Earlier in the spring I was blessed with two nests of cardinals in my yard. Cardinals are very territorial birds but for some reason these two families shared the space congenially. The two nests of fledglings gave way to a small flock darting about the Locust tree and flowering shrubs.
One late-summer morning a flash of red streaked close to the upstairs window. My prayers sputtered to a stop as my morning gaze was suddenly altered from a distant sky to the male cardinal that had rocketed across my view. He landed on the apple tree branch nearest the house.
I watched the cardinal as his tail ticked nervously. He hopped within a cluster of branches, turning himself to get a better look at the reflection coming from the glass. What he saw did not register as his own image. Agitated he dove at the window, pecking and flapping his wings, angry at the uninvited intruder disrupting his peace. “Cht, cht, cht” he spat as he banged against the dark reflection of himself. I was troubled by the sound as he struck the window with force…it had to hurt.
Finally he stopped and crouched on the sill. He appeared dazed or maybe tired of assaulting the bird-in-the-glass that wouldn’t surrender. Seconds later he darted into flight.
I settled back to restart my prayers when I saw him land on the dwarf pear tree further back in the yard. Once more he leapt among the branches with short harsh chirps matched to his tail’s nervous flicking. He slowed his frenetic movements and finally came to rest on an upper branch.
Exposed against the crisp blue sky he began to sing the signature song of a cardinal. Tentatively he released a partial high-low call—chipika, chipika, chipika. Fluffing his wings he shook his head and let out a few more notes, then a trill. From a distant tree I heard another male cardinal answer back. He, hearing the response from the neighboring yard, began singing more boldly. The call-and-response song between the two male birds restored the morning’s peace previously lost to the war-at-the-window.
It didn’t take long until a female cardinal appeared, and landing on a lower limb of the pear tree, hopped closer to the singer. The other male cardinal had also come into the yard and bobbed about in the airy Honeylocust. The three of them appeared delighted with each other’s company as they flitted from limbs to fence to clothes line.
The cardinal who was alone only a moment ago was now less interested in attacking the image of himself—an imaginary foe. In the company of others his true self was evident.
I recognize a grain of truth in this early morning drama. That who I think I am is not what I imagine mirrored back to me in my solitude. My true self—my song—is brought to life with others.