Prayer for a Blue Jay

posted in: Garden Sanctuaries | 18

In our garden there is a medicine wheel where I do daily breath and elements practices. They keep me sane. But, missing something deeper, I had begun praying to broaden beyond these personal body/soul basics into connection with the soul of some nature being. Ritual is what opens my energies to the energies of the animated Field all around us. I honored my longing for connection, but had no idea which being to try to contact or how to proceed ritually.

We had read that a mysterious disease, which was killing birds up north, had now reached our area.  We were advised to take down feeders to enforce social distancing, knowing that there was plenty of food out in the garden and forest for the birds to eat, like elderberries and blueberries. Of the birds most affected by the sickness—grackles, robins, starlings and Blue Jays—the jays are the ones that come to our feeders. I had been concerned for them. I love their varied flute-like calls. Other calls have been described as “nasal screams,” like the ones they make to imitate the Red-Shouldered Hawks that live in our woods. Cleverly, jays seem to make hawk calls to get the smaller birds to scatter so a jay can approach the feeder. Jays are very social birds. When they are around, all feels well.
— Blue Jay

Synchronistically, my husband, David, told me he had come upon a pile of Blue Jay feathers near the moss garden. There was nothing else left, just those beautiful black, white, and brilliant blue feathers. Probably it was the work of a hawk. The pile of feathers the hawk left looked almost like a mandala—a predator-to-prey expression of gratitude from hawk to jay.
— Blue Jay + Hawk

Immediately, my ritual instinct set about refining the mandala as a prayer for the birds. I rearranged the feathers only slightly to make it a bit more circular, a bit more dynamic. As I worked, tweaking it here and there, I prayed for Blue Jays, making body prayers visually on the ground rather than verbally in my head.
— Blue Jay + Hawk + Us

The circle needed a center. Blue Jays eat acorns. There were no acorns left from the previous season to honor the jays, only some small drought-aborted ones dropped from the tall southern red oak that shades the moss garden. I gathered those and placed them in the center. Blue Jays also eat hickory nuts. I wasn’t sure if they eat black walnuts, but I placed empty black walnut and hickory shells in the center as mediators to the nut world, inviting it to join me in prayers for the health and well-being of Blue Jays. Nuts feed Blue Jays, Blue Jays feed hawks, here was a small glimpse of the plethora of interconnections in the forest.
— Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Us

Blue Jays are a keystone forest species. They gather and hide acorns, thereby distributing oak seedlings. They are birds who play an important part in ensuring the great renewal of the forest. A jay will select an acorn for its quality by examining it and testing its weight to make sure it’s healthy. If so the jay adds it to his pouch. He can carry 5 or so acorns, 3 in his crop, another in his throat and one or two more in his beak. He flies up to 1½ miles away with this mouthful and buries each acorn, putting leaves or moss on top for mulch. Each jay has multiple cache sites at the forest edges or in clearings.

Left to their own devices oaks would drop their heavy acorns directly below their branches, and many would not grow because they need sunlight to germinate. This “scatter hoarding” by the jays assures that the acorns are carried away from the dark forest into sunlit clearings. Each jay can cache up to 5,000 acorns in a season. Blue Jays are smart, like their kin the crows. So they remember where their caches are and retrieve the acorns, but inevitably some are left uneaten and sprout. Blue Jays are being valued for their potential to reforest areas after fire and to move species northward as the climate warms. Sadly, Blue Jays are declining.
— Oaks + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Us

Oaks are the great nurturers of the eastern deciduous forest, especially important now that the chestnuts are gone. Throughout their long lives, they give food and shelter to more insects, mammals, and birds than any other plant. We are planting more oak trees, because they are the most important tree to include for pollinators. They host the caterpillars of over 500 species of our beautiful moths and butterflies. These, in turn, feed the babies of our beloved birds. Sadly, oak trees are declining.
— Oaks + Butterflies + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Us

Synchronistically, while writing this I listened to a talk by dream worker Robert Moss about divination. He described an oracular site called Dodona in northwestern Greece that was the oldest Hellenic oracle, dating to around 1,000 BC., perhaps earlier. The oracle was within a grove of oak trees in the sanctuary of the Mother Goddess, Dione, later joined by Zeus. The priestesses were called birds, pigeons. Pigeons were well known at this time for their ability to carry messages. People came to ask the great oak tree questions. The rustling of the leaves or the sound of chimes hung on the branches, blowing in the wind, provided their answers. The pigeons listened and spoke what they heard.
— Oracle + Oaks + Butterflies + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Us

I refuse to take us out of the equation. We are not separate from nature. And, increasingly we are responsible for trying to save birds and oak trees. At the ruins of ancient sacred sites, and through the myths that emanate from them, we humans are taken into the realm of the gods and goddesses. The oak leaves, the wind, the birds are the intermediaries between the needs of humans and the wisdom of the spirit world. “There is no separation between mind and matter. It’s all a dance of consciousness, of energy,” Robert Moss said.

