Wayside Miracles: The Bluebird of Happiness
Updated: Aug 6
Since the beginning of July, I’ve awakened every morning to the brief, bright and lively song of the Indigo Bunting. Along with the usual cardinals, nuthatches, grosbeaks and woodpeckers, these blue jewels regularly grace our bird feeder. Their bright song and iridescent beauty cheers me even as they bring tears.
Early July also saw the passing of my 92-year-old father, and I am ambushed regularly by grief when something seen, heard or smelled sparks a memory. The memory inevitably recalls an image, an experience, a lesson – or a story. Sometimes it’s a story he told, but more often it’s a story experienced and created as a family. One such story involved a Bluebird.
When I was around seven years old, our family was out for a drive in the country. Suddenly my father pulled over and stopped the car- pointing out the window to a fence post he exclaimed “look at that beautiful Bluebird!” We were about 10ft away from it. As everyone else ooohed and aaahed, I squinted “I only see a blue blur.” This event coincided with a phone call from my 2nd grade teacher, leading to an appointment with an eye doctor, a diagnosis: “she can’t see a damn thing,” and thick pop-bottle-glasses whose nerdiness was belied by their cool-cat frames. That blue blur led to the revealing of a whole new world. “Why didn’t you say something before?” was a question I couldn’t answer – I only knew what the world looked like to me and had no idea that this was any different from the world others experienced. But with glasses I could see the planes flying above, individual leaves, and my own toes when I looked down.
And so it was, that Dad's wayside miracle begat another.
The bird most people think of as a “Bluebird” is only partially blue. Male Eastern Bluebirds are deep blue above, and rusty red on the throat and breast. The male Indigo Bunting, on the other hand, is a beautiful blend of indigo, cerulean and purple/magenta tones, with black tips on its wings and tail. However, neither bird is actually blue- both lack blue pigment: “Their jewel-like color comes from microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue…Bunting plumage does contain the pigment melanin, whose dull brown-black hue you can see if you hold a blue feather up so the light comes from behind it, instead of toward it.” [https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide] In other words, the only way to see the brilliant cerulean and indigo blue colors of the Indigo Bunting sky jewel is to look at it in the sunshine. No sun? and they are a small, plain brown bird – easy to overlook. The Bluebird of Happiness can be right there in front of you, but if you don’t have clear sunshine in your glance, you may miss them, and the wayside miracle will have passed you by. Ironic, isn’t it, that the Bluebird of Happiness is BLUE- a paradox to having the blues. As I walk this blue path of grief, relief (that he is no longer in pain), and gratitude, I try to do as he encouraged so long ago: see the wayside miracles. I wonder if he sends the Indigo Bunting to charm me into the day with a chattering cascade “Hello! good morning! I’m here! I'm here!” Its blue beauty, like happiness, requires sunshine and clear vision to be appreciated, paradoxically refracted and reflected through grace, tempered by memory, enriched with laughter, lived with love.