A Yard Full of Symbolism

The three-year juvie eagle was sitting atop my chimney this morning. An assortment

chimney eagle

Mr. Juvie Eagle, not bald yet

of small birds that nested nearby were dive-bombing him in panic and outrage, trying to drive him off. He was busy with a very extensive grooming session, beaking and smoothing away at his chest, his shoulders, his tail, completely unperturbed by these dinky birds, whose eggs and young would not have made a decent snack for him.

And so the National Bird held himself above the fray.

Down on the deck my Fourth of July decorations are still flying. There was a time when I was not enthusiastic about the flag. During the Viet Nam war, supporters of the war adopted the flag as their emblem, defining patriotism as refusal to evaluate whether one’s country was perhaps making a mistake. They hogged up the flag to the point that you couldn’t be seen with one, without being taken for a war supporter. My anti-war friends and I shunned the flag.

Then one day Senator George McGovern, a prime opposer of that war, appeared with a flag pin on his lapel. The assembled reporters went wild, assuming it meant he had switched sides. “Why are you wearing that flag?!” they called out. Senator flower flagMcGovern smiled innocently. “It’s my flag,” he said.

So I learned not to cede worthy symbols to opponents.

It’s as true now as it was then, that you have no claim to loving the nation if you hate half its inhabitants. And as Peter, Paul, and Mary once sang, “there is no freedom in a land where fear and hate prevail.”

I watched the eagle for a long time, hoping to get a photo when he took flight. But when he was all preened and ready, he swooped off the other side of the roof, out of my field of vision. I couldn’t see him as he went, but I have faith that he was flying.

The Butterfly Effect


Milkweed in the herb garden

Orange is my least favorite color. Though I’m fond of it in marigolds and pumpkins, and have been known to appreciate a field of California poppies, I generally avoid orange flowers. So when I wanted to help out the monarch butterflies (which also get a pass on orange), I tried planting pink or white flowered milkweed. Whether through mislabeled seed packets, chance, mutation, or chicanery, what I got was orange flowered milkweed. I was feeling grumpy about this until I discovered that a monarch butterfly had found it.

I watched the monarch fanning herself over the flowerheads, lighting here and there along the way. As she flapped her wings I thought of the butterfly effect: the idea that the small shiver of her wingbeats in the local atmosphere could propagate, cascading, until it influenced an entire tornado forming – or not forming – somewhere else. It is a very pleasing demonstration of the interconnectedness of separate actions, and inspires hope that small local acts can lead to big changes in the country, or even the world.

Milkweed – what an innocuous-sounding plant. But the reason the monarch caterpillars thrive by feasting on it, is that it supplies their bodies, and those of the butterflies they become, with a foul-tasting, heart-stopping steroid that deters or destroys would-be butterfly predators. The butterfly, all delicate stained glass flutter, has this power at her core. No one talks about this butterfly effect, but it is proven, rather than supposed, and of much greater importance to the butterfly. Just thinking about it, I feel strong.