When I saw the title of my sister’s gift, Providence of a Sparrow, Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds, by Chris Chester, my first thought was,“Here comes another attempt to convert me into a light reader.” My sister is the self-appointed keeper of my well being and has decided, among other things, that I am way too serious a reader/thinker and that my health is somehow in jeopardy because of this, as my reading interests tend towards the philosophical and instructional. For example, the current population atop my bedside table includes titles such as Necessary Wisdom, Meeting the Challenge of a New Cultural Maturity, by Dr. Charles Johnston, The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge, by Klontz, Kahler, and Klontz and Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays by Stephen Hawking.
“Okay,” I thought, “this will be a quick read, and I can blast through it and let Winser know I read it. That should satisfy her for a while.” Little did I know that this little non-fiction gem would become one of my all-time favorite books.
In it the author, Chris Chester, tells the story of how he and his partner-to-become-wife, Rebecca, adopted a baby sparrow – who had “all the appeal of a testicle with a beak” – that had fallen from its nest under the eaves of their house and not only raised it to adulthood, but gave it the run of an entire room of their home, and provided it with a veritable flock of other rescued birds to keep it company.
Through the process of raising and caring for the sparrow, “B,” the Chesters learned important things about the science of ornithology. They also discovered some non-scientific truths that were even more important, such as how mistaken we humans can be about the intelligence and emotional capacity of the feathered co-habitants of this earth. We humans too frequently assume that birds are stupid, “feather-brained” if you will. The Chesters discovered that, on the contrary, even the much-maligned and disrespected house sparrow is capable of many surprising feats of intelligence and perception as well as affection for its own kind that can even extend to humans.
Chris Chester tells the story with sensitivity and humor. But then I don’t believe such a story could be told successfully otherwise. Nor would the circumstance that led to the story have likely occurred if the teller were not so keenly aware and observant of the unexpected in life.
I love the book because I learned in the reading, and this expanded my own awareness and appreciation of the feathered creatures I encounter. Although I’ve always been a bird lover, I pay more attention to them now, and enjoy them more than ever before. When our yard robin “hangs out” with me while I’m gardening, I now entertain the thought that this behavior could be on purpose. And when I drag the garden hose out into the yard and every chickadee in the neighborhood arrives to take a bath in the water I deliberately spray on the tree leaves for them, I’m now inclined to believe that they’ve been watching for me to come out and perform just this service.
I also love the book because it taught me in a very enjoyable way, through fresh and engaging descriptive passages and a type of wry humor that I relish. For example:
“I felt as guilty as possible for leaving him alone. Indignant face plastered against the screen, he’d shriek minor-key laments Monday through Friday mornings when, after delivering his breakfast, I’d oil out of his room dressed in my work clothes.”
Chester keeps me engaged with the book from end to end. He never lets up on either the humor or the
descriptions, and he slips in factual meat between is done so deftly that I scarcely know I’ve been taught. I just want to pick up the book,and read it again.