UNCAGED by Jane Beal


My new collection of poems
about birding and the spiritual life:


hard-copy * read online


We went to the water
to see the Pelican –

the one, they say, who stabs her breast
and feeds her young with blood (like Christ),

but there was no bird like that
on the little islands by the pier.

There were Western Gulls instead,
crying out like Alcyone for Ceys,

flying over us like the ragged mists
of dreams we dream at dawn

and, waking, find
have told us the truth.

We were standing close together, just above
the water, like the Light Princess and her Prince,

when I noticed the cliff swallows
darting over the waves, under the pier

where they have hidden their nests
and are feeding the future

with a constant love
that never fails.


View original post

Seagull and Silhouette


Yellow-Billed Stork

ThreeYellowBilledStorksThis morning, I woke up and prayed for my day. I was reminded, as I read a devotional by Sarah Young in Jesus Always, that I have a tendency to rush into my day with a strong desire to tidy up all the small details that seem to desperately need attending to — only, maybe, they don’t. I was reminded that sometimes I trust God when “big things” are on the horizon, but with the small things, I tend to rely on myself. Why not stop? Why not rely on God in everything, for everything?

I went for my morning walk in a state of happiness. I looked around at how beautiful everything, everywhere, is — with a deep inner awareness that God, the Creator, has made it all. It makes me feel so thankful! Words began to come to me for a new poem, for a new collection of poems:  a collection of psalms. I was filled with a sense of awe and amazement that I was getting a new idea, a heavenly inspiration, right there and then!

Part of it, I know, is a great working together of many things:  later today, I will be teaching about the book of Psalms in my Old Testament class at Epic Bible College and Graduate School. I taught a series of classes on the Psalms at my church, and before that, I taught an online course on the Psalms for a university in Colorado. The work of Hassell Bullock, my Hebrew teacher at Wheaton College, in his book, Encountering the Psalms, has opened my understanding of the Psalms. I’ve read the Psalms almost everyday of my life, and the Spirit of the Living God has opened my heart to himself through the words of ancient Israelite singers. I love the Psalms. The word “psalm” was the first word my father tried to teach me when I was a baby.


My Yellow-Billed Stork, reflected in the Nile, Uganda (September 2013)

When I came home from my walk, I wrote four psalms for a new poetry collection! I did it with a wonderful sense of inspiration and excitement, thinking of the main poetic devices used in the Hebrew Psalms:  not rhyme and meter, so frequently used in English poetry, but repetition and parallelism. The third psalm I wrote was about God’s creatures that I had seen in Uganda when I traveled through the savanna and up the Nile River to see Murchison Falls:  the goal of a brief pilgrimage.

As I was writing, I was trying to remember what I had seen. Some animals I remembered vividly, but I knew there was more than I could recall. So I went back to my digital photographs, and as I was looking through them, I saw one in which a bird was standing by the side of the water. I thought to myself:  that looks like a stork. The picture was blurry. I enlarged the image of the bird. I was sure it was a stork. Its markings were distinct. How had I not identified this bird in this photo before now?

I did a Google search on African birds, and I discovered this one’s name:  Mycteria ibis, the Yellow-Billed Stork! I was delighted. I added it to my life-list. It’s hard to believe that I saw a bird of such distinct splendor, and only identified it from my own photo three years later!!


Now I See a Yellow-Billed Stork

Lord, I see an elephant with long tusks
alone on the savanna –

I see giraffes with long necks
striding together in the morning.

I see hippos in the Nile
and a kingfisher flying in midair –

I see a mother monkey
who carries her baby on her back.

I see a water buffalo,
and he sees me!

I see a wild warthog
trotting away through the trees.

Now I see a yellow-billed stork
standing in the river-shallows.

O Lord, how marvelous is every creature
You have made!


p.s. Maybe I will call this new collection something like
Psalms for the God of Birds.

“The Dipper” by Mary Oliver


Once I saw
in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,
among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,
a small bird, and knew it

from the pages of a book; it was
the dipper, and dipping he was,
as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up
the clear, strong pipe of his voice; at this,

there being no words to transcribe, I had to
bend forward, as it were,
into his frame of mind, catching
everything I could in the tone,

cadence, sweetness, and briskness
of his affirmative report.
Though not by words, it was
a more than satisfactory way to the

bridge of understanding. This happened
in Colorado
more than half a century ago—
more, certainly, than half my lifetime ago—

and, just as certainly, he has been sleeping for decades
in the leaves beside the stream,
his crumble of white bones, his curl of flesh
comfortable even so.

And still I hear him—
and whenever I open the ponderous book of riddles
he sits with his black feet hooked to the page,
his eyes cheerful, still burning with water-love—

and thus the world is full of leaves and feathers,
and comfort, and instruction. I do not even remember
your name, great river,
but since that hour I have lived

in the joy of the body as full and clear
as falling water; the pleasures of the mind
like a dark bird dipping in and out, tasting and singing.

Mary Oliver

Note: On Thursday, July 6th, I gave a poetry reading at the John Natsoulas Gallery in downtown Davis. Afterwards, I was pleased to sit down and talk with Steve, a poet and a bird-watcher like myself. He mentioned this poem, “The Dipper,” by Mary Oliver in our conversation. Mary Oliver first saw the bird in Colorado, where Steve had also seen it. Though I have lived in Colorado, I have not yet seen the American Dipper in situ, bobbing and fishing in nature’s favorite stream. However, I have had a preview! The little bird is simply delightful.

p.s. John Muir loved the bird, which he called a water-thrush. He wrote of it: “THE waterfalls of the Sierra are frequented by only one bird, —the Ouzel or Water Thrush ( Cinclus Mexicanus). He is a singularly joyous and lovable little fellow, about the size of a robin, clad in a plain waterproof suit of bluish gray, with a tinge of chocolate on the head and shoulders. In form he is about as smoothly plump and compact as a pebble that has been whirled in a pot-hole, the flowing contour of his body being interrupted only by his strong feet and bill, the crisp wing-tips, and the up-slanted wren-like tail.”

Bird Stamps

The other day, I stopped by my parents’ home to find my step-father (recently retired) enjoying a hobby none of us knew he had:  stamps. He was merrily taking stamps out of plastic bags (where he apparently saved them years ago) and placing them in the appropriate places in massive American and International stamp books. I was delighted to see a number of stamps with birds on them, and I took a few pictures …

Hooded Orioles

Today I was walking on the Biola University campus when I heard a racket in a nearby palm tree. I looked up, and lo and behold!, four aggravated hooded orioles were swooping around an errant squirrel who had made his way too close (I suspect) to a nest. In the midst of the racket, a surprised hummingbird came darting out from the palm branches, hovered in mid-air a few feet away from the tree, and then vanished!

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds, “Hooded Orioles in California earned the nickname ‘palm-leaf oriole’ because of their tendency to build nests in palm trees. When the nest is suspended from palm leaves, the female pokes holes in the leaf from below and pushes the fibers through, effectively sewing the nest to the leaf.” It’s a beautiful, delicate thing, and I can see why the orioles wouldn’t want a squirrel to come near their artwork — not to mention their little ones.

p.s. See two flirting orioles!

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 2.27.58 PM

730 Birds of North America in ONE Chart

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 7.01.03 AM

To zoom in and see the birds close up,

visit Co.Design Infographic