Cedar Waxwings over Clarksdale: Be Still My Heart

Music in video by John Ruskey

Cedar Waxwings along the Sunflower River in the Mississippi Delta. Photo by John Ruskey

Cedar Waxwings along the Sunflower River in the Mississippi Delta. Photo by John Ruskey

By Madgical  ­čśë  Madge

VIDEO and PHOTOS included in post

When I met John Ruskey a little over ten years ago, I felt an immediate connectionÔÇŽa connection, which moves over the land, over the water, into the heart and back again, over and over and over. Being near John reminds me how important it is to stop, to look and to listen.

One cold winter day I remember sitting at a window with my mother, watching the cedar waxwings descend upon her leatherleaf mahonia berries, enjoying our blessing of time together. With a turn of her head, she marveled with unabashed joy at their velvet color, which resembled the bare limbs of winter, pecked with a single dot of red on their wing feathers, much like the holly berry it covets.  She shrieked a whisper of excitement at their singleness of purpose, their desire to stay together. She stopped, she looked and she listened. Knowing my mother had the magical gift of being able to respond to her God-given ability to feel, I took note. I stopped, I looked and I listened.


The past few days the cedar waxwings arrived in Clarksdale, in particular they greeted me early Wednesday morning. Immediately, I saw them as I eased up to the curb in front of 149 Delta. I purposefully got out of my car, with iPhone video in the process of being activated in my stealthy movements. My heart jumped; they fluttered up then away from the berry-laden holly bush by our office. They proceeded to circle above me, dancing to a feeling, a musical sound of silence, an indescribable hushed grace of flight.

An hour or so later, a scheduled meeting led Billy and me to Quapaw Canoe Company on the banks of the Sunflower River. As we stepped onto the cold ground from the narrow flight of steps, leading down from the Owl’s Roost headed toward The Cave, we found our friend, John Ruskey, outside, aloft his flatbed trailer. With camera in hand, ever so still, he greeted us with a welcoming morning hello, all while he continued to snap, every so often, images of cedar waxwings perched atop a bare tree by the river. Again, my heart leaped. We looked and we listened. I came full circle again, over land, over water, into the heart and back again.

This video is certainly two things: my gift to God, and my gift to you, both expressions of gratefulness, for those precious moments when we intentionally think about and respond to our burning hunger to live in the present and to connect.

The photographs in the post were sent to me this morning from John. Thank you, John, for not only your encouragement and support of The Delta Bohemian but for the unselfish example you lead. Deep feelings of goodness can overwhelm us if we will simply pause.

John does many things well. He photographs. He paints. He writes. He has been doing a series of paintings of birds native to our area. Stay in touch with The Delta Bohemian for news about two upcoming art shows featuring the paintings of John Ruskey, in particular his Audubon Society commissioned watercolor study.


Madgical is Madge Marley Howell, Publisher and Producer of The Delta Bohemian. For more from the heart of the Mississippi Delta, we suggest you subscribe.

The music featured on the video is by John Ruskey from his CD titled riverman; the song is called “High Plains.” To purchase a CD, email John:  [email protected]



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  1. Are the Cedar Waxwings still around or have they moved on?

  2. Absolutely beautiful and magical to watch and listen to!!! Thank you Magical Madge, your writing is so personal and meaningful – the love comes through. Thank you for sharing a part of Clarksdale and the Delta!!!

    • Sandy, I’m so glad you enjoyed watching this sweet memory! I’ll never forget standing on the banks of the Sunflower next to John Ruskey as we both snapped away at the beautiful birds resting on the tree limbs above us.

      I remember as a young woman, sitting in my parents bedroom, watching the waxwings up close, just outside their window, as they lapped up the Leatherleaf Mahonia berries. Never did I see the magnitude of birds like I see in Clarksdale, though! The Clarksdale flying visitors used to love all our holly berries trees downtown which now are few in number. But they no doubt have radar on all the others around town.

      Your words encourage me to keep on keeping on!

      I love you.

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