Bearded Al Gave Us a Gift

(Read to the end for a book giveaway!)

I lie in bed in my Georgia home, located on Forest Drive
– my house really is kind of set in a forest,
in a neighborhood set in a Metro Atlanta forest –
and I hear him outside, close by, calling out, asking us
“Who cooks… who cooks for you… who cooks for you all?”
His call is deep, smooth, and purposeful.
And I think of the tall, bearded, long-haired man
who, with knowledge, conquered our fears of the night forest.

He enchanted me – must’ve enchanted the whole lot
of us kid campers, keeping us quiet enough to hear
the crooning and croaking of the night time critters.
His voice – deep, cosmic, other-worldly, soft, reaching
into our souls like music – connected us
to the other-than, the one outside of ourselves who
always asks with a stutter, “Who cooks… who cooks… who cooks for you all?”

I am delighted when I hear this hooting question, so close,
just outside my Georgia home. It does something for my soul.
My mind wanders up North to Indiana, and I want to
pass on to my kids what I got when I was a kid. I may not
be able to reproduce the experience, but I can at least tell them
the story of the tall, bearded, long-haired man – Abe Parker’s dad.
I can at least take them on hikes in the woods. I can at least
run into their rooms at 9 or 10 o’clock at night when they’re
supposed to be sleeping, and whisper-shout… “Did you hear that?!”
and wait with tense, hushed stillness for the question, “Who cooks.. who cooks for you all?”

Bearded Al never told us that the Barred Owl was from up North,
but it’s something I’ve figured out and I think I’ll pass that
on to the kids, too.* Yep, I’m pretty sure he’s a foreigner
around here, like me. He is definitely not from the South.
I know because of his dialect. He’s not adapting as well
as me. I can let “y’all” roll off my tongue pretty easily, but
he’s still crooning out “you all.” And, my kids were all born
in Indiana, too, and so I’ll tell them that us and the Barred Owl
and bearded Al and Abe Parker, we’re all from up North,
and magical, wonderful things are from up North, and we’ll
all be proud together and assure ourselves, because, even though
the answer to the question varies, we at least for certain
know the name of the one posing the question out there in the night forest.

*I don’t really know where the Barred Owl is from.

win_20190422_22_23_46_proAl Parker, the hero of this poem, and his family, are some of my favorite people in my life. I first met them at Evangelical Community Church in Bloomington, Indiana, when I was a child. My first memory of Al and his wife, Amy, was seeing them standing together in the foyer of the church building, looking very tall – and peculiar. As a child, in my estimation, they were… weird giants. In hindsight, they have been one of the greatest influences in my life in regards to my relationship with God, my peace with nature, and my bias toward acoustic guitar.

And this book, A Hope for Wings, self-published and released in January 2019, is a fascinating account of Al Parker’s experiences in the work of helping to repopulate the Ohio valley with bald eagles and other, lesser known (at least to the majority national human population) birds of prey. In addition to his many stories and observations – which made this reader feel a kinship with birds like I’ve never known before – Al also advocates for experiential learning in the outdoors. His advocacy extends into his outdoors, hands-on, education program/ministry, Canoe Creation, with the mission of developing youth in Christian faith, in thinking critically in the natural sciences, and in being wise stewards of creation.

A Book Giveaway!

Because I enjoyed this book so much, appreciate the Parkers so much, and hope that others can find beauty and kinship in the natural and wild world, I am giving away three (3) two (2) copies (as of Feb. 2020) of A Hope For Wings. If you find yourself interested in a chance at receiving a copy, you can have your name entered into a drawing by doing the following two things:

1. Share the link to this poem/blog post on your social media.

2. Send me an email at sroyerinde[at] with a link to your social media post in which you shared.

Extra Credit Opportunity
3. (To have your name entered TWICE into the drawing) In the comments below, write a four to ten sentence story about a memorable interaction you have had with nature and/or wildlife.

The window for entries will close whenever I feel like I’ve gotten a good amount of participants, and the the drawing will take place and winners will be announced two to three days after I’ve closed the contest. (This giveaway is for U.S. residents only.)

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