Call of the Meadowlark

That little bird in the yellow vest had something to teach me.

Posted in , May 1, 2008

An artist's rendering of a chirping meadowlark

Once the work season starts on the farm, it never lets up. And on our 1,000-acre wheat farm, every season is work season. This late afternoon it was toolbarring—turning the stubble of the wheat field to prepare it for planting next spring.

I finished the last of the field and brought my tractor to a halt. I raised a hand to my eyes and searched the far field. 

My husband, Milton, hadn't yet finished toolbarring that one. A cloud of dust rose behind him into the clear September sky. Once Milton was done toolbarring the far field we could both finally drive home. We'd have dinner and fall into bed exhausted—only to wake up with the sun the next morning.

I sank down into the brown grass. It felt like the first break I'd had for days—maybe even longer.

My mind drifted back to all that we'd done since spring: calved and branded the cattle, seeded and sprayed the field, harvested in August, now the toolbarring—and that's not even counting taking the cows to pasture, haying and hauling bales.

Milton and I sometimes barely had a chance to bolt down lunch. When one job was done there was always another waiting. 

An ant tickled my thumb, crawling across my hand. Above me a gray pigeon swooped off the top of the granary to join his friends at a pit full of water for a drink. How lucky they are, I thought, to be able to enjoy this beautiful day.

As if in agreement a meadowlark sang out from behind me. "Tra-la-la-la-la!" he chirped. He looked very pleased with himself with his gray feathers and yellow breast—like a brightly colored vest. 

I was exhausted, but when would I get another chance to go for a walk? I rolled over on one knee, grabbed the thick lugs of my tractor tire and pulled myself up. I brushed off my pants and checked for Milton's cloud of dust—it was a long way off. Plenty of time for a walk.

I could enjoy the day like the meadowlark for a few precious moments.

I turned my feet to the country road nearby, laid with brick-red scoria gravel. I picked up a piece and tossed it just for fun, and followed where it went. My heart got lighter with each step I took.

I walked west past the schoolhouse where Milton had attended grade school, then down the hill to the culvert where the water ran in the spring. 

I sat down at the edge of the road, pulled a green stem from a clump of grass and chewed its soft end while I watched the sun drop toward the horizon. I pulled my knees up and dropped my chin on my arms. The bright blue sky that had made me squint on my tractor softened to pink, lavender and orange.

Lord, I wish I could just sit here and enjoy the beauty of your world all day


Another meadowlark song floated out on the air. Looks like I'm not the only one enjoying the sunset.

I cocked my ear and waited for the rest of the familiar song. Tra-la-la-la-la, like a trill of happy water cascading over rocks in a stream.

Only that happy trill never came. Something stopped the bird after the first note. The bird started again. "Tra!" sounded sharp and clear, but nothing followed. 

I've never heard a meadowlark break up his song. Was he sick? Injured?

I heard a second note, "Tra-a-a." Weak and hesitant, it came from somewhere else. It was chopped off by the stronger note. "Tra!" If I didn't know better, I'd have thought that bird sounded impatient.

Slowly, so as not to frighten anything away, I twisted my head and scanned the fence that ran along the road. I checked the posts, the wire, the tops of the sagebrush. I looked up and down the road for gray feathers or a bright-yellow vest. 

"Tra-la!" the first bird sang, and then was answered by the weaker voice. ""

There! Above me on the electric line sat not one meadowlark but two, several inches apart. They were both males since it was male meadowlarks that did the singing. One was fat and plump, the other half his size but with the same gray feathers and bright-yellow vest. 

The bigger bird threw back his head and sang, "Tra-la!" Then he looked back at the baby. The smaller bird squirmed—just like any little boy struggling with a hard lesson, and repeated, "Tra-la!"

His father is teaching him to sing! I realized—and apparently it wasn't an easy lesson. The father bird repeated those two opening notes over and over until his son repeated them perfectly. 

The meadowlark song might sound like a simple expression of happiness, but each note had to be learned. The father bird worked hard teaching his son now because he knew that work would pay off in the future. One day the younger bird would use it to look for a mate or to mark his territory.

Just like my work, I thought. The toolbarring I'd done today would prepare the field for planting next year. The planting and spraying would bring the wheat.

Maybe God had shown me this meadowlark hard at work to remind me that even the birdsong I loved for its serene simplicity took persistent, hard work. Work that was well worth it. 

The baby bird opened his beak wide and let out a confident "Tra-la!" He'd really gotten it that time.

The father nodded. His son puffed out his yellow chest and hopped closer on the wire, proud of his musical efforts and how they'd paid off.

I thought of my cows and my newly turned soil, and I knew just how he felt. I set back up the gravel road to where Milton would be finishing the far field.

Tomorrow I would wake early and get back to work, just like the meadowlark. God gave us all jobs to do. But he also gave us the best kind of reward for our work: the world we loved.


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