park bench in springA colorful bird, a little smaller than a cardinal, landed in the oak tree near the bee’s nest. Bright red and round-headed, shading to orange then to yellow on its back and underside, its wings were definitely green mixed with gray. His bill was light colored, almost white, concave underneath, and he used it effectively to snag bees. If not for the standard bird shape, I would have thought he was a parrot escaped from the tropics.

He ate his fill before he left, and I proceeded to consult the books. A juvenile summer tanager, they said. When he will reach his full growth, his coat will be bright red with black wings. That I would have recognized, though I would have had to look carefully to distinguish him from his scarlet tanager cousin.

I thought I had seen the last of him, but he made several more visits. Later that day, when I had backed the car from the garage, he flew down in all of his glory and sat on the ground next to the car. I rolled my window down and heard him say, Pik-i-tuk, very quietly, so I tried to say the same thing back to him. Pik-i-tuk-i-tuk, he said, and so did I. Then, quite a bit louder, as if freed by having an audience, he said, Pik-i-tuk-i-tuk-i-tuk-i-tuk-i-tuk-i-tuk-i-tuk-i-tuk. He didn’t seem to mind that I lost track of how many i-tuks he spoke, so we continued talking for a while. He and I had reached an understanding. Day by day he continued to visit, though our conversations dwindled; they never had quite the spark of the first one. Still he seemed to be glad for the contact and the meal.

Perching on a branch near the hive, he practiced his craft, measuring the flight of bees, their speeds and trajectories. First he would dive and miss, or sit with his beak bobbing back and forth in time with the passing bees. Soon his fluttering wings would create “Z” and “W” patterns in the air as he managed to outfly the bees and catch up with them. You could see him learning to strategize his approaches.

I appreciate any friendly contact with an adolescent, and it seemed that having a readiness to listen and try to stay abreast–  so to speak–  with his willingness to talk, or not, was something he appreciated too.

Day by day his color seemed to change, more red, less orange and yellow and green, and darker wings. We watch respectfully the maturation and experience and, we hope, the gaining of appropriate confidence to match the needs of the day. At points we can remember when we’ve been in the same place; at others we understand that they have been where we never have been, and we learn as children from them.

This was more than a bright spot in these days, when other moments were not soright or encouraging. Thank you, God, that you find ways to refresh the spirit! Such grace that a visit from a young summer tanager can fill a person up.

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