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The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom; ~ Isaiah 35:1

The longer I watch birds, the more I’m able to predict what birds will be present when I’m in the field. That comes not only from learning what species are common in each season, but also which birds utilize specific habitats. Some of that knowledge comes through education. Field guides provide a lot of that information and local birding groups often produce lists that indicate probability based on frequency and migration dates. But, of course, experience is a major factor. Nothing beats the familiarity gained through repeated visits to locales. Some distinctions are obvious: look for ducks on the ponds and woodpeckers in the woods. Some species prefer edges where the woods meet the fields, others require large tracts of undisturbed land.

Predictions in familiar settings can get very precise, particularly during the breeding season when birds are territorial. The curious thing is how well and easily that skill translates. I find that I can go to a new location and know, without premeditated conscious thought, what species to expect. Not only does that make finding and identifying birds easier, it provides a sense of place. Even when I visit completely new regions and habitats, I carry with me unconscious expectations that enhance the wonder I experience. This leads to less surprise and more awe at diverse expressions. It also expands my understanding of sanctuary.

By definition, a sanctuary is a space set aside to make it holy. We often don’t think of nature preserves as holy, even when we call them sanctuaries, but isn’t the wonder and awe that they evoke exactly the work of the sacred? A major problem with this understanding of sanctuary is that we are tempted to limit the sacred to limited, particular places. The truth is that all of creation reveals the presence of God. Everything may not be God, but God is in everything. So when we are ready to seek the sacred, we don’t have far to go.

Prayer: God-in-all, thank you for the gift of sanctuary, this place we call home. Amen.


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