Traditionally, March is the month the swallows return to the San Juan Capistrano Mission in Southern California.
They’ve been celebrated for more than a hundred years. The birds are symbolic of souls returning “home” to a spiritual sanctuary.
In recent years, however, the swallows have been no-shows. Experts cite a dozen reasons, including urban sprawl and the destruction of nests. Work is underway to lure the birds to the old church again.
Until then, the image of birds following the light back to the abode of their Creator is being kept alive elsewhere.
In Brigham City, the thousands of people who attended the open house for the new temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2012 got to see an impressive mural — a mural of the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge awash with geese, ducks, cranes and other migrating birds.
And when I see that mural, I have to ask: Is there any better metaphor for a temple than a “refuge” where migrating spirits find strength and solace for their journey?
West of Brigham City, each March, thousands of birds gather by the still waters to replenish themselves.
Meanwhile, on Brigham City’s Main Street, the same thing is happening.
At the temple, people find a rest stop, a place of refuge as they make their way back to where they started.
At the bird refuge, there is quiet, nourishment, protection and a sense of community.
The same goes for the temple.
At the refuge, there is time for healing.
It’s the same at the temple.
At the Migratory Bird Refuge, you see geese and cranes pairing up for life.
At the temple, you see people in pairs, bonding for longer than that.
When I see two geese at the bird refuge sharing their lives, I always remember a poem by Leslie Norris, the late poet in residence at Brigham Young University. The poem is called “Hudson’s Geese.”
William Henry Hudson, a celebrated naturalist, once observed two migrating geese. The female had a damaged wing and was walking on the ground while the male circled above her, calling out. The rest of the flock had moved on.
In his poem, Norris says the two geese could not have lived much longer. The female would probably get eaten by a fox, and the male would likely wheel about aimlessly, having lost the center of his world. Chances were he would be downed by hunters.
If so, Norris writes, then let the bird’s death be quick and painless. The two geese, mated in life, should be mated in death as well.
That same kind of dedication between mated birds is seen each spring at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.
It can be seen in the painting of the refuge in the Brigham City Utah Temple.
But most of all, it can be seen in the faces of the people who pass through that temple, looking for serenity in their taxing journey.