An oasis on summer's edge

IT was an annual delight: welcoming home two old friends. The greeting was quiet and discreet, and the honored couple appeared not even to notice. Female first, then male, they went directly to the lilac bush where they or their relatives had spent previous summers, and set about weaving this year's home. For their human beings the feathery arrival made the start of summer official.

The two are cardinals, birds that often return annually to the same nesting area. Already they have settled into the old routine: She is sitting patiently atop tiny eggs in the nest, while he visits now and again. When the chicks hatch he will come and go busily, bringing delectable worms.

To the cardinals the nest provides an oasis of serenity despite the hurly-burly of suburbia. They're unruffled by roaring mower, woofing spaniel, or the household noises that spill from an open window three feet away. And confident of their security.

Serenity is like that, stemming not from geography but the thought of those who seek it. People have more to learn from birds than just their calls.

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