Cardinal Virtues

My college philosophy professor taught me how to talk to cardinals. Every spring, Sister Laurian would hold avian conversation with the male cardinals that were returning home to the Viterbo College (now University) campus. She'd mastered their particular whistling call as a child, and delighted in getting them to talk back to her while walking to class.

She always warned us not to "talk" with them for too long, though. When a male cardinal calls, he's declaring his territory. If you contend with him too vigorously, he might give up and move somewhere else. One or two whistles was her rule, then concede the argument, smile and walk on. Seems very Franciscan to me.

We don't have cardinals in Oregon. I've long since forgotten the whistle she taught me, but at Christmas time I always think of her and smile. Cardinals seem the perfect pattern to paint for Christmas, showy and red in evergreen branches. We put them on soup bowls, coffee and stew mugs, pie and dessert plates, and remember long cold winters, and springs filled with birdsong.