Bye Bye, Birdie

NOTE: this is a longer version of the same video posted on Instagram.

I have been watching this nest just outside my office for about three weeks now, since I saw that a pair of cardinals had adopted it as their new home. Today I share the cardinal’s excitement and anxiety as the time has come for their two babies to leave the nest. Spoiler: one of the babies remains in the nest, but seems as restless as its sibling, and as restless as some young men I know 😟.

My Hobby Horse (Video)

A Video Exercise
After writing and illustrating this little poem, I thought it would be helpful if the background image could be more clear, and that a transition from full background value to the blurred background and superimposed poem would be good. So I created a little video. While I was at it, I threw in some sound effects.

For a commentary on the poem, see the poem-only version.

A Long Road to Lament

I’ve always had to find creative ways to cope with my short attention span. In seminary, one of my stranger tricks was to find good climbing trees in out-of-the-way places, climb up to a comfortable perch, and do reading assignments there.

On one such foray, I encountered a nest crowded with baby doves all eager to be fed. Figuring that my presence would make the Mama Dove nervous, I climbed back down and found another tree.

A couple of days later, I returned, armed with a camera instead of a book. I climbed up to where I’d seen the doves’ nest. IT WAS EMPTY.

My wish to photograph something beautiful was foiled. I began imagining what might have happened to the baby birds. They could not have developed quickly enough to leave the nest. Had a predator found them? Worse, had my brief presence resulted in the failure of that nest?


A year or two after the story above, I was about to graduate from seminary. By this time, I was tired of the studies. I was also tired of a handful of classmates who, though they were “big men on campus” seemed very foolish. Let me tell you a story about them….

One day, I was heading home from the seminary. On the tree-lined walk between Mosher Library and Stearns Hall, I encountered these — God forgive me — fools. They were taking turns throwing books up into one of the trees, trying to dislodge a nest. Need I say more?

Skip forward several decades. In semi-retirement now, I have had more time than ever to focus on the beauty of God’s creation. On one of my long walks, I found a nest on the ground. I took it home, and placed it carefully in the Japanese Yew just outside my home office. It was just a decoration.

This brings us up to a second sequel one week ago….

Looking out my office window, I was astonished and delighted to see a bird sitting in the nest I had placed. At first, seeing its tail sticking almost straight up as it sat in the nest, I thought it must be Christopher Wren or his wife. They often flit about, inspecting the architecture of my secret garden. But then, I caught sight of its beak, and knew it was Carnelia Cardinal.

The next day, poking my smartphone on a selfie stick into the Yew, I snuck a photograph of the nest. There were three speckled blue eggs!

I found a way to position a camera inside my office such that it had a clear view down to the nest. From that vantage point, behind the glass, I was able to film the mother cardinal returning to her nest after food “runs.” She would always chirp several times as she arrived, so I knew when to turn on the camera. Then she would settle into the nest, fluffing out her belly feathers to warm the eggs. And she’d sit there for hours, patiently warming her developing brood.

[In the video below, I think she may have been agitated by a mayfly. She usually just settled right in after two or three chirps]

Yesterday, when I drove home from an errand, I stopped by the Yew long enough to inspect the moss, violets, and wheat grass growing below. A blue egg was sitting on the ground. I turned it over, and found a gaping hole, with ants crawling in and out. Need I say more?

I went inside, and watched through the window for Carnelia to return. Four minutes. Eight minutes. She had never left the nest this long. An hour. She didn’t return. The nest had failed. There’s still one egg in the nest. By now, it has cooled, and died.

Now, in place of expectancy, there is sadness. 

I’ve been here before. Last year, when our old cat Princess was dying, excruciating sadness introduced me to sorrow. In a moment, a small window opened, and I recognized that a pet’s death is partly my fault. Beauty is sullied, life is snuffed because I — in Adam — sin. [see “A Very Small Window, Open at Last“]


Recently, I cried out for help. I am keenly aware of the sin of people I must answer to God for, even when their sin takes the form of vile accusations against godly friends. Knowing the sincere love of many acquaintances on Facebook, I wrote,

I need desperately to substitute sorrow for the anger I feel about people’s hurtful ways. If your prayer list is not too long, please add this.

Brad Hepp

One amazing friend, a counselor in Portland Oregon wrote this beautiful prayer, though she is still grieving the recent death of her beloved husband, Phil:

Heavenly Father, hear Brad’s heart cry to morph the deep response to other’s fear & confusion in the brokenness of life into mercy and compassion. Jesus, thank you for making a way for us, at such an extreme cost to Yourself, to know truth and embrace life as you intend it to be. Holy Spirit, thank you for your relentless work, moment by moment, handcrafting our way to imaging God’s character. I join Brad’s request today to respond to brokenness and pain with sorrow and grief. May each of us who yield to Your will find the courage to extend the grace You are so eager for us to know, first to ourselves, and then to others. Amen.

Debbie Johnson

Was Debbie’s prayer heard? Is it being answered? Does a cardinal nest fail for no reason? Or does it fail to remind me of the little I have learned about sorrow? The road behind me now is long. In contrast to all I know of beauty, this road is strewn with ugliness and failure. Is it a road to bitterness, or is it a road to lament?

