“Are we there yet, Mommy?” inquired Alex as he swung the berry buckets at the fireweed in our path.
I shifted Marc to my other hip. “Not yet. Just a little further.”
Our little trio continued to hike through the forest, beyond the stand of stately blue spruce, and past the pond ringed with bulrushes. Finally, we reached the treasure we sought: a thicket of saskatoon bushes, heavy laden with berries, dusted with the blue bloom of ripeness.
I pulled a light blanket from my backpack, spread it on the ground, and set Marc down. I surrounded him with a few playthings, shaking the ones that chimed and rattled as I did so. Marc gave me a toothy grin and reached for the orange frog.
“Mom! Look at all the ‘toons!” Alex hollered as he dangled a grape-like cluster for me to see.
“We better get picking while Marc is happy.”
He handed me a bucket and dived into the nearest bush with his own. I knew it wouldn’t be long before five-year old Alex grew tired, but for now, his enthusiasm for filling our freezer and pantry was high, and that was important. Plunk, plunk. The first berries hit the bottom of his pail.
The August afternoon was brilliant. A clear heaven shone over trembling aspen trees; already, golden leaves were interspersed among the green. Fluffy fireweed tapers swayed in the gentle breeze. From a nearby treetop, a blackbird trilled her chorus, obviously enjoying the sunshine as much as we were. I thought how generous God was with His provisions. Food, and a sweet melody to gather it by.
“Look, Mommy.” Alex showed me his bucket. There was a layer covering the bottom.
“Good job, sweetie.”
Alex picked out an especially plump berry and popped it into Marc’s mouth. Marc gummed it rapturously, and purple drool ran down his chin. Alex flashed me an indigo smile.
“Is my tongue purple?” He stuck it out for my inspection.
“Back to work, Purple Boy.” I chided jokingly.
The blackbird sang on, and soon, Marc slumped over, soothed to sleep by the whispering leaves and the soft plopping of berries. As predicted, when Alex’s bucket was half full -- which I thought was a valiant effort -- he came and curled up on the corner of Marc’s blanket. I rummaged through the backpack and found some small trucks for him.
I wandered deeper into the thicket, keeping watch as Marc slept and Alex played. My buckets were filling quickly; I had filled mine, as well as topped up Alex’s, and had started another.
Abruptly, the blackbird stopped her cheery refrain. A hush descended. Something was wrong.
I felt, rather than heard, the warning call as the bird rocketed from her lofty perch.
A black bear rose onto its haunches, not six feet away from me.
“Huff.” It grunted reeking breath into my face.
Paralyzed, I dropped the berry bucket and saskatoons cascaded across my feet. At the same time, the blackbird swooped at the bear, shrieking her fury. He swiped at her with a mighty paw, but the little bird flew swiftly away. She dived at the bear again, dipping and darting fiercely, while the bear swiped and swung in vexation. By then, I had gathered my wits and retreated.
Alex was staring, wide-eyed. I scooped up the slumbering Marc, grabbed Alex’s hand, and abandoned the backpack, berries, and toys. The fruit would distract the bear long enough for our escape, once he got past the attacking blackbird.
We raced through the woods, Marc oblivious in my arms, Alex speechless, half running, half being dragged. Amazingly, our blackbird joined us again, flying from treetop to treetop, giving joy and comfort, even accompanying us beyond her home by the pond. We slowed to a walk and breathed again.
I realized, then, what a miracle it had been, to be saved by the silencing of a song. And it had been a miracle out of season; our blackbird had no nestlings to protect. It could only have been the nudging of God within her breast to adopt and protect us as she would her own.
As she warbled at the top of the spruce tree, waiting for us to catch up, I thought how fitting it was that the blackbird’s caring eye was upon us, we, who are of more worth to God than the tiniest bird.
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