I’ve written in this space before about red birds, and the meaning that is often attributed to them. Depending on which Internet rabbit hole you travel down, there are a slew of different meanings. But the meaning I mean to be about here is: the belief that when you see a cardinal, or red bird, it’s a sign from a loved one who’s passed on, letting you know their spirit is still with you.
The last cardinal I saw was in March, and I wrote about it in the post titled “Cardinal Sighting.” I saw two more, possibly three, just this past Saturday. But the circumstance in which I saw them feels almost too unbelievable. If this blog were fiction, I might feel that the scene I’m about to describe is a touch too forced.
I was part of a quorum of my siblings that visited our parents’ graves, a sort of “day-before-Mother’s-Day” gathering. Two of my nieces were also with us. We said a few prayers together, and then wandered the grounds a bit. Saint Joseph Abbey is a remarkable place. It just exudes this specific sort of peacefulness.
Looking up, I saw two cardinals in flight. One seemed to be pursuing the other. I might have even seen a third one, or it could have been one of the two performing an acrobatic loop. While seeing birds flying about in a wooded place is not unusual, there was no mistaking their color. They were definitely red.
I couldn’t help but think of the Gospel passage (Matthew 18, verse 20): “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Now, I’m not saying my parents are God (the “I” from that passage). But it was my parents who steered the whole lot of us gathered there to the Believing persuasion.
And if a third cardinal was indeed flitting about, my paternal grandfather also has his eternal rest at that cemetery.
I spotted a cardinal on my Sunday walk. It feels noteworthy, and worth mentioning here. Though when it comes to ideas of what the cardinal sighting might signify, I’ve come up a bit empty.
So I’ll start with a comparison to my last red bird sighting, chronicled here: The Summer Tanager. The location was the same: City Park’s Couturie Forest. And the two birds’ smallish size was roughly the same. But the birds looked very different — the tanager was a brilliant, uniform red, with no crest. The little guy I saw last weekend definitely had a crest, but the feathers were reddish-brown. More similar to the photo above, than to the St. Louis MLB mascot.
As to what the little bird was trying to tell me, maybe it’s just that Spring is almost here. Returning home, I captured the other photo featured here. Two Japanese magnolia trees guard the entrance to the tennis courts on Marconi Drive. A branch on the southernmost one framed the walking path, my way home, just so. I posted the photo to Instagram, with a comment about the vernal equinox being just days away.
Writing-wise, I have some specific intentions for the early days of Spring. The time has come to apply a critical eye to my marketing efforts (for my two novels, and the upcoming third). My advertising exploits have been haphazard up ’til now. And who am I kidding? They will probably continue to be somewhat haphazard for a bit longer, while I figure out what works better than not.
Maybe the little cardinal was a sign that paying attention to my author outreach, at this point in time, will be time well-spent.
Magical thinking or not, I can’t help but think positive things when I see the little red birds.
Last Saturday began with no agenda, other than to get out and get some exercise. And to do this unplugged. I walked out my front door, maybe fifteen minutes after the official sunrise time of 6:14 a.m.
The next hour (plus) went a long way toward recharging my battery. Funny how unplugging can do that. The only reason I missed my phone was for its camera. It might have been nice to capture some photos of the eastern sky, which was awash in color for the first part of the walk. But I did get one shot before I left the house:
On the latter part of the walk, I took a detour into City Park’s Couturie Forest. It had been years since I’d ventured into this sylvan escape, even though I pass by it multiple times in any given week. Even on my more ambitious runs of days past (Saturday’s excursion was maybe 30% run, 70% walk), it didn’t make sense to venture into the forest. The paths there are definitely not meant for running, and I never felt I could spare the time to meander.
That feels foolish on my part, in retrospect.
Here’s a description of the Couturie Forest, from City Park’s website: “. . .the perfect place to escape from the city without ever leaving town! Combined with Scout Island, the 60-acre Couturie Forest is a nature-lover’s haven filled with native trees, scenic waterways, and fascinating wildlife — all in the heart of the New Orleans.”
It really is magical: you cross a small bridge, step onto a path, and instantly, the canopy of trees overhead muffle the sound of the roadway, no more than forty yards away. Well, that’s a guesstimate. . .the road is close, I know that much.
The highest point in New Orleans lies within the Couturie Forest. Climb Laborde Mountain, and you’ll be 43 feet above sea level. That was my first stop. There’s not much of a view, because the spot is surrounded by trees. But it sure is quiet up there.
There’s a lot more to write about the Couturie Forest, and I plan to visit again soon (with a camera). In the interest of not getting too long-winded, I’ll skip to my sighting upon exiting the forest. Around the bridge that marks the entrance (and exit), I saw a bright red bird, pecking away at the ground. It was still early, so maybe there were worms.
“A cardinal!” I thought. ‘Round these parts, I see robins, and blue jays, and these very loquacious green parrots; but cardinals are a lot rarer. But this little one didn’t have the features I’d associate with a cardinal: no black markings on the face, nor the comb atop the head.
I thought of my mother. . .while she wasn’t a birder, she was always one to pick up on the details of flora and fauna. I also thought of fellow blogger Dr. Rex, who wrote a lovely post about the meaning behind red birds and cardinals. (I hope you don’t mind me linking here, Dr. Rex!)
After conducting some sleuthing when I got back home, I decided the little red bird was a Summer Tanager, a member of the Cardinal family. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab has a very robust online library, that’s where I picked up the picture at the top of this post. (I hope I covered all the proper photo credits).
As often happens, I want to tie some direct spiritual or metaphysical meaning to my sighting of the Summer Tanager. It’s an exercise I have to remind myself, just as often, that’s fraught with peril. Trying to correlate cause and effect to these types of things never works out like I think it might. So I’ll just tie it to feelings. The things I was thinking and feeling during my unplugged walk, and the things that jumped out at me as I looked for the bird on the Internet:
I’m anticipating a convergence of my family members, coming into town for an upcoming wedding. It’s my niece’s wedding, she’s the second one of the next generation to get married, but it’s the first one my mom won’t be around for.
The first person I thought of when I saw the Summer Tanager was my mother.
The first line in Dr. Rex’s post about red birds is: “A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you.”
So without going any deeper, I’ll just say that I’ll take this as an article of faith: that my mother will be with all her family as they gather here in the next week or so, in our hearts and memories. May her gentle spirit bless all the proceedings.