Chickadees and Dead Pigs: On Using the Love of God for Fear.



“You see,” Ash explained in her Adirondack lined home, “the first part is always the same.”  She continued to coo–


“The second part of the chickadee call indicates their level of alarm.  It’s their way of telling everyone else how dangerous the situation is becoming.”

That gray morning, parked on her farm, we were drinking coffee and learning to listen to the birds.

“So when I went out to my garden one morning, I was listening to them calling, and all the sudden–




and I looked up and said, ‘Really?  Me?  I’m the reason for your alarm?'”


It was different than my other Hell dreams, mostly on account of there being no actual Hell in this one.  Instead, I was confronted with each of my former pastors, all in a group, banding together for the sole purpose of the soul purpose of convincing me there is a Hell.  Even my dream self is on the fence, anyway, so it didn’t take much.  And they spoke in unison–

“Your belief in no Hell won’t save you from it.  Your belief will never save you.”



The gunshot echoed off the orchard trees and simmered in the air until my Someone’s and my eyes were open wide and expectant.  We waited in reverence before turning to each other, curling up closer as the 8 o’clock morning sun warmed up the camper.

“The pigs are dead,” I said.

“Yeah,” said my Someone.  Then nothing.

Jim had warned us last night, with full apology, when offering us a place to park on his property for the night.  The butcher was coming in the morning, he had said, and while he can’t stomach it, it had to be done and he understood if we no longer wanted to park at the orchard.  Maybe it was curiosity or disbelief or wanting to appear like the kind of people who understand life cycles.  Or maybe it was just the thought of leaving a south Massachusetts bar at 2AM trying to find a rest stop, but we agreed to stay, anyway.

A few minutes more passed.

“I’m too sad to sleep,” I said.

“Me, too,” said my Someone.

So we waited and hoped for sleep.  And when the sound of the gunshot began to detach its imprint, I listened to the birds.  I started counting– the first part of the call always six notes.  The second part I was losing track of.  I thought it was three.  But then maybe five.  And as I kept counting, I realized I was hearing the chickadees, and they were extending their call as I imagined the pig’s blood was running into the ground.  I pictured their little bird faces staring in disbelief.

And then I realized– I am counting their fear.


I’m starting to think the pastors were right.  My belief won’t save me from their Hell.  Only their belief can save them from their Hell.  But first, their belief had to make a Hell.  And then, they had to convince someone else to be afraid of it.  Because lately, I think we use the Great Love of God as an excuse to make others afraid.


We knew what we were doing, but we didn’t say it.  But after our goodbyes and thanks to Jim, we walked the perimeter as if there were no gunshots, but we kept our eyes to the ground.  Our dog smelled it first.  I don’t know if it made her afraid or curious or on the verge of a rabid break out, but we pulled her away.

“That’s where the pigs died,” I said.

“Oh. Yeah,” said my Someone.

And we kept walking.  But, somehow, we felt a little better.  Sad, but finally at ease.  Maybe the chickadees’ call was overkill.  Or maybe everyone responds to Blood differently.  Somehow, though, it’s hard to hear anyone but the fearful chickadees.

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