Dipper birds make me stop and stare...and laugh.
They also taught me a lesson. Dipper birds are to rivers what canaries are to mines: they are birds whose sensitivity to pollution or undesirable conditions makes them a useful early indicator of those conditions; birds who warn of the coming of greater danger or trouble. They don't wait for their health to deteriorate. They leave the polluted water and only seek pure water sources, where they thrive.
They look like a stocky grey robin without the red breast. The dipper birds constantly bob up and down, they are only at home in rivers with very pure water, they have an uncanny ability to run on river rocks or logs overflowing with rushing water (without tipping over or being swept downstream), and they dive headfirst to look for food as they swim underwater. It is a rare bird that does all that.
They seem like happy, well-adjusted teenagers doing what they love the most. In this case diving, swimming, goofing around, preening and
Their search for pure water makes me wonder how at home we are with purity in our own lives, but I'll get to that in a minute. They are so unique there's more to share:
They are America's only aquatic songbird. They have bright white eyelids that flash with every blink and their grey feathers are so waterproof that the most expensive Gortex waterproof coat could never be as protective. They are just as at home swimming underwater as they are singing a beautiful song to the river, or flying through the air to their next river rock.
The thing that got me really thinking, as I mentioned, is how dipper birds only thrive in rivers of extremely pure water. The Smithsonian zoolgogical website says, "American dippers are used now in toxicology studies as indicator species how stream health is affected by everything from mining waste pollutants in Colorado streams to atmospheric pollutants in British Columbia."
That's what I mean when I say dipper birds are to rivers what canaries are to mines. Since pure water sources are the only places where this truly unique bird will live, they are becoming more rare as their pure water sources disappear. They cannot survive in polluted waters, so if you ever have the chance to see one in a river you'll know that the river is especially pure.
How much do we seek out purity in our own spheres? Our spirits thrive in purity, but are we sensitive to that truth? How often do we attempt to survive in polluted surroundings, mistaken in the notion that we can thrive and be happy in impure surroundings (media, etc)?
Do we simply, and usually ineffectively, try to tune out the pollution that is around us (or inside us in our thoughts), or do we, like the Dipper bird, truly SEEK good things to take IN? Do we purposefully leave polluted surroundings to be immersed in pure ones? Do we SEEK purity? Do we wait for our spiritual or physical health to deteriorate, or do make the effort to leave polluted surrounding and only seek pure sources, where we thrive? It's a rare bird that does all that.
I've seen these Dipper birds three times this summer on the river where I walk daily, and my desire to seek purity increases every time I see them bobbing around and running in the water.
I don't think we realize how much we can control what we allow IN to our eyes, ears, mouths and thoughts. No one can force what we take in to ourselves through books, movies, Internet sites, music or junk food.
Are we choosing to see or create pure things through our eyes, hear pure things through our ears, eat pure things through our mouths, and think pure thoughts in our minds? Often what we think about eventually comes OUT in our language. So, we can also control our words. Are we saying kind, compassionate things?
Joseph B. Wirthlin said, "We can fill our lives with good, leaving no room for anything else. We have so much good from which to choose that we need never partake of evil." [Seeking the Good, Ensign 1992]
If we are more careful to only allow purity IN, we will have greater chances that more kindness will come OUT in our actions and words. Our thoughts are the most challenging thing to control, so we need to pay extra attention to that part, whether the challenges are thoughts of unkindness, impurity, being judgemental or critical of self or others, or simply thoughts focused on meaningless things that don't really satisfy and respect our own spirit's need for goodness. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he". [Proverbs 23:7]
Howard W. Hunter once spoke of a way to measure the purity of gold, "In ancient times, one test of the purity of gold was performed with a smooth, black, siliceous stone called a touchstone. When rubbed across the touchstone, the gold produced a streak or mark on its surface. The goldsmith matched this mark to a color on his chart of graded colors. The mark was redder as the amount of copper or alloy increased or yellower as the percentage of gold increased. This process showed quite accurately the purity of the gold.
"The touchstone method of testing the purity of gold was quick and was satisfactory for most practical purposes. But the goldsmith who still questioned the purity completed a more accurate test by using a process that involved fire." [The Lord's Touchstone, Howard W. Hunter, Ensign 1986]
What is your touchstone to measure the purity of things you see, hear, think, and say? I'm starting to pay closer attention.
photo via naturebob.com (bob armstrong)