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Team Sapsucker

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob and Rachel, whose hope is in YHWH their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. ~ Psalm 146:5-6

It is that time of year when we pause to consider how our actions impact pollinators. When we remove early bloomers, like dandelions, we are depriving bees an important food source. Flowers need pollinators and pollinators need flowers. In nature, these symbiotic relationships are seldom exclusive, that is, a particular plant requiring a specific animal. Instead, there is typically a web of reciprocity. Consider how hummingbirds will drink nectar from multiple sources, from many flowering plants, from the sugar water in feeders we put up (please, please, please, NO red dye nectar, the dye is quite harmful to them), even sap from trees. How can a fragile, slender hummingbird bill extract sap from a thick-barked tree? With teamwork, of course.

Like hummingbirds, sapsuckers have a sweet tooth (sweet mandible?). Their chisel-like bills are not helpful in extracting nectar from flowers, but they are the perfect tool for drilling holes in a tree so that it will seep sap from these small wells. They literally suck the sap, but clearly not all of what comes from a hole, so there is plenty left over for hummingbirds to feast on. This boon to their tiny cousins is likely not an intentional act of generosity, rather it comes from sapsuckers just being sapsuckers. Likewise, it surely doesn’t upset Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers that their name has become an insult that substitutes for other less than PG-rated name-calling. Perhaps it is the somewhat humorous nature of the name that helped to influence the renowned Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology to choose it as their logo and to name their competitive birding teams after it. The Cornell Sapsuckers are no joke at the World Series of Birding, I can assure you.

These quirky birds are migratory, so they are a source of delight in the spring, filling woods in these parts with their nasally calls and their drumming on branches that broadcast their unique rhythms throughout the forest. But in the end, whether they are helping to feed their avian kin, drawing attention to the importance of bird science, or simply giving a kid a chuckle, they do it all by simply doing no more than being themselves. So why is it that we all too often feel like we have to be something other than ourselves in order to make a difference? Yes, we do need to examine our lives to consider the ways that we are negatively impacting our kin, human and otherwise. But surely most harm comes from our not being our full, true selves. We might even imagine these avian sages giving the advice to embrace the yellowness of your belly and your desire to suck sap so that you can find true liberation that not only frees you to be you but leaves space for all others to find their true liberation as well.

Prayer: Great Maker, our help comes from you as we remember that as you order creation, that includes us being the people you made us to be. Amen.


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