I think it's safe to say that 2020 was a hard and weird year for everyone, and while I in no way want to minimized the difficulty of last year, I also have to acknowledge the lessons it taught me with the help of a Mourning dove couple. 2020 began with my continued struggle with hypersensitivity & sensory overload, which I've addressed in an earlier post and will talk about more in depth in a following post. When this pandemic hit around the second week of March (for my area), I was already having trouble with my writing, and the stress of the pandemic only served to make it worse.
I found that I really had trouble focusing in general. I was all tapped out mentally. As a result, I found myself turning to the manual, rather than the creative. I'd go out and work with my hands, rather than my mind. I seemed incapable of processing thoughts and information properly. So I'd go out and haul brush, do yard work, take walks, and in return, avoid the words and put creativity on hold. Or so I thought...
Monday of the same week my state started shutting down, I noticed a Mourning dove couple in the pine tree right outside my house. I quickly realized that they were in the process of building a nest. As I watched them from day to day, I became enthralled with the little couple. Years ago I took a photography course and got certified, planning to be a photographer. It was my second passion, after writing, and the one I thought would give me the better chance of supporting myself.
Fast-forward to now, I've spent the last ten years pursuing the writing path instead, only just recently realizing that I could pursue both. With all that said, my fascination with the Mourning dove couple is what prompted me to pick up my camera again. At first it was just a way to both distract myself from everything that was going on in the world and to reopen a creative outlet, but it soon turned into a fascination and a way to document the breeding cycle of the couple. I watched the little couple take turns incubating the egg(s). As the days and weeks went by, my excitement and investment grew, and I found myself learning more about peace, patience, and joy along the way.
This may sound cheesy, but watching this couple and seeing them every day brought me so much joy. In a world that seemed so chaotic and uncertain, for a while I had something to look forward to, something that I knew would be there day in and day out. Every morning I'd walk out my front door and look to the right, up into the old spruce tree and there a Mourning dove would be, sitting peacefully on the nest, many times with the other mate not too far away. Throughout the day, as I passed through the yard, and in the evenings as I scanned the horizon for the sunset, I'd look up at the sturdy branch holding that tiny nest, and there it would be with a beautiful dove incubating the eggs.
Watching the little couple taught me that there is so much joy in the small, every day things in life. In fact I believe that the old saying is true, the greatest joys that can be found are indeed in the simple things and the smallest details in life. More importantly, the Mourning dove couple taught me to actively look for joy. Every time I stepped outside, I would find myself looking up at the nest, and then looking around for the other dove mate. I soon found myself looking for other birds and delights around me, and seeing them as if for the first time. I grew up with birds all around the property and woods, but 2020 was the first time I really SAW them because I was actively looking for them, and now, I have a new hobby that I greatly enjoy... Birding.
Mourning doves are said to be a sign of peace and while I can't speak to any supernatural ability to bring peace to the world, I can attest to the fact that one pair of doves certainly brought me peace during an uncertain time in life. Not only did they bring me peace just seeing the gentle little feathered creatures go about their daily lives, they also taught me about finding and keeping my own peace. They seem to know a thing or two about holding onto their peace, even when the world around them is chaotic.
I recall a severe thunder storm that moved through the area while the couple were still incubating the eggs. It was night, around 9pm, and the wind was really whipping. I was a nervous wreck, worrying about mother (who takes the afternoon through night shift of incubating) and nest making it through the storm in one piece. The nest was so small and flimsy, at least to my eyes, and the bird delicate. Surely the bird wouldn't be able to hold her position against the wind and what would happen to nest and eggs when she was blown away?
I kept running outside during the night, throughout the storm, checking on bird and nest, to make sure they were still there. After several trips outside, checking on their status, I was watching the mother bird from the steps of my porch when a realization dawned on me. I watched her sit there serenely, as if it was a perfectly peaceful, still night. She didn't seem at all concerned about the winds and storm. She showed no signs of distress at all. Even in the chaos of the storm, she was at peace.
I was reminded that God's creatures never worry about what will happen to them, they go about their lives quite peacefully for the most part, no matter what havoc the world is wreaking. Maybe her trust is in the One that created her? Her composure during the storm reminded me that my peace doesn't come from an outside source, but from within. For me, my peace comes from my faith and trust in my Creator. I just needed help remembering that...
They say patience is a virtue, one that I thought I already had well in hand, but I soon learned that I hadn't quite mastered it yet. Watching the Mourning dove couple incubate their eggs and raise their young reminded me that most good things in life require patience and waiting. As the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes, "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun." We spend a great deal of our lives waiting, whether it is actively waiting while we work towards a goal or passively waiting, when we're not sure what to do or when there's nothing to do but wait it out. One thing I learned as I watched and waited to see the doves' young ultimately take flight and leave the nest, is that there's beauty in waiting.
Instead of wanting to rush through the process like I'm usually inclined to do, I savored the waiting. I became so fascinated watching the doves incubate, hatch, and raise their young, and enjoyed photographing them every day that I forgot to rush the waiting. I learned that there's so much joy and beauty in having the patience to see a process or season of life through. From building the nest through to the young doves leaving the nest took about 6-8 weeks total, well over a month. It certainly didn't happen overnight, but then, most things in life don't, do they? That's where patience comes in, and in this case as with many others, I'm glad I stuck it out and had the patience to see it through. It serves as a reminder to me whenever I want to pull the plug on something simply because things aren't happening as quickly as I want them to.
Mourning doves are my favorite birds, from their graceful and peaceful appearance to their beautiful call, I can't get enough of them. I am so thankful that several of them have chosen my yard for their home territory, but one couple and their March 2020 babies will always hold a particularly special place in my heart. I saw the couple build their nest, incubate their two eggs, and then caught sight of their two babies. They've given me some really cool and beautiful moments. Have you ever seen two babies birds hatch out of their eggs? Have you ever watched their parents feed them? Have you ever seen a bird take its first flight?
I had the privilege and felt so incredibly fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to catch the young birds take their very first little flight, testing their wings around the nest and neighboring branches, and the incredible experience of watching them take their first big flight across the yard to another spruce tree. With that incredibly beautiful experience, came the realization that a special season of life was coming to an end. It wasn't too long after that flight across the yard that I no longer saw the young birds. Sure I saw Mourning doves, there are still plenty around, but I would have no way of knowing whether "my doves" were in the mix.
The first few days of no longer seeing the young doves found me feeling what I can only describe as grief, even if it sounds ridiculous. I missed seeing them all the time and more importantly, I worried about how they were doing. I could no longer track their progress the way I did those 6 to 8 weeks. I mourned the loss of that special experience and of seeing those babies and their parents every day. One day, as I was walking around the yard feeling rather blue about about the loss of my feathered friends, I realized that while I mourned their loss, my mourning was because they had made it to adulthood. They were able to grow into beautiful adults. It was like a coin, on one side was my mourning the loss of their presence and on the other side was their joy of maturing and living their own little lives.
So remember this: There is joy all around us in life, we just need to learn how to look for it. Our peace shouldn't rely on any outside source, instead it should come from within, no matter how stormy life gets, and good things come to those who have the patience to wait for them, be it actively or passively. But above all, remember that there truly is beauty in the mourning, both the dove and the emotion.
Born and raised in Upstate NY, Liz is a freelance writer. She has written for websites, blogs, and magazines for the last 10 years. She also acts as a proofreader and beta reader for several authors, all the while working on her first book.