Early 20th-century Hoosier author Gene Stratton Porter is known for her love of nature. So if anyone were to write a book chronicling a cardinal’s life, Gene would be a likely candidate.
And she did — it’s called The Song of the Cardinal. This is a short book, at under 100 pages, but it is powerful. We start following the Cardinal’s story when he is hatched. We follow him as he exults in his discoveries of nature (I particularly enjoyed the scene where he discovered his image in a pond).
Human interest is added when the Cardinal is noticed by an old farmer, Abram: “Best kind of a pet in the whole world, too! Makin’ everybody, at sees you happy, an’ havin’ some chance to be happy yourself. An’ I look like your friend? Well! Well! I’m monstrous willin’ to adopt you if you’ll take me; an’, as for feedin’, from tomorrow on I’ll find time to set your little table ‘long this same rail every day … you’re the prettiest thing God ever made in the shape of a bird.”
Abram and his wife, Maria, find their lives improved by the daily sight of the Cardinal in his sumac bush. “I’ve talked more’n I have in a whole year,” Abram tells the Cardinal. He feels that finding Cardinal has led to “the golden springtime of his later life.”
Cardinal has a serious issue to deal with — finding a mate. After a long search that we accompany him on, he finds one. It’s quite a Cinderella story, for this mighty specimen picks a poor, quiet, rather dowdy female cardinal. But Cardinal treats her so well that she is transformed.
Cardinal and the Mrs. set up a nest, and look lovingly over their eggs and later, their babies. But all is not roses. One day, a hunter ventures onto Abram’s land, and after hearing a shot, Abram discovers that Cardinal has come very near being killed.
Abram discovers a new energy and bounds out to the offender, giving him more of a talking-to than he bargained for: “My wife comes to see him, an’ brings him stuff; an’ we about worship him. Who are you, to come ‘long an’ wipe out his joy in life … for jest nothin’?” Gene likely states some of her own beliefs next, when Abram goes on: “To my mind, ain’t no better way to love an’ worship God, ‘an to protect an’ ‘preciate these fine gifts He’s given for our joy an’ use. Worshipin’ that bird’s a kind o’ religion with me.”
You can download The Song of the Cardinal free at Project Gutenberg. Enjoy — I did!