowly, over weeks, as life has returned to the CLIC, so it has returned to me, like sap rising in a tree, or the first tentative song lifting from the throat of a bird at dawn. Earthly existence compels continuance and renewal, as hard as that may be to achieve.
Spotted towhee throwing back its head to sing

I know that I will never visit the Interpretive Center without thinking of my Dad and the many experiences we shared there. I take great solace in knowing that he now enjoys the  freedom of flight that he always longed for. 

I'll be with you on the trail, Dad. 

 In loving memory of Verne Partlow

More videos:

Another warbler seen and heard at the CLIC this spring:



  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story! My grandfather was the first person in my life to teach me about the birds and the bees and the importance of their existence ~ we lived in NYC ~ and always told me to listen to the sounds of nature in the city, that one could find nature everywhere in the concrete jungle. We are lucky to have people in our lives who give us wings!

    With a song,

  2. My grandfather took me into the woods and taught me to track deer, hunt rabbits, and find bee trees. For that, I'll be eternally grateful. Thank you for the story and amazing photos.