from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday 16 October 2017

four stories about birds

After my father's funeral three years ago, the close family walked at dusk on Saunton Sands, the beach close to my childhood home and where my father (and the rest of us) loved to walk. As we, at the lacy edge of the very low tide, gazed out to the horizon 3 wild geese arrowed over our heads, from west towards where the newborn sun would rise next dawn.

The world is full of symbols, if we want to look. Those geese gave me comfort.

Last Wednesday we said goodbye to the much-loved husband of my sister, father of her boys; brother-in-law to three of us, uncle to my daughter.

Driving from South Devon towards the town in North Devon for the funeral, the first murmuration of starlings that I've seen this year split into two interconnecting sine waves just over our heads as we pulled in to the crematorium. 

Afterwards, at the wake, another sister happened to mention that as she drove in the opposite direction from us to the crematorium, for the first time in years in her local area she saw a ball of hundreds of starlings cartwheeling in front of her. 


Wikimedia Commons; Tony Hisgett, Birmingham UK

On Friday morning I opened the front door, and immediately an acorn landed at my feet. A micro-second later there was a second small plop-thump, and a twig from the same oak landed beside the acorn – with a goldfinch still attached, eyes and claws tightly clenched shut but wings splayed. Like a small Icarus it lay immobile in a shower of red, gold and black at my feet.

I'd been about to walk my daughter's dog, but instead, picked the finch up and with said daughter's help gently unclenched its feet and removed the twig, then tucked the bird into my T-shirt.
Its small shivers were tiny electric currents passing through us both. Having not yet meditated that morning, I sat by the open French door by the lamp and did so.

Thirty minutes later, I lifted and opened my hands, and the goldfinch sped out and over the hedge, with one backward trill.


I'm at an outdoor retreat centre having a meeting with the director. In one of the meadows they've built a stone circle.

Within the stone circle they've acquired a small circular oak grove. The director tells me that he had no idea how this had happened, until one winter in the circle he saw a jay digging up an acorn it had presumably planted previously. 


Yesterday a friend told us this story:

The hummingbird has no prey, and no predator. Its joy is nectar, and in the feeding on nectar from flowers it also pollinates the plant.

The hummingbird – tiny as it is – migrates from Guatemala to Alaska annually.

How does it do this? 

It does this by not thinking it's impossible.

Is this a true story? It might be. It might not be. It might be both. That doesn't matter.


  1. That is so moving. I can identify with that having experienced something similar when my dad, and later my mum died.
    It's important to remember to look, although I'm not sure I could pick up a bird. love Marg x

  2. And then, Roselle, a pigeon flew into our patio window and killed itself. A kestrel appeared and I didn't want it to eat it. My husband banged on the window and the kestrel flew off. Pete is burying the bird.
    Last night I was reading Barry Lopez's account of picking up road kill and honouring it.
    I can see why, but it seems a harsh world. Even nature.

  3. Roselle, this is full of beauty and sadness. But there's hope and comfort in those images of birds, of acorns and oaks, of you saving the goldfinch. It's all quite magical and brought tears. Doesn't take much these days, I find. It is comforting to notice these things that seem symbolic of something – even if you don't always know what it might be.
    I'm so sorry about this latest loss to you and your family. Presumably an untimely death too.

    Love Miri x

  4. Thank you, Miri, Marg (and is that you a second time, Marg? Or someone else?) - but thank you for all three comments.

    The rest of the natural world seems so fragile these years, doesn't it, Miri? And everything seems to teeter between joy and sadness – for we humans, anyway; or me, at least.

    Yes. I too have adopted Lopez' thing about removing roadkill from being smashed if it's possible to do so. I think that burying the pigeon is a lovely way of honouring - but the kestrel has to live too, no?

    We humans, with our future-tinged awareness of the end of life I believe struggle more with the whole natural cycle of life-death-life than I imagine other species do; though I'm very aware, too, that other species fear harm and death when it's imminent: 'All beings fear death; all beings tremble before danger' says the Buddhist text The Dhammapada – from more than 2 millennia ago. I've tried to live by following that, causing as little harm as possible.

    I'm comforted by the notion that prey animals can take themselves out of their skin at the moment of death.

    Your comments are very much appreciated.



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