Eulogy for Jenny Wren

A bird died today—it broke its neck in frantic midflight against our living room window. From the shadow’s small silhouette, pattern, and quickness, I thought the fatal thud was a hummingbird. But when I looked through the windowpanes, a tiny wren lay inert on the concrete, her cheerful song forever silenced.  I examined her brown, compact body, contemplating her life and purpose.

How many bugs had she snatched from the bushes? How often had I heard her morning song? How many years had she returned to our yard after the darkness of winter?

A pair of wrens currently nests in this house.

Her end came so suddenly, so abruptly, so unexpectedly. Where was she going in such careless hurry? Were her fledglings waiting for her, their tiny beaks open, wings fluttering in anticipation of breakfast? Was her mate still waiting outside the nest in their desperate tag-team to feed their brood? Her stillness rings in the morning air.

Sometimes I am so distracted and mindless in my flights, forgetting that life on this earth is not forever. The sunrises and sunsets paint the sky, and often I am too preoccupied by tasks and responsibilities that I forget to pause and breathe in the moments.

Like the wren, our flight on this earth is brief and there is always the possibility that it might end as swiftly. For me, I find comfort in knowing that we have a chance to impact the future with more than our DNA.   Jazz musician Greg Adams suggests, “There is no such thing as a ‘self-made’ man or woman. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken a word of encouragement to us, has entered the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.”

How true. I remember the people who have helped me along the way, who have listened, who have encouraged me.

Lorraine and Merritt Harper, neighbors and retired farmers, who welcomed me for lemonade and cookies when I spontaneously arrived at their door, announcing confidently, “Hi, I was just out on my bike and thought I would stop by.”  They gave me their full, uninterrupted attention as we sat at their tiny kitchen table. They smiled at me, listening to my 10-year-old ideas and adventures.  How important and loved I felt. My choir teacher, Cinda Cramer, who encouraged fragile, awkward high school students to persist and take risks. My friends and I felt valued and noticed, something all teenagers so desperately need.

I believe we impact the future by spending time with grandchildren. I still remember how loved I felt by my grandmothers.

We can’t, of course, always recall the details, but such care and kindness become a part of us and what we find important. These wonderful people are gone from this earth, yet their influence remains in me and in all the other people their positive energy touched.

Opportunities for encouragement and helping others are all around. All we need to do is make the effort.

I pause and remember, respecting the brief life of Jenny Wren.

It’s a Fine Life5/26/2019

By Kathleen Oswalt Forsythe © May 26, 2019

Bird Watching Supplies on Amazon

 As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

We have two pairs of wrens nesting in similar boxes in our yard. I love their sweet songs–and their occasional scolding of our calico cat!

This is very similar to our Oriole feeder. I do put oranges out, but grape jelly keeps them coming back again and again.

Playing Favorites

I love this shot of my parents’ garden with the farmhouse in the background. Photo by

“What is the favorite flower in your garden?” an acquaintance asked last fall. Our beds are filled with many perennials, ornamental bushes, and foundational plants. I am not a master gardener, but I do love to garden and the challenge to find just the right place for each plant. I don’t remember why this question was raised; perhaps he was wondering why anyone would want the trouble of tending a flower garden. And when I think about it, that’s probably logical. Flower gardens don’t produce greens or vegetables for the table, and they need continual weeding and trimming. To many people they must seem like senseless, impractical work.

As I scrolled through the lovely flower images in my summer memories, my immediate answer to his query was day lilies. I have probably twenty different kinds of lilies. They naturalize quickly, making division and replanting (or gifting) possible. Within five years, a lily can be divided several times. I seemed confident with my answer. “I think it would have to be a day lily.”

Cheerful daisies. Photo provided by

Then I thought about the cheerful daisies. They also take root quickly and can fill a space with light and bloom. I started with two little pots from the garden club plant sale five years ago, and we now have over twenty square feet of daisies in all areas of the yard. They are hardy and disease resistant.  So, maybe I need to change my answer…

But then, how about our coral bells? Oh, they are so lovely with their little rounded base and fragrant, delicate blossoms so coveted by the hummingbirds and the bees. And each year there are new hybrids with different-colored or different-shaped leaves which call sweetly to me when shopping at the local greenhouses. There are varieties which flourish in full sun as well as many varieties I have tucked throughout the shady areas of our beds.

And how could I forget about all our easy-going hosta plants?

Wait a minute. Do the ornamental grasses count? They are hardy and add a different kind of interest…

And how I love my different varieties of hydrangeas…

Our three flowers. How could there be a favorite?

I looked at my acquaintance and realized he is obviously not a gardener. He isn’t attached to a garden and its unexpected moods and whims. He’s never scrambled to help plants survive in a summer drought or discussed “the new weed in town” with a gardening friend over a cup of tea.

Asking a gardener to pick a favorite flower is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child.


It’s a Fine Life.

If you want to attract orioles to your yard, there is nothing easier than these grape jelly feeders. The orange color seems to attract them, and the cups are easy to fill and clean up.

