Killdeer

 The killdeer are back. In a world with lots of changes, and on a campus that has seen its fair share of new, this morning a little bird helped me out with some context. It was a Gerard Manly Hopkins moment for me; he’s an old poet who penned the line: “my heart in hiding stirred for a bird.” I had a student once, in my first year of teaching, who couldn’t stop laughing when she read that aloud, which she did almost daily as we studied poetry. That laughter, that joy, has stuck with me for two decades.
My bird today was the killdeer, a regular visitor at LCC, seen among the crows and gulls, a brown and white reminder of nature’s hidden constancy, the power of kindness, and the hope of spring.

Every year in the expanse of green between the library and the art building, just up from the dry creek bed that winds from the social science quad to the theater, killdeer nest in the heart of campus. It starts quietly, like today, with a bird exploring the area, reminding herself of the hallowed ground, looking right, then left, and deciding that this is the place. Killdeer nest on the ground, and beyond a legendary dance to lure away predators, make themselves vulnerable during this difficult time. There, surrounded by hundreds of students, they put themselves at risk, knowing some will look, some will come too close, some will try to get their attention and others will simply ignore the magic that they possess. Kind of like high school.

And yet year in and out these little birds arrive to herald spring, as they have since before our campus arrived to this canyon and will long beyond when anyone working here has seen their grandchildren graduate from LCC. The changes that we see, the ebb and flow of new ideas and programs, the coming and going of friends and students, all seem transient when compared to this little bird.

And yet it isn’t one bird. Just as those who taught us, and those who taught our parents, and our parents’ parents aren’t the same teachers who our own children will learn from in classes, so too the stream of killdeer is deep. These mothers on eggs are stewards to the grass by the creek bed. They’re not owners, but guests, here to bring new life, brighten the day of those who slow down and notice, and fulfill their part in the greater order of nature.

And around them school hums. My first year at La Costa Canyon I worried that someone would step on the nest, or bother a bird, or something worse. I was reassured by those who had been here longer than me that all would be well. I watched, with some anxiety, to see what would happen, and what I saw was what I’ve come to understand is a hallmark of LCC students: kindness. No one bothered the nests. Our campus supervisor mentioned the birds to our groundskeepers, who avoided mowing the spot. Our students watched, from a respectable distance, and let the birds thrive. It was a synecdoche of the Maverick spirit I’ve come to love.

It’s also a reminder, at least to me, of a certain optimism that comes with spring. Spring is a time for growth, and for change. The killdeer, new life growing in the egg at her feet, feels this; she knows that the world beneath her is about to change, positively and profoundly. And still, I think, she must feel that broader sense that this too is a part of the greater cycle of life. Her vulnerability, her dedication to that family and home, and her tenacity to succeed are examples of what we want for our students.

It may seem silly to say that we look to a bird for these pillars of character, these qualities of strength, but I’ll argue that in times of change there may be nothing more important than a quiet reminder that the sky is still above us, the world is filled with hope, and while sometimes we’re the mother bird, sometimes we’re the egg.

The killdeer are back.

winterkilldeer
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