Ants, a Jalapeno, and the Bird Lady

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“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns…” Matthew 6:25-26


I’m almost certain that no days go by that I don’t actively and curiously watch a bird, though I’m not your typical birdwatcher. I don’t own binoculars or subscribe to bird magazines. I can identify the birds in my neighborhood because I look up any that I see that I don’t already know. Beyond that I could use some taxonomy lessons.


If birdwatching were a sport like football, I’m the person who goes to the game but doesn’t know much about the teams– where they are from, the history of their rivalry, the exact rules that govern their meeting– interested instead in the sections of colors that show fan loyalties in the stands, the smell of popcorn emerging every now and then, the shapes the players make when they pile on top of one another. I’m the person who finds the experience exciting without a ton of context, perhaps more so because I get to observe the behaviors first hand without already knowing what to expect or look for. I am learning, slowly, as I go.

Even casual birdwatching has taught me to pause when nature moves before me. Yesterday, my son called to me from the front porch steps. You gotta see this, he said. As I crouched down beside him, I saw a little piece of something moving along the rocks that make up our walkway. I studied the little moving piece for a moment before realizing that it was a group of ants together moving an object. As I tried to figure out what they were so laboriously trying to carry, I remembered that a few days before my son had asked for a glass jar so he could catch minnows in the ditch, and I’d emptied out a jalapeno jar for him to use. Apparently, a lone jalapeno slice had survived my rinsing out the jar and there it was, a little brown and dry, being hauled by an small army of ants across the rocky terrain.

We watched in awe for a few minutes, and, call me crazy, but it felt a lot like a football game. I found myself desperately rooting for those ants. Their load was infinitely bigger than they, my gravel path full of treacherous drops and turns, and I had no idea where they were taking the jalapeno– was the goal in sight or did they still have a long distance to go?

Only moments later, as I was retrieving the mail, I heard my son stomping on the rocks and futilely called for him to stop. After all that work, the ants’ journey ended (or at least was severely disrupted with several casualties and perhaps a less appealing meal to bring home)  with the stomp of a human five year old’s sneaker.

I like to think the ants that survived, a little war-torn and bruised, picked up their precious jalapeno and resumed their journey, this time safely to their destination.

But if it hadn’t been a shoe, I suppose it could have easily been a bird. That’s nature, too. Roadblocks, suffering, re-routing, loss– all of which I’m trying to make sense of as I haul my own little jalapeno through my own little rocky terrains.

Later that same day, I watched a sparrow. He had perched atop the wooden fence in front of my car. I was parked near the beach and it was particularly windy. He seemed to dig his feet into the beam, anchoring himself against the wind. He stayed there longer than I’ve witnessed sparrows stay in one place before. He made what I can only describe as eye contact.

It had been a particularly challenging day. I’d driven to the beach to seek out some peace but had to retreat to my car because of the wind.

“Remember me?” he asked.


“I’m still here.” he assured.

“I know.”

Just before he flew away I was able to not only take a super fuzzy photo of him with my phone, but I asked him, please, not to go after any ants today. They could use a break. 

From herons to cardinals, pelicans to sparrows, I’ve filled countless canvases with images of birds, and I fear there is no end in sight. They remind me to pause, to breath. To even for just minute let go of the worry that so often overwhelms me. And then, with that miraculous gift of flight, they inevitably leave. Life is not static. They remind me to move.




Today’s sparrow painting will be part of a whole new series of paintings coming to my site shop soon. 

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Picture of Denise Hopkins

Denise Hopkins

June 18, 2018

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