Sermons of Birds

Sermons of Birds: Forest in Autumn Courtesy, HmsFree, Photographer
Forest in Autumn
Courtesy, HmsFree, Photographer
There is a story I like of an old Zen master who one day was asked to speak wisdom to his acolytes as they were sitting outside. He obliged. He rose and walked to the front of the students. He waited a moment to think carefully about his words, opened his mouth, and then just as he was about to speak, a bird in a nearby tree sang its beautiful warbling song. The master did not interrupt but instead simply listened and waited until the song finished, and the bird had flown away. When it had, he finally spoke: “The sermon has been delivered,” he acknowledged, and took his seat once more.

I think about this story often and dwell on its themes. The true master who is the truest student. The songbird who speaks truth without language. The wisdom elevated by listening to the world without ego.

This time of year, I try to take the lesson of the Zen master and listen to the autumn world around me, the softening sounds of my time on earth. I take pause and hear the breeze which rustles box elders scarlet and shivers aspens gold. The wind which blankets the land and grows it rosy before winter’s snowy slumber.

The birds’ notes, the bearers of great truths, have shifted from their summer selves, too. No longer do they sing for love, but instead call for companions as they find flocks to blunder between fermented crabapple trees with, and telegraph where the good black oil seed is for the benefit of all who husk germ.

I find solidarity with their industry, for I believe we all come from the same inner place. They, doing what is good and right, and I as well. I, too, likely like you, get a hankering, a reckoning to winterize, to preserve, to stock up like a tree’s fattening roots, swollen full with the liquor of next spring’s buds and blossoms. I do it through crisp cider, hot corn chowder, steamed cans, jammed jars, strong mulled toddies, and wool. These are my fruits and fat stores. These are my natural inclinations.

I take from the story of the Zen master, too, that we are all on the same team. Just as the master understood to defer a message of truth to the birds, we can all recognize the truth in what autumn fills us all with: that drive of readiness for spring by ways of winter. That our season of without only can be because of seasons of with, and that our seasons of bounty can only be through the rest with which we are pulled in winter.

So this autumn, I encourage you to listen like the Zen master to the world around you. When it whispers, “put on a sweater and sip hot drinks by the hearth,” do so. When it bellows, “can and jam all of the things for winter is coming and the taste of summer is that season’s delight,” do so as well.

And when the world says, “listen,” in beautiful birdsong, do so, and know that you sing, too, by being who you are to your core.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, HmsFree, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center,
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon,

The Subtle Peaces in Times Like These

Cedar Waxwing Courtesy Pixabay tdfugere, photographer
Cedar Waxwing
Courtesy Pixabay
tdfugere, photographer
In times like these, I enjoy the mid-autumn sunshine. The trees now shed of their light-hungry leaves, let brightness again seep to the porous earth’s floor. The naked branches bring back views of the mountains, unveil the cedar waxwings and robins swarming the crabapples in their lust for ferment, and let sounds roll uninterrupted across the valley floor and across me, too.

It seems that, only when there is snow in the mountains does the sunshine lift me highest as it does in mid-autumn. That juxtaposition of winter’s edging deep sleep with the echoes of the year’s warmth, brings a mellow cascade of calm. It is the calm of a cup of hot tea one holds while hearing the storm roll past just outside, just beyond smoke-bellowed chimneys. That peace of mid-autumn sunshine, though, is only a single note in the chorale of the day here, and season still churning forward unto ultimately itself again.

Great Basin Sparse Vegetation, Courtesy USGS, David Susong, Photographer
Great Basin Sparse Vegetation, Courtesy USGS, David Susong, Photographer
In times like these, I can look forward to other subtle peaces yet on their way, each their own a marker in time, a fruit on the year’s own bough, a rung at once both descending into winter, and back up into spring.

How the first big snow constricts the world gently, a cotton cocoon, perpetuating the life held muffled beneath its firmament. Metamorphosizing. Shifting. Becoming.

How the heavy clouds begin to sink to the valley floor, letting us for just one season keep the same company without wings. In them we realize concurrent confusion of feet upon the ground and our heads in the clouds. Perhaps in that bending of worlds our dreams begin to germ like the very seeds held in the darkness of the world’s soil.

How the darkness allows our afternoons to sleep, for us to dream while awake, and for the world to radiate its own light back skyward through the bright nights of snow-laden grounds. It is within the shroud that the other radiant stars can appear and remind us with silent fortitude of the days behind, and the days ahead, and, if we choose to see it, the promise of this season’s peace felt in the warmth of the mid-autumn sunshine.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah

Images: Cedar Waxwing Courtesy Pixabay,
Images: Great Basin Sparse Vegetation Image Courtesy USGS, David Susong, Photographer (David Susong, Utah Water Science Center Director, USGS)
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center,
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster,

Additional Reading

USDA Forest Service Fall Colors web site for the Intermountain Region,

Gunnell, JayDee, Reese, Julene, Ask a Specialist: What Causes the Fall Leaves to Change Color?, USU Cooperative Extension,

Jack Loves the Four Seasons

Red Admiral Butterfly, Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS Digital Library
Red Admiral Butterfly
Thomas G. Barnes
US FWS Digital Library

Glacier Lilies
Erythronium grandiflorum
Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore

I love the four seasons. Having spent my 72 years residing in the mid latitudes, I’ve learned to celebrate each of our seasons, but especially spring!

This is the rebirth flush with abundant water, new greenery, and air filled with bird song and sweet aromas as new flowers perfume the air hoping to lure in a pollinator.

