Small, perfect, magnificent! The creature lay in Mark’s hand, unmoving. Stunned or dead—we couldn’t tell. Some birds recover from impact with our sliding glass door and some do not. This was a hard hit—I could hear it from another room—and as I gazed at the beauty of this bird—a blue-winged warbler Mark said, I felt pretty sure the Goddess would call home it soon.
As I write this, fall equinox—Mabon to some of us—is two days away. Already here in Maine the days are noticeably shorter. The dark times are upon us now. Daylight will diminish minute by minute until winter solstice when the sun will grace us with nine whole hours of light before the Wheel of the Year turns and the days begin to lengthen, almost imperceptibly. The anniversary of my first husband’s death is a few days after equinox so this is always a hard time of year for me as I face into the darkness and the inevitably of death.
I have never seen a warbler before as they inhabit the tops of trees and never come to our feeders. It is amazingly beautiful. We create a nest for it—a small container lined with soft things—and place the bird upright inside the nest—on the deck but out of the wind. Mark looks up what warblers eat and adds a few mealworms to the nest. I try not to worry, but in my heart I’m fairly sure it won’t survive.
Fifteen years ago, when I moved to Maine from New Orleans and began living in relative countryside, with cats, my relationship with death was disturbed and fragile. The deaths of my first husband and parents, within the same four-month period that included Hurricane Katrina & the flooding of New Orleans, had left me fairly traumatized. During the next few years, several friends of my first husband and I died, often unexpectedly. So when the cats began presenting me with decapitated mice, I kind of freaked out. The first time this happened I called Mark at work, panicked. ‘Oh My God—Oh My God—Oh My God! There’s a dead mouse on the floor in the living room—it’s very gross and very dead.’ All my trauma around death was triggered and I had no clue how to respond. I just knew that yet again something in my sphere of influence had died on my watch.
As darkness fell, Mark and I gathered to assess the warbler. As we suspected, it is dead. We each say a prayer over it, and vow to replace the decals designed to prevent bird strikes on our windows. Then we lay it on the deck stairs for a night scavenger to find.
My ability to process and cope with death has significantly improved since I moved north and began practicing my Pagan beliefs in a place with seasonal change. Although losing friends, family, and pets to death is not something I will ever seek, living here has helped me understand the intimate relationship between life and death and rebirth. I have been living within a master class on the cycles and seasons of life in this part of the planet. I have come to understand that the Great Goddess, to whom I am devoted, holds both life and death in her hands—a responsibility she takes quite seriously.
Trees have started turning colors here in New England. The maple in the back yard has a few yellow and red leaves and it is clear that the green is slowly draining out of the remaining ones. The pond at its base wears a smattering of yellow leaves on its surface. Within weeks it will be covered with yellow. Autumn leaves is one of the reasons I wanted to live in Maine. Having lived in the south most of my life, I longed to immerse myself in this beauty. After a few years of living with the beauty and grace with which the deciduous tree lets go of its leaves, followed by the stark bareness of branches against a winter night sky, and finally the joyous release of life energy in the spring and summer, I realized I was witnessing before me the life lessons I had resisted learning in the past. For autumn in New England is a visually magnificent example of how to gracefully let go—how to accept the ends of cycles and seasons, to release that which needs to be released, to burrow into a period of introspection, and to prepare for the coming spring.
After a year or so, I grew to accept the occasional dead mouse, or chipmunk, as part of what it means to live with cats in this climate. I moved from leaving the carcasses for Mark to deal with to picking them up with tongs and tossing them into the trash. But before long I started taking them outside and placing them on Mother Earth. Here they would decompose naturally and return their life energy to the ecosystem of our land. I said a prayer that I was sorry their life had been ended by my cat and asked the Goddess to accept them into her bosom. This is how the circle of life operates—birth is followed by life and life is followed by death. This is one thing in my world that does not change—something no one escapes no matter how rich, powerful, or spiritually enlightened. And I have come to find reassurance in that.
Since I am more tuned to the seasons now, it seems perfectly natural to me that we are presented with a dead warbler around Mabon. Mark and I are in our mid-seventies and know that we are definitely living the autumn of our lives. So far we’ve enjoyed relatively good health, but we also understand that the longer one lives, the more friends and family one loses to death. This is what it means to be alive.
The warbler’s body is still there in the morning. Still relatively perfect and beautiful, and still very dead. We bring it inside, place it in a place of protection from the cats. On Mabon we take it to the stone altar in the meadow and leave it there as a means of honoring both the spirt of the bird and the spirits of all creatures that will die on our land this winter, and thus we honor the spirit of the season. We sing ‘We all come from the Goddess and to her we shall return’ with a renewed understanding. Blessed Be.
BIO: Mary Gelfand is an ordained Interfaith Minister and a Wiccan High Priestess. As a Unitarian Universalist, she has served in both local and national leadership roles, including five years as national board president of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS). She is an experienced teacher of Cakes for the Queen of Heaven—adult education program focused on feminist thealogy and the Great Goddess. A practicing Pagan, her spiritual life is rooted in the cycles and seasons of the natural world which are so abundantly visible in New England. She reads, teaches, and preaches about feminist theology, the Great Goddess, mysticism, and the mysteries of Tarot. As a fiber artist, she enjoys weaving tapestry and knitting gifts for strangers and friends.
4 thoughts on “Mabon and the Warbler by Mary Gelfand”
Even though there was death you and Mark made it so so beautiful.
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You were meant to be his Psychopomps on this journey. I had a Toad who was my friend. He died from poisoning and now his bones are a talisman I work with. I also work with his spirit. There are other animals I have done that with. Good friends.
After having lived in Maine for most of my 77 years I know how intimate my relationship to the seasons is – and each one brings gifts and fears… Fall is the season of joyful abundance but as I age I fear managing in winter and yet long for her slow pace. Fall is the season of -spring brings harsh light until the trees bless the house but also flowery abundance – and summers are becoming too noisy too hot…..I do my best to enjoy them by staying in the woods close to water – change is the only constant and living close to nature brings that truth home on a level that is close to the earth’s roots… death is always apart of the story regardless of time of year….
I love living in Maine, too. I moved here from California in 1995 with my late husband. He grew up in Maine. In the part of California where we lived, Ventura County, the seasons blended together. We moved here in January and it was quite a shock to me. I have also found that the seasons have connected me with nature, with the Goddess, and the cycles of life. I too put the mice that my cats kill outside for the scavengers. I feel sorry for the mice and my mother and I used to try to take them away from the cats and put them outside, but the mice cause damage so we’ve recently stopped trying to rescue them. We just really wish the cats wouldn’t bring them upstairs and torture them in front of us – ugh!