Writing, despair, hummingbirds, and goldfinches

Musings before resting:


Something Rachel said to Mike Ross on Suits last night has stuck: “You need to decide if you love me more than you hate what I did.”

I have to decide if I love the results more than I hate having to nap frequently to get them.

I hate the naps, but I hate feeling lost and unable to think MORE.

Yes, I hate having to nap. Yes, I hate that my brain doesn’t work most of the time.

Sub-optimal solutions

But I have solutions, and I keep resisting USING them: don’t eat carbs. Get a nap every 2.5 hours. Block the internet. Get help.

Yes, I hate that getting started is so darned hard. But if I do, I keep going, and stuff gets done.

Yes, I hate that I keep getting more and more behind; but I can make a dent in these things.

God is giving me things to help, and I need to take them. It will never be GOOD. But it can be BETTER.

Green and gold signs

I see a bright yellow male goldfinch on the coneflowers, eating the seeds. The motion attracts me and I pick up the binoculars, and there are three more, another bright male, and two dun females, happily sitting on the drying stalks, pulling the seeds out of the cone and gorging. It is supposed to be their favorite food – and I have provided it for this moment, by planting perennials so many years ago. All is well, God is in His world, at everything is under control, if I will but trust in Him.

Hummingbirds at the feeder reassure me: they must follow a trail of flowers from South America (Central America) to here, finding food at every stop on the way, somehow managing enough fuel to make it through each day, with no way of storing many extra calories on their tiny bodies.

The male goldfinches fight each other a bit over control of a prime feeding area – they must have enough for the moment to find the energy to be distracted. they are bigger than the hummingbirds – but not much, to sit on the head without bending the dried stalk.

The male hummingbirds, probably this year’s juveniles from the tiny bit of red at their throats, buzz and dive at each other for control of the feeder – and then both vanish. Like toddlers, they want the same toy only as long as the ‘other’ wants it.

Proof of life fights despair

The very existence of the tiny birds tips me away from despair.

Thanks, Lord. I needed that.

Despair is the unforgivable sin, because it says things are so bad even God can’t help them. Which is patently absurd, but can burden me in the dark hours when it seems all I have are the same old problems, again, and again, and every day I get farther behind, and more burdened.

That kind of thinking scares me.

I cleared my little piece of writing desk, something I haven’t been able to do in days. That means something. If I can’t even clear the desk, the brain is truly fogged.

A heavier, bigger gray birdie – female goldfinch? – is standing on the stalks, reaching around to the far side on the coneflower heads for the seeds that might have been left behind. Gleaning. It makes me think of women everywhere, waiting their turn, quietly gathering the leftovers the dominant yellow males have left in their frenzied attacks.

Patient, second or last in line. She is not allowed to compete with the bright yellow testosterone-fueled males. She will eat – or the species will not survive – but she is working harder, acrobatically stretching, taking what she can find from what’s left, never getting the prime easy-to-reach seeds.

It reminds me of Tiptree’s The women men don’t see.

You could look at it as God providing for ALL his creatures; I look at it as males going in first, taking more than a fair share, spoiling what’s left.

Maybe I should have been a man.

It has suited the Lord my God to make me what I am. I will not question His judgment or His methods. But I’m allowed wistfulness.

And it means I’m ready for that nap.

What turns you away from despair in the dark nights?


14 thoughts on “Writing, despair, hummingbirds, and goldfinches

  1. clairechase51

    My worst moments of despair come when I feel I am trapped in something with no way out. However, like you, I have found that I do have options, I just don’t want to exercise them. Understanding just that one piece, is very helpful and does help me move forward. It is interesting, Alicia…that some things that help you also help me. I love watching squirrels and birds. Music helps me. I’ve know since I was young, that music will get me past most anything. Last, doing something for someone else, even small, gets me out of myself and my self pity. 🙂


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      ‘Trapped – and no way out except options you don’t want to exercise.’ That is the classic case. I’m reminded of the hiker who had to figure out a way to saw off his own arm – or die on the mountain, pinned by a boulder. He survived.

