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I saw a robin last week.

Forgive me for stating the obvious: It is January. On the northern plains. The temperature hasn’t been above freezing in about a decade. I don’t remember the last time I saw the ground. This is the kind of weather when – in a long-ago era – naughty school boys dared naive classmates to lick the water pump handle to see what would happen. By the calendar, we are only a few days into winter. And yet, here was this robin – the traditional harbinger of spring.

It was a female. I’m no ornithologist, but I do remember reading somewhere that the male of the species – especially birds – tend to be favored with more brilliant plumage. Something about needing to attract females, perpetuating the species and all that. (Seems to me it could work either way.) But this poor bird’s predicament was only made sadder by the fact that she sported a very dull-colored red breast.

It was definitely a female. And boy was she lost!

I was so shocked I almost drove off the road. She was just kind of sitting there beside the curb – perhaps also in shock. As an animal lover, when I spot an animal in distress I first look for the texture of the fur or whatever the poor creature uses for a coat. While a dull color, it seemed intact. And then I look for weight loss. The deer in my neighborhood have suffered from wasting disease in recent years so I am particularly sensitive to this. But she was actually one of the biggest robins I think I’ve ever seen. Seemingly hale and hearty.

And did I mention, lost?

I kept on driving. Something had happened to place her by the side of the road on a bleak and bitterly cold winter day, and who was I to question it? Maybe I was just meant to see her. Maybe to take my mind off whatever was afflicting me (besides the weather) on that day. I have to admit, it did start me thinking.

It was a day or so before I drove by that spot again, and of course by then she was gone. Maybe she regained her bearings and headed south once again, albeit several months late. By the time she gets there – if in fact, that is what happened – it’ll be just about time to turn around and fly back.

At least she’ll have an interesting story to tell her family. And I have an inspiring tale to brighten a frigid early-winter day.

Hope it cheers you as well.

Happy New Year everybody!