Whenever I go out my back door, the nets are sitting there, reminding me of the recent short visit by my nephews from Nicaragua. The boys are 7 and 9, and they play soccer every chance they have. In fact, they managed to play both soccer and basketball at the same time, with each boy having a mini basketball net set up beside their little soccer net. Now, both the basketball and soccer nets sit empty and quiet in my yard.
The first day my sister and my nephews were in Canada this fall, I brought them to Crieff Hills to see the fall bird banding event. The boys watched one or two birds getting banded and then got back to playing soccer with their friends.
Bird banding requires a different kind of net. It involves setting up a series of mist nets which are somewhat similar to volleyball nets, but made of a very fine, almost invisible mesh. The birds are caught in the nets, banded, and released. Banding is an important tool in studying migration patterns and bird populations, especially in recent years when songbird populations have been declining all around the world. Each bird is weighed and measured and then fitted with an appropriate size of metal band carefully placed around their leg. The unique number on each band allows for identification if the bird is caught again.
The bird banding morning seemed to be going well with several small birds caught by the nets early in the morning. Bird bander, Brian Pomfret, banded six field sparrows, five black capped chickadees, a chipping sparrow, and a ruby crowned kinglet, all before 10 a.m. Brian is a professional bird bander who comes to Crieff Hills with his family on a Saturday every May and September to band birds and then sends his data to bird banding stations across North America.
After the flurry of banding the dozen small birds caught that morning, there were no more birds found in the nets. By mid-morning, the nets were empty each time we returned to check. More visitors arrived at the Crieff picnic shelter with their large cameras. We took them down the trail to see where the nets were set up, but there were no birds in the nets.
Finally, just before it was time to take the nets down at noon, there was movement and a flash of gray and yellow in one of the large mist nets set up at the start of the orange trail. A northern flicker was in the fine net, its beak still dusty from catching ants on the ground. The bird was taken to the picnic shelter to be weighed, measured, banded, and then released, after having its photograph taken many times.
The disciples knew about empty nets too. Their lives depended on their fishing nets. Their hearts knew emptiness too. After Jesus was gone, they went back to what they knew, and that was fishing. Imagine fishing all night, catching nothing and then being approached by a stranger telling them to simply cast their nets on the other side of the boat. And what happens? A miracle. There is no other explanation.
When our own nets are empty, how often do we listen to the stranger telling us to go to the other side of the boat? Try just one more time, but differently this time. Nets are not made to sit empty, but to be filled by a God whose love is infinitely more abundant than we can imagine.
Photos by Fiona van Wissen and Katy Kolkman