The Rev. Dr. Michael Backlund, St. James’, Sonora
A wild peacock decided one day to settle at my log cabin here in the Sierra foothills outside Angels Camp, and he’s been teaching me how to be a steward ever since. A quite different kind of steward than what I had come to think of from countless sermons I’ve heard on the subject.
One early spring day three years ago, the winter-absent turkey flock marched up the road to my house on their annual return. I was delighted to see them, but this time to my astonishment, a magnificently plumed peacock was in their procession. The drabber turkeys tolerated his companionship, but didn’t know what to make of him exactly. He tried so hard to fit in that “Earnest” suited him for a nickname, and so it became.
Over that first summer, he remained with the turkeys, and roosted with them at night in an immense foothill pine out back. As the flock wandered around the surrounding rustic woodlands during the long days, I would hear his clarion call, sometimes distant, sometimes near. Surely he was the escaped pet of someone nearby and would eventually go home. He wasn’t, and didn’t.
The first two years, he would depart with the turkeys when they decamped to the Valley below as the nights lengthened and turned cold. But this year would be different. The turkeys left on schedule, but Earnest stayed behind and made my front porch his winter home. Perhaps he figured I was, like himself, just another alternative turkey choosing a life of Benedictine stability.
During the day, if it is warm enough, he’ll go exploring on adventures, but not far or for long. He still roosts in the pine out back even on subfreezing nights, but at first light he’s back on the porch, looking in through the picture window watching me as I write. Some mornings if I haven’t gotten up early enough for his liking, he’ll jump up on the roof and stomp up close to the dormer window to deliver a disapproving complaint and stare at me as I lie in bed until I get up to greet him.
He never lets me touch him, but allows me to approach within a foot or so before backing away warily. I’ve come to offer him food this long winter, and he takes it eagerly, his talons gripping one arm of the old, weathered Adirondack chair. I like to think he meant to gift me in return with the dozens of iridescent eye-feathers he shed in the meadow and orchard I supervise.
When I first came here to rural Calaveras County, I would chase off the deer with wild flailing arms and shouting, endlessly trying to save the roses and lilac. Earnest taught me to stop all that foolishness, give up my sense of being in charge of the animals and plants, and cooperate with life as best I can.
You see, God brings life into our lives in oftentimes the most unexpected forms. I do not own this glorious wild peacock nor dictate what he does or where he goes. He will one day leave me and not return, and I will mourn until it is my time to leave too. For now though, he graces me with his presence, and I cooperate by providing him a safe place to be and food he’d have a hard time finding in darkest winter.
He does what peacocks do; I try to do what humans ought to do. To be the caretakers of the paradise of the creation with which God has so marvelously gifted us. Because of Earnest, I’ve carved out here a little ten-acre Eden of a garden for the wild creatures to feel safe, protected, and welcomed (rattlesnakes excepted) while all around me are neighbors fascinated by gunfire, dogs encouraged to hound the deer, rabbits, foxes and raccoons from their land, and contented cattle happily obliterating every struggling, foothill wildflower.
I installed solar panels to reduce my carbon use. I try to drive less, buy less, and walk more. I have come to understand better where my true place is in the tapestry of life on this beautiful planet we share. In other words, how to be a steward. I’ve become that God-bothered, eccentric old man Adam cavorting with birds and bees and talking with the animals.
Stewardship of the wonder of the Creation means cooperation with life, not domination of it. Earnest is teaching me I own nothing, though I am still but a middling student. Like him, I am passing through, staying for just a day or two more, but in my case without the splendid plumage. For the time being, this whole wondrous world is given into my care and stewardship to protect and preserve in my loving embrace so that all are welcome here and life abundant is invited to flourish.
I wonder. Maybe Earnest is God in blue and green feathers. The one who takes care of me, walks with me as a friend in the cool of the evening, and invites me to cooperate in caring stewardship for this Creation and all of us who call it home.