Reflection Inversion

This is the stream that runs down from Norbuck Park and feeds into White Rock Creek before it enters White Rock Lake. I pass by this on my frequent walks over to Flagpole Hill. One day, I stopped, sat down on the bridge, and started filming. For interest, I tossed pebbles into the stream. Back home, I turned the footage upside down and added music in the InShot app (on Google Play; on the App Store). There’s something really satisfying about creating graphics and tweaking videos on my phone. Yes, I have the full Adobe Creative Suite on my workstation, but it’s just fun to see how far I can push the smartphone.

A Hymn of Praise

I recently participated in a project for Kelly Stern’s doctoral dissertation. She hopes to earn her doctorate in Educational Ministry from Dallas Seminary in May 2021.

This was my favorite part of the project, and is particularly meaningful to me today — the day before the presidential election in the United States. The words of this short tune are just going over and over in my head.

Production note: I discovered a piece of free software called “Musescore” that enabled me to put notation to the tune I had worked out on my accordion. I’m not proud of my voice, or really all that proud of this little tune, but I thought it an appropriate act of worship and encouragement for me to also make a video of this for my friends.

Generosity: A Fruit of Godliness

The following video is one I prepared for the Midweek Devotional at Redeemer Bible Church. Here’s what I wrote on Facebook: “If you’ve never recorded a video of yourself talking or teaching, you don’t know how painful it can be. Fortunately, I can laugh even at myself. There’s one place in this video where I laughed out loud every time I hit the spot in my editing. The sentiments are heart-felt, even my chagrin. You’ll notice that I don’t nail down one crucial definition. You see, I was paying attention to the parable of the Good Samaritan: nailing down definitions is sometimes a squirrely way of avoiding duty (‘Exactly WHO is my neighbor?’)”

The last few months have involved a lot of introspection for me, much coming to terms with my selfishness.

Don’t Run From Suffering

This is a video I recorded for the August 19, 2020 Midweek Devotional of Redeemer Bible Church. What I say reflects a fair amount of the progress I have made over the last few months. Some of it is a veiled protest to the power- and security-seeking motive that is wrecking the witness of Evangelicals in America. My pastor had to point out that “Pursuit of Suffering” is going too far, that the concept has been abused in Church history. He and I did agree that the proper response to suffering looks a whole lot more like “pursuit” than the terrified and often proud evasion that is rampant right now.

Production Note: I recorded this with my Pixel 3a, and only noticed later on that the white balance is constantly changing: white-yellow-white. The camera on that phone is terrific, but there doesn’t appear to be white balance lock!

Saint Francis of White Rock

He walked along the shore pouring out a large bag of feed (50lb?) for the hundreds of ducks at Pelican Bay and then sat to feed whole grain bread to the geese. He told me he’s been doing this every day for years. Next time, I’ll get his full name, which probably includes “Saint” and “Francis.”

Below is a video I took of those hundreds of ducks on another day. Now I know part of the reason that they all congregate here. “Saint Francis of White Rock” tells me that he used to feed them over at the Bath House. When he began feeding them at Pelican Bay instead, the ducks somehow spread the news of where to find him.


I was photographing this tree against the evening sky when a hawk flew into it, apparently unaware of my presence. It would have remained unaware if I had not intentionally walked around to position myself to get a little clip of it flying. The video is slowed down to half speed.

I Wonder if They Paid the Piper?

I thought the whole scene was comical. Here are dozens of young beauties and this young fellow has to stand there in a kilt, playing an odd instrument and watching them as they ignore him. Is it a reward? Torture? The only thing better would have been if he were playing a jaw harp. I’m Scottish. My people are odd.

I think he’s well on his way to making the instrument sound like a cat fight. What more can one ask of a piper?

Mount Belford High Camp

Every year I and some of my best friends do a lightning 4-day trip up to Colorado to climb one of the 54 peaks that are 14,000′ or taller. It’s doubtful we’ll ever climb all of them since we’re getting “old” now. Our 2017 climb was Mount Belford (14,197′). Three of us had climbed Belford in a past year, but wanted to introduce it to new members of our group. On the afternoon after we had lugged our gear up to high camp, I took photos with my smartphone… enough photos to create a “photosphere.” Back in Dallas, I stitched those photos together and produced the following video (it has accompanying music which you may want to hear):

When people see this sort of video, they often assume I was using a drone. In actuality — as I mentioned above — all of the photos were taken with my Google Nexus 6P (Android phone), which I mounted on a small ball head attached to my trekking pole. Try to imagine standing in the absolute center of a sphere, and taking overlapping photos of every “square inch” of the sphere — above, below, and all around. Software called PTGui can automatically stitch all of those photos together into a “photosphere,” which can be further manipulated in other software (InstaStudio 360, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere) to produce the trippy kind of movie that you see above. In the case of this particular movie, I was trying to match the phrasing of the soundtrack with the movement in the video. That involved slowing down segments of an intermediate movie to match the music.