Seal the Deal

Firm handshakes seal a deal, honor friends and family with enthusiasm, and greet new people with intention.

This is about the age when handshake practice began.

My brothers and I were taught early to greet people with a smile and a steady handshake. I remember lining up behind my little brothers, taking turns shaking Dad’s hand until he was satisfied. He would soundly correct us and have us try it again (this is surprising and demonstrates my father’s belief in the importance of a solid-shake because he rarely got worked up about anything.)

My handsome dad–even though he was sick, he still insisted on a firm handshake.

My dad’s grip was crushing—even when he died at 83. He would grab on to a hand and place his other hand on the person’s shoulder. He would look them in the eyes and greet people with enthusiasm. People anticipated his greeting and spoke to me of it after his funeral. “I looked forward to seeing your dad. I always felt like I was the only person in the room when I saw him.”

There’s not much worse than a weak handshake—those people who just touch the last third of your fingers with their thumb and first finger and release your hand before you’ve had a chance to commit. These handshakes are so much worse than the sweaty-shake which leaves you discretely running your right hand down your skirt or pants when the sweaty-palm-owner turns the other way.

Brothers are greeted with hugs. Always.

For a good portion of my life I’ve been a hugger, but in the last few years I’ve re-introduced the handshake when I meet someone new. It’s sometimes uncomfortable in our paranoid, germophobic society: hand sanitizing wipes are stationed near the carts at grocery stores and hand sanitizing wall dispensers wait every few feet in hospitals. My girlfriends have fragrant, travel-sized hand sanitizer in purses and my high school students have them clipped to their monstrous backpacks.

I confess that during cold and flu season I am reluctant to extend my hand and offer a friendly greeting. (I do shake hands firmly, its’ true, but I often follow with a secret-squirt of hand sanitizer.)

It’s a Fine Life

Thankful Thursday: Strong Women

Where would we be without the many wonderful women in our lives who have helped us along the way, who have taught us important lessons, and who have pushed us to be better?

My dear cousin Jennifer, my mom, and I at a family wedding. My mom could teach the Dale Carnegie Course “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Her positivism is contagious.

Where would we be without our mothers? My mom, the most influential person in my life, embraces every day and remains positive even in difficult times. She raised the five of us to be kind and to always treat people with dignity. She made everyone feel welcome in our home. We “always had room for one more” at the supper table, on a trip to the cabin, or even around a game board. She definitely has strong opinions and believes in making a difference in our community.

My daughters and I last August.

How about daughters and granddaughters? Mine push me to be a better person. They call me out on antiquated attitudes. They help me slow down and savor the moments. They are beautiful and compassionate, and my life is so much better because of them.

Last summer with the Lake Effect Writers Guild,

And where would we be without our girlfriends? I have been blessed by so many wonderful friendships throughout my life–cousins, schoolmates, adult friendships–each relationship has helped me feel rich and whole.

I am thankful for all these women.

It’s a Fine Life.

Monday Musings: Trains

If you have ever spent much time in Vicksburg, Michigan, you know how frequently trains pass through our little hometown. Going in or out of the village, we must regularly wait at a crossing. A few years ago, my friend Sue Moore heard me complain about it. She suggested that this is something positive–that more trains mean the economy is doing well. Well, I do my best to be patient and remember her optimism–but I’m not always successful.

When we waited as children, we loved counting cars and watching for the caboose which occupied the end of many trains. My mom would beep her horn as it passed, and my brothers and I would wave at a conductor, often standing and smoking at the back of the caboose. To me, that seemed a fantastic life–traveling cross country with a cheery, red car to sleep in. I imagined the engineers warming themselves around a cozy coal stove; at day’s end, the tired workers would crawl into tightly-made bunks and be rocked to sleep by the gentle swaying of the rail cars.

When I was in elementary school, we occasionally traveled by train to our grandparents’ home on the other side of the state. We watched the Michigan countryside from the windows and ate snacks which magically appeared from my mother’s bottomless tote bag. My amazing mother–our personal Mary Poppins–kept the five of us happily occupied and seated.

With the warmer nights, the sound of the late-night-trains travels to me across Sunset Lake. I am thankful that I am safe in my warm bed and think about those engineers and conductors sounding the whistles as they ride and rumble towards home.

It’s a Fine Life.

Thankful Thursday: The Gifts of Spring

The magnolias are blossoming, the orioles are feeding, and the goslings are tagging along behind their parents. It appears that Spring is really here to stay.

An ornamental pear is flowering in our front yard.

Spring’s gifts are everywhere.

Hosta plants are reaching upward. This variety’s leaves are opening.

I love how the Brunnera plants naturalize and become a lovely spring ground cover.

A rose breasted gross beak made its appearance before I left for work this morning and tiny bunnies play around the woodpile, diving for cover when our calico cat begins her sneaky approach.

The days are finally longer.

Sweet Springs reminds me of all I have to be thankful for.

It’s a Fine Life.