With mid-April upon us and our 42 degree latitude, spring is in full swing here in northern Utah! Winter departs grudgingly slapping us with snow squalls intermingled with glorious, early summer days, a wild roller coaster ride which I truly enjoy!
I’m an avid phenology follower. Phenology is the study of how life adapts to seasonal changes. I revel in the first floral bloom, the first neotropical birds returning from Latin America with a heart full of song, and newly emerged, gaudy butterflies.

With a relatively stable climate, until recently, the timing of these events has evolved to near perfection
Let’s take a closer look at some of these phenomena. I’ll begin with our neotropical birds such as lazuli buntings, yellow warblers, and Western tanagers to mention a few. These species spend over half of their year in Mexico, Central and South America flying thousands of miles to for the breeding and nesting season in the Intermountain West. This may seem a bit extreme for these tiny flurries of life.

On closer inspection, you will find they have good reason for this daunting and dangerous task. The tropics have a relatively stable climate without the dramatic seasonal change that we experience. This results in relatively stable populations of flowers and insects, the primary food sources for most species. Further, the ratio of daylight to darkness is nearly constant with 12 hours of each. Our days lengthen as we journey toward summer solstice with nearly 16 hours of daylight! This allows a burst of energy to flow through ecosystems resulting in eruptive populations of insects and floral bloom. It also offers long hours of daylight for parents to gather food for their young which grow rapidly toward fledglings, thus reducing the possibility of predation and also preparing them for the arduous flight south as fall approaches.

Let’s examine flowers and insects. With our very warm winter and spring, I was expecting a much earlier arrival of both and was not disappointed. I counted 17 species of flowers by the second week of April! And butterflies were on a similar schedule with 9 different species during the last week of March- remarkably early! Although delighted, it occurred to me that returning birds may not be so pleased. If the flowers begin to fade, and insects begin their downward slide at the peak of birds rearing their young, trouble is afoot! A five year Audubon study revealed that 1/3 of our birds are predicted to be severely impacted by these rapid climate shifts.

On a more positive note, spring will continue as will bird song, vernal waterfalls, eruptions of wildflowers and butterflies. And spring repeats itself as we move to higher elevations. As cornices on our mountain ridges recede, up pops flowers for yet another spring bloom, and with them butterflies, bees, and birds!


Pictures: Courtesy Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, US FWS
Pictures Lilies: Copyright © 2010 Andrea Liberatore
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Kervin, Linda, USA National Phenology Network, Wild About Utah, July 2, 2009,

Hellstern, Ron, Journey North, Wild About Utah, March 19, 2018,

Greene, Jack, I Love the Four Seasons, Wild About Utah, May 3, 2015,

Conners, Deanna, Why Earth has 4 seasons,, September 20, 2016,

Farewell Autumn

Cache Valley Autumn Colors Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Cache Valley Autumn Colors
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Many people enjoy Autumn as their favorite season of the year. Temperatures are comfortable, most pesky insects are absent, animal migrations are evident, and beautiful Fall colors on the trees and shrubs are stunning. But why do these deciduous plants change color? Consider daylight, temperature, and chemistry.

Spring and summer growth and leaf production are due to photosynthesis, a process where plants use light to synthesize the cell’s chlorophyll into transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates such as sugars and starch. The cells containing chlorophyll also give the plant its green color. But there are other pigments, besides green, within the leaves all year. Xanthophyll produces orange and yellow colors, anthocyanin develops shades of red. When daylight decreases and temperatures drop in the North, the leaves stop their food-making and the green chlorophyll breaks down, leaving the other pigments to dominate the new Autumn colors.

Soon after these vivid colors appear, the tree develops special cells where leaves are attached. Those cells allow the stems to break away from the tree, due to gravity or the wind, and creates a small leaf scar. Although we may not appreciate bare limbs all winter, heavy snows collected by leaves could cause massive breaking of branches due to the additional weight.

In Southern climates, some broad-leaf trees may keep their leaves and only experience changes during wet and dry seasons. Many stay green all year. And, of course, conifers like spruce, pines and firs, retain their needle-like leaves all year.

Now picture yourself in your favorite, quiet, outdoor setting in the Fall as I read a section from the beautiful writings of Aldo Leopold, found in his book “A Sand County Almanac”. It is titled November – If I Were the Wind.

The wind that makes music in November corn is in a hurry. The stalks hum, the loose husks whisk skyward in half-playful swirls, and the wind hurries on.

In the marsh, long windy waves surge across the grassy sloughs, beat against the far willows. A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.

On the sandbar there is only wind, and the river sliding seaward. Every wisp of grass is drawing circles on the sand. I wander over the bar to a driftwood log, where I sit and listen to the universal roar, and to the tinkle of wavelets on the shore. The river is lifeless: not a duck, heron, marsh-hawk or gull but has sought refuge from the wind.

Out of the clouds I hear a faint bark, as of a far-away dog. It is strange how the world cocks its ears at that sound, wondering. Soon it is louder: the honk of geese, invisible, but coming on.

The flock emerges from the low clouds, a tattered banner of birds, dipping and rising, blown up and blown down, blown together and blown apart, but advancing, the wind wrestling lovingly with each winnowing wing. When the flock is a blur in the far sky I hear the last honk, sounding taps for summer.

It is warm behind the driftwood now, for the wind has gone with the geese.
So would I—if I were the wind.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Text:    Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Autumn Colors, Linda Kervin, Wild About Utah,

Red leaves in autumn: What’s in it for the tree?, Holly Strand, Oct 18, 2012,

Autumn Leaf Color Change, Linda Kervin, Sept 23, 2010,