In the chain of being, Spirit joins the myriad creatures, which includes us humans. When I longed to move beyond the confines of myself to wider nature, it was like asking a question of the Great Oracular One: How? Synchronicity is the most common everyday form of divinatory answer.
— Spirit + Oracle + Oaks + Butterflies + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Us

There are many kinds of rituals–ones you do in community, ones you co-create with a friend, and ones you do daily to keep your body grounded, your mind aware, and your heart open. There are benefits and blessings to all of these. But the rituals that I enjoy most, that feel the most immediately relevant, love inspired, and interconnected are the simple ones that arise spontaneously in response to a present need of the heart.

The next day I went back to the surprisingly untouched feather mandala and gave thanks for Blue Jays and for Spirit speaking to me there under the oak tree. How often something emerges suddenly when there had seemingly been nothing. Belonging suddenly emerges out of aloneness. “Is synchronicity the same as answered prayer?” my friend Perry had asked. In this case, yes.
— Spirit + Oracle + Oaks + Butterflies + Acorns + Blue Jay + Hawk + Us = Gratitude for All

Still wondering if Blue Jays eat those big black walnuts, I asked the Google oracle my question. What came up was an advertisement that in their shop the Toronto Blue Jays sell a Black Walnut Cutting Board. I still don’t know if Blue Jays eat black walnuts, but it seems that the Great Oracular One has a sense of humor.


Text and photo (C) 2021 Betty Lou Chaika

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18 Responses

  1. David

    I love what you did with the original jumble of feathers and the story you drew from the event! Plus the last lines about the GOOgle.

  2. Sandra Brooks-Mathers

    Betty Lou, thank you so much for yet another story that demonstrates how an initiating conversation with Nature becomes a beautiful interaction with many elements of Nature. I have come to very much appreciate Blue Jays since reading Julie Zickefoose’s “Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay.” If you are interested, I would be very happy to lend you my copy.

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Thanks for reading, Sandra. Yes one being does lead to another since they/we really are all connected. Yes, I’d love to read “Saving Jemima.”

  3. Dana

    So wonderful to read this. This so resonated with how I find ritual experiences spontaneously in response to an unexpected deeper connection with another being. The invitations, when accepted, can be so rewarding! Reading your ritual equation growing through the story showed how we are all connected within the great weave of being!

    We enjoy the jays at our feeders too. I was relieved to hear that the current theory is that the disease was related to the birds eating the cicada brood that had hatched in the Mid-Atlantic region and that as the cicadas declined, so did the disease prevalence! I had greatly missed seeing the birds feeding each morning and was glad to invite them back!
    Here is an article on the disease/cicada connection.

    Thank you Betty Lou for your gifts to the world!

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Thanks, Dana, it was magical to witness the connections in the Weave being woven right before my eyes. I’d love to hear more about your spontaneous rituals in response to connecting with another being. I think we will wash our feeders and start putting them up again soon.

  4. Ferzin

    Wow! Thank you, Hakima, for sharing your prayers and how you prayed them. Thank you for weaving local and regional history and current happenings and biology with us. And thanks for sharing the ever fragrant beauty of synchronicity! I feel inspired. And I feel blessed by your writing. ♥️

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Ferzin, hi dear! Yes, I learned a long time ago from Lynda Aiman-Smith about the Native American practice of “making your prayers” when she taught us to put our prayers into the tobacco ties as we made them. My aim is to tie human community together with nature community and spirit in a beautiful way to inspire and instill hope of our weaving ourselves back into the web of life. Thanks for getting it. Glad you were inspired!

  5. Shira

    Hakima, I used to think the Blue Jays were bullies, scattering the smaller birds when they showed up. One day a hawk flew by checking out the bird feeder and the blue Jay squealed his/her warning. Then on the branch beside the Jay was an assortment of color, gold finches, cardinals and more sitting beside their protector! Thank you for your beautiful writing.

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Oh, Shira, thank you! I like that explanation for the hawk-imitation cry so much better! The other explanation didn’t sit well with me. Yes we were taught the bully story, that Blue Jays rob nests, for so long I think it made many people dislike Blue Jays.

  6. Blake Tedder

    Thanks as always Betty Lou. I love your observations. I also love listening to the drama of Blue Jays and RSHawks, so this story was touching.

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Hi Blake, thanks for your kind words and for letting me know you were touched. I see you posted it on your website, thanks. I hope your work on behalf of Duke Forest and your music are both going well.

  7. ann b loomis

    Thank you for this unfolding story, Betty Lou. I think many of us want to know HOW we might connect with the natural world, and your story gives us guidance. This tells me I need to add more ritual to my life. Blessings on you and your meaningful and inspiring writing!

    • Betty Lou Chaika

      Ann, thanks for your appreciation of my writing. It is my hope that we can all help each other learn how to make contact with nature beings. If this story provided some guidance for you, I’m grateful.

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