A Murmuration of Starlings

In the fall, the starlings begin flocking in daylight hours. You can see them in black clouds, rising and falling through the fields and forests. At night they roost in high trees and each sunset finds them searching for their night-time resting place.

We had a big cedar forest beside our former home and it was exciting to see them veering in as a flock, circling the area, landing, only to rebound into the sky, initiated by one unsettled bird, and sweeping around once again. After several of these wheeling episodes they finally settled and the noise began – chirping, screeching, chittering, and chattering, from a host of black starlings. Looking up at them from below, all we could see was the occasional bird as it hopped from branch to branch. It was amazing to think that there were hundreds of birds hidden in the leaves above our heads.

Finally, they settled with the coming of darkness. We had some fun going under the trees and suddenly letting out one loud “Whoop!” The birds ruffled up their wings in one sudden outburst, which upset the birds beside them, and then the birds beside them, and so on and so on in a giant ruffling wave that radiated out through the entire forest, like a giant wave in the crowd at Roger’s Centre.

But the birds got us back for upsetting their sleep. Early the next morning, as the sun began to rise, so did the birds. Once again they began their chirping, screeching, chittering, and chattering in a noisy clamour that woke even the most difficult morning riser. Then once again, off they went, wheeling and circling, gathering all the late stragglers, until they were gone. Silence reigned once again. All that was left was a forest floor littered with white bird droppings and the occasional feather.

 

A Butterfly Visitation

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Yesterday, under blue skies and fluffy white clouds, our family attended a tree-planting ceremony put on by the local funeral home in honour of those who had passed away in the last year. For us it was our beloved Bill, father-in-law to my daughter and grandpa to my little grandsons.

The event couldn’t have been more perfect. Everything had been considered and was perfectly coordinated from the beautiful natural setting at the local conservation area, to the ample parking area and organized crew, to the large white tent set up with folding chairs and picnic tables under towering mature trees. A local choir and talented musicians provided beautiful heart-felt music and inspired speakers provided us with thoughtful messages.

One tree, symbolizing all of the over 300 trees that would be planted this season for our loved ones, was planted just outside the tent allowing us a visual reality of our loved one’s memorial tree.

As a final tribute to those who had passed, live Monarch butterflies were released by the planted tree. We were all invited to come up close and witness the event first hand. A hat box filled with the butterflies was placed on the grass and children and adults were encouraged to reach in, take out a butterfly and enjoy the experience of a living jewel in your hand before it took to the skies.

Butterflies have always been special to me and my second husband, Tom, who took me to the local butterfly conservatory for our first date. We released twelve live butterflies at our  wedding five years later. On our first anniversary, Tom and I released one in our back yard to celebrate our love. Four years later, Tom passed away with terminal cancer. Since his passing, I have had several unique experiences with butterfly visitations. My family and I have acknowledged that perhaps these butterflies are Tom visiting us and we often say, “Hi Tom” when we experience these intimate encounters with these lovely creatures.

I was eager to get as close as I could to the butterflies but it was very crowded as over a hundred people encircled the box trying to get a glimpse. It took some time for me to get close enough to get some photos with my camera. Finally I was able to snap some pictures as smiling children and parents held living butterflies in their hands and then watched them as they flew up and over our heads into the sky.

One of the last butterflies to be released flew from a hand to a woman’s head beside me landing in her hair. Within seconds it made the short flight from her to me, settling on the crest of my ear where it decided it wanted to stay. For several minutes, the crowd around me marveled at this special moment as all the other butterflies had taken flight and were gone.

I decided to try and walk to my family’s picnic table to share this amazing experience with them. I didn’t know if the butterfly would still be there as I started to move. As I sat down at our picnic table it took a moment for my daughter and family to notice the beautiful orange and black ornament that was still in my hair. Liam called out, “Gramma, you have a butterfly in your hair.” We all laughed and I said, “I know. Say hi to your Grandpa Tom.”

The butterfly lingered for a lengthy period of time. We were able to get many pictures of this unique experience and share it with others around us. We actually finished our luncheon before the butterfly quietly left unannounced about 20 minutes later.

How special this moment was for my family and me. Thank you to Dods & McNair Funeral Home, Orangeville for making this special event even more memorable for us.

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