Satori of the Chickadee


There are few things so light and yet so firm as the grip of a chickadee. Cautious and patient, you’ll see them waiting and watching in the trees before mustering the courage to glide down and land upon the tips of your fingers. Once there they are careful to select the perfect seed, a mix of wild spontaneity and surgical precision, before rising up and rushing away. The whole affair is over in an instant, as fleeting as the breath held in for just such a moment.  Catching chickadees is no simple matter; it is a task which requires a high degree of patience and comfort with little reward.

As he sat beside her, he thought of it as an exercise in mindfulness, noticing that they would refuse to come always and only when their arrival seemed most imperative. Of course you could not actually catch the chickadees, to do so would be to break the long held pact between man and one of God’s most cautious creatures, an affront to the delicately cultivated relationship. Instead he had with him a camera, the standard  method of capturing the fleeting and ungraspable.

As they landed, the shutter snapped; its clap a thundering beast to the small birds. They would rush away fearfully in an instant, often too fast for the camera to capture. Having wasted nearly a whole roll of film on blurry wings and out of focus palms she looked up at him softly.

“You’re scaring them away.” She spoke, her voice as gentle as the chickadees. “Your camera’s too loud and you look too much like a predator ready to lunge. You have to relax a bit. Let them eat and then try again.”

She took his hand and emptied the raw sunflowers into it. “Maybe try it yourself, gain their trust.”

He put his camera aside reluctantly and took the seeds. Outstretching his arm he offered it to the chickadees. The forest sprites held back, unconvinced of the gestures kindness, and watched wearily from the trees. Before long he was ready to give up, releasing the tension in his arm and looking away ever so slightly from his hand.

A flash; he could feel tension suddenly build around his index, a quick squeeze and a sudden release. A chickadee had landed but escaped his sight.

“There you go.” She said. “Just relax. If you want it too much they won’t come.”

His arm tensed up just a bit more now and his eyes returned to his hand, awaiting the arrival of the next brave bird. This time he took her advice, and they came. He could enjoy the moment, a profound interaction between two souls,  unimpeded by intention.

Before long a whole flock had gathered in the brush nearby, taking turns picking the  fresh seed from his hand. They seemed grateful for it too, taking more time to  select their food.

Before long he became anxious, gripped as always by his need to capture the fleeting. He took her hands and emptied the raw seeds back into them, reaching over to his camera  and  lifting it to his face. Only one exposure left, he sat in wait. For as long as the camera  was drawn no birds came, a frustrating game of tag. She looked back to him and spoke.

“They just don’t want you to photograph them, what’s wrong with that?” He couldn’t get past the absurdity of the situation. All he needed was one decent photograph,  and yet he was offering them the food they needed to live.

For the chickadees, to eat was imperative. For him, to photograph them eating was just as much so, but they refused. It seemed as though they were intent to go hungry this  night if only to prevent him from capturing their souls.