      He actually had an option. He found one where most people would have died. Sometimes it helps, instead of trying to make things better, to push them to the opposite extreme: see how bad they could possibly be. Most of my situations are NOT ‘I will die on this mountain.’ Perspective then helps find options that are less Draconian.

      I wonder, if you’re a bird, if it feels like a hard life. I could not do what they do.


      1. clairechase51

        By the way, receiving an email asking how I am doing, or sending an email to someone else asking about them…..are sure ways to feel less despair. 🙂 I feel sorry for animals that have to forage for food….fine when it is plentiful…but so sad when it is not.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Friends help so much, don’t they?

          I feel for animals – sometimes it is so cold and barren outside that I wonder how they make it through the night – and yet it would be impossible to bring them inside. I just hope that they don’t feel it as much as I would. And they have such a hard time, birds and many other animals, helping each other – they may be in groups, but they are basically alone after they grow up.

          It is wrong to see animals anthropomorphically – to extend human sentiments to them – but I am so erratic on things like putting out birdseed; I am not much help – and can’t feed all of them every day, nor would they want me to. Silly of me – animals have been on Earth far longer than humans.


  2. J.M. Ney-Grimm

    Sometimes simple beauty brings me light in despair. Sometimes an unexpected laugh. Sometimes a hug. Sometimes just gritting my teeth. Sometimes I say to myself, “You’ll feel better after you rest, or eat.”

    Sometimes there is no turning away despair. Then I must simply survive the experience and wait for it to lift. Dark nights of the soul come to most of us. And more than once.

    Sometimes, just sometimes, when I am lost in despair, I welcome the feeling in and with the welcome, it dissipates like mist warmed by the sun.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      The key part is KNOWING you will survive (until the last time, of course). Despair can flow over you, soaking in everywhere. The major losses in life can bring the feeling – there is absolutely nothing you can do. It is over.

      I think also building an attitude of gratitude, as you say, for the simple things as well as the complex that we enjoy as first-worlders, helps.

      I was lucky in parents, genes, century, country of origin. I won’t bother listing the unluckies – what’s the point?

      I am glad you survive. I am glad I survive.


  3. juliabarrett

    Here ya go: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew something-something.
    I love birds. I figure they carry the same weight we do with the power/s that be.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’ve always admired birds – rearing babies when you can’t even pick them up? Pretty amazing. God must love birds – he made so very many beautiful colors of them.

      He also made a lot more ants – maybe God loves ants more? But they are black, tiny, and industrious – not beautiful. Fascinating, but not like birds.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I’m sorry – they’re prettier than you are. And I don’t have to do anything – THEY do the flapping. For the rest of the year, squirrels. They don’t sit around agonizing – they go find food, chase other squirrels, collect nuts, make more baby squirrels, and plant unwanted trees among my perennials. I love watching them; some people hate ’em.

      I love music – but have the energy only for mostly silence. I love writing – I do as much as I can, slowly. I find I can usually get my own spirits up, even with what I’ve lost, even with what I sense is coming, and that’s a blessing. Or, if you want, a skill – I didn’t have it in grad school (when I really could have used it!).


  4. Lily White LeFevre


    I rarely feel despair. The aphorisms that pull me out are pulling me from a momentary dilemma not an ongoing one. “life has to be lived at the point where you are” / life is finite and precious, don’t waste it being unhappy / “can you do anything? (no) then there’s no problem or (yes) then do it”


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      You are genetically lucky – as well as skilled.

      As with everything, if you are self-aware enough to have the tools to pull yourself out, you are better prepared for life’s inevitable vicissitudes than those who get hit and have no resources developed, and no ability to learn on the spot.

      I just keep focusing on the fact that IT DOESN’T HELP.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Thanks, John. Despair paralyzes. When I find myself slipping in that direction, I have to grab the reins, do something. I’m much better at it than when I was younger, for which I am very grateful. I work at it, but I still consider it a gift.

      Liked by 1 person


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