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Big Day Hope

Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come. ~ Mark 13:33

On any birding big day, since they run from midnight to midnight, there are two nights. Both offer challenges. The “second” night is the end of the run when simply staying awake is the biggest challenge, particularly since by that point the options for new species are extremely limited. Typically, the strategy is to relax and watch the clock with low expectations though open to wild surprises. For me, the harder night is the beginning of the quest. Expectations are high, every bird is new. Granted, nine times out of ten, a honking Canada Goose at 12:01 AM is the first species, but it is at least one time when that species is warmly welcomed. The hard part of that beginning darkness is waiting for long stretches in the silence, knowing that the approaching dawn will wake hundreds of birds who will burst into song and mark the end of best chances for the nocturnal species. At least with owls, there can be interactions by imitating their calls, but those elusive marsh birds will break your heart every time. The worst part is that you know that they are out there. Even on a bright moonlit night, there won’t be enough light for positive identification, but that rarely matters because the thick vegetation prevents even most daylight sightings. No, there is nothing to do but wait.

And here we are again, the beginning of Advent; waiting and hoping. But what is the nature of that hope? Is it the second night hope, when every means of accomplishing the goals you wanted is exhausted and your best hope is dumb luck or a miracle? Or is it the sort of the-sky-is-the-limit hope of the beginning of the journey? Waiting in darkness and silence is often a recipe for hope’s antidote...fear. And waiting comes with no guarantees. The King Rail that was calling here two nights ago when you scouted this marsh made no promise to reveal himself again just because you made an appointment.

The dawn will come, along with a chorus of new birdsong, whether you are ready, whether you want it to, whether you found success in the night, or even whether you are awake to greet it or sleep through it. We can hope for any number of things that may or may not come to us. Obviously, we hope always for success. But when our goals go unmet, we are left with a choice. We can declare our efforts hopeless OR we can choose to align our hopes with reality. It may seem like a small, even foolish thing to hope for the dawn, for surely that is a given, so why hope for it? But that sort of hope is exercise for the soul, training our spirits to rejoice in the beauty of small things in order to prepare to be awestruck by the beauty of all things.

Surely, Rabindrath Tagore was right when he said, “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.”

Prayer: Heavenly Midwife, stay with us through our labor as we birth hope. Amen.


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