Atop my pigeonhole desk is a 15-inch wooden statue of St. Francis of Assisi with a bird perched on each shoulder and a dog nestled against his leg. His hand is open, outstretched.
Another stone garden statue of the saint sits in my kitchen garden.
One of the most venerated religious figures in history, St. Francis was an Italian friar and preacher who founded the Franciscan order.
The saint believed that nature itself was the mirror of God, and there are many stories about his great love for animals.
According to the “Fioretti” (Little Flowers), one day while Francis was travelling with companions, he told them to “wait for me while I go preach to my sisters the birds.” Surrounding him, the birds were intrigued by the power of his voice.
He also made the sign of the cross over a wolf that was terrorizing the city of Gubbio.
“Brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people,” said the saint.
The wolf laid down at his feet.
Inspired by the example of the saint, I have learned to speak to wild animals.
A chipmunk took up residence under our deck, which is prime real estate located next to the raised bed filled with ripe strawberries.
Bold as brass, the tiny animal munched on the fruit time after time, as he dared me to come closer and chase him away.
We bought netting and draped it over the plot, and I approached the little creature sitting safely in the gutter pipe. Standing a couple of feet away, I was amazed how cute he was.
“Brother chipmunk,” I said in my softest, sweetest voice, “I am sorry, but the kitchen patch is off limits. You are welcome to the wild bird seed that falls from the feeder and to the bounty in the woods, but no more strawberries.”
Seemingly rooted to the spot, he looked and listened attentively, as if he understood every word. We stared at each other for a while longer; then he scampered away. But I remained there in awe that I had communicated with a rodent.
Drizzling water around the edges of the hanging pot of geraniums, I was careful not to disturb the house wren that had built her nest in the plant. But one day I peered into a hole and saw a baby bird nestled in the straw.
“Sister wren,” I said looking straight into the beady eyes of the newborn, “Welcome to our world!”
Over the next couple of weeks, I spoke to her. Mere inches apart, she never rustled a feather, as if our conversations were expected and enjoyed.
She started to test her wings, flying to the rhododendron bushes nearby and sometimes perched on the stair railing.
Then I heard her singing, “chuurr … chuurr … chuurr” on the roof of the deck and farther away in the pine trees.
This past week, she moved out. Every time I pass by, I stare longingly at the nest, missing her tiny beak … trusting eyes … the sound of her voice … our frequent talks. I think I have empty nest syndrome.