A Wing and a Prayer

Acadian Flycatcher, relative of the Eastern Phoebe

The phoebes are busy setting up housekeeping under our eaves.  All day long they swoop and whistle to each other — phoebe, phoebe — and pick through the dead grass to line their nests. They’re usually the first of the migratory birds to return to their breeding grounds, harbingers that another spring has arrived, that nature’s ancient rhythms are quickening again.  It’s a moment to cherish. Especially now that we know birds across the globe are vanishing from our skies in staggering numbers. Over the last fifty years, one third of the birds of North America alone have disappeared.

Barred owl

How did this happen?  What can we do about it? In A Wing and a Prayer, published this month, my brother Anders Gyllenhaal and his wife Beverly, both veteran journalists, take us on a fascinating journey to the front lines of the fight to reverse this terrifying trend.  During the pandemic, they packed up their Airstream and traveled more than 25,000 miles to interview the scientists and foresters, researchers and farmers who are employing age-old practices and fascinating new technologies to save the birds. The result is a book that Susan Page of USA Today called “a soaring achievement, beautiful and compelling.”

Anders and Beverly are back in their Airstream now, wending their way up the East Coast on a book tour.  They’ll be giving a talk, including a slide show of more of Anders’ photographs (shown above) on Thursday, July 6th at 7 p.m. at the Old Town Hall in West Stockbridge, MA. A reception and book signing will follow at Shaker Mill Books. For more information on the book and to order a copy, please visit: https://flyinglessons.us/our-upcoming-book/

Here’s a poem by the American poet R.T. Smith which beautifully captures how the most common of birds in the most familiar of situations can remind us of the “shadowy bliss we exist to explore.”

Hardware Sparrows

by R. T. Smith

Out for a deadbolt, light bulbs
and two-by-fours, I find a flock
of sparrows safe from hawks

and weather under the roof
of Lowe’s amazing discount
store. They skitter from the racks

of stockpiled posts and hoses
to a spill of winter birdseed
on the concrete floor. How

they know to forage here,
I can’t guess, but the automatic
door is close enough,

and we’ve had a week
of storms. They are, after all,
ubiquitous, though poor,

their only song an irritating
noise, and yet they soar
to offer, amid hardware, rope

and handyman brochures,
some relief, as if a flurry
of notes from Mozart swirled

from seed to ceiling, entreating
us to set aside our evening
chores and take grace where

we find it, saying it is possible,
even in this month of flood,
blackout and frustration,

to float once more on sheer
survival and the shadowy
bliss we exist to explore.

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12 Responses to A Wing and a Prayer

  1. Cheryl Sullivan says:

    This poem is wonderful. I am so glad you posted it.

  2. Gwen Rhodes says:

    i am loving our copy of A Wing and a Prayer…such a great read and being a birder myself I am so fascinated in this journey they are taking with many others to save our birds…a really good read.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    This is a gorgeous post, and I will order the book posthaste. (Great poem too.) This is such an exciting and hopeful project.

    • Liza says:

      A Wing and a Prayer is much like your poetry anthology HERE in that it faces the same dark truths about our imperiled planet and then offers important resources to help make a difference.

  4. Jenn Redmile says:

    Lovely post and poem, Liza. This is a subject close to our hearts. We are loving Anders and Beverly’s book and really appreciate the fact that they give us hope and concrete actions that we can all do to help try to reverse the terrible trend of losing so many birds. I hope you are enjoying the spring in your area! Watching everything come alive is such a gift!

    • Liza says:

      Thanks so much, Jenn. Glad to hear you’ve already discovered a Wing and a Prayer! Our spring has been slow and chilly so far — and absolutely beautiful.

  5. Anders Gyllenhaal says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I especially love this poem, since it captures something about where we our with our relationship with birds today. We have to coexist in all sorts of ways, in cities that turn off high-rise lights during migration, on farms that learn to make room for birds, in our backyards where native plants and avoiding pesticides can help. Birds surviving in a Lowes story is a little extreme, but it’s sort of where things are. Sorry to launch into an essay, but it’s hard not to. Very much looking forward to our stops up the coast, and especially our visit to West Stockbridge.

    • Liza says:

      I searched a long time the right poem — one that wasn’t too dark or foreboding or preachy. But this one seemed to offer just the right tone to me, especially that last stanza.

  6. Patricia Aakre says:

    I am eager to read this book, so just ordered it from my local store. The Gyllenhaal are doing important work! And you, Liza, finding just the right poems to express in verse what the world looks like right now, thank you for that!

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