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Not a Sparrow Peeps...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I make a fresh bird list every morning. In the heady days of mid-May I could break 70 species on a morning run. Now in early June, I'm lucky to break 60, having lost almost all the migrants. (The morning of June 2 being a fluky exception. 74 species ?!? Including a skein of honking Canada geese (where did they come from??), a keening killdeer, a slow-flapping great blue heron, and a singing male BLUE GROSBEAK at the corner of our dirt road. Whaaa??? That's birding for you. You never know what's going to be in the box of chocolates. Might get a truffle.

I've been following one lone migrant, one wannabe resident, since mid-May. He first started singing in a field full of butterflyweed and dogbane along our county road. I had stopped to take my seven hundredth photograph of The Three Graces, the dancing trees that so captivate me, and his song floated down this hill to me as I stood by my car.

 I caught his dry, insectile 
and was instantly, wistfully transported to the North Dakota prairie. 

It could only be a grasshopper sparrow, a very rare bird around here. 

I walked up into the meadow and found him singing on dogbane at the crest of the hill. 

Even if I didn't know his song, I could've told he was a grasshopper sparrow before I got him in the binoculars, because he was round, perfectly and almost comically flat-headed, and he fluttered one wing as he sang. Grasshopper sparrows have a bewitching little patch of yellow on the leading edge of the wrist, which they expose when they display. Mannerisms like that are useful in identifying the little brown jobs. They're the same mannerisms that other grasshopper sparrows use to tell that they're looking at one of their own kind.

I've been following him ever since. He deserted the Three Graces hill and moved about a half-mile to a large hayfield near the old farmstead I run to. Sang there for a couple of days. I went to visit him in his new spot the morning of  June 2, and found the hayfield silent. But he was singing in another field, halfway between the original and the second. Making the rounds, hoping to find a little round grasshopper sparrow gal somewhere in that grass.

My rational mind tells me he probably won't. They're too rare around here. And the way he bops from field to field, uncontested, singing king of all he surveys, tells me there are no companions for him here. But I can hope for him, and for me, because that barely noticeable song touches a place in my heart. I would so love to hear it all summer long. I would love to see him find that someone.

 Lately, the only time I feel at all like myself is when I'm running these roads, moving and breathing and seeing new things with every mile. Running takes my mind to another place, puts it in the back seat for once, where it can't ask me a million questions I can't answer. I would run all day if I didn't have stuff I have to do at home. Sometimes I run half the day. It feels to me like the answers might be out on the road somewhere, if I just keep listening and looking. I listen for birds and make neat little lists of everything I hear. I've got drifts of those little folded pieces of paper with NOCA PIWO DOWO EAME EABL written on them. Poems, thoughts, polemics, diatribes and lyrics sometimes, but mostly bird lists. It's a compulsion; I'm self-aware enough to recognize that, but I tell myself it's a healthy one, at least, better than gambling or shopping.  Certainly cheaper than those. Free. 

 Every day I see and hear a different combination of 58, 63, 74 birds...I never know what the day might grant me, but I know every toot, peep and wheedle of every bird that breeds or flies through here. That has to be a good thing. 

I get so caught up in it all, I have to give Chet a break now and then because, it turns out, 7 miles is too much for him.

He doesn't want to stay home, and I purely hate to go without him, but I know when he's tuckered out. If he's stiff and hobbly when he wakes up, he gets a day off.

I don't hit it too hard or fast. But I do go far. We stop and rest at the church, talk to Ada, check on her rose.

I sing in the resonant space, and it vibrates all around us. The song of a catbird floats in the door, and Chet listens to both.

We had to come back three times before the mystery peonies bloomed.

Peter Gruber's peony turned out to be a raggedy pink one just like ours at home. No surprise there.

Same with the Stauch peony. 

Every day I get up feels like a new one, a new chance at figuring something out. I put my shoes on and
 go out fully intending to do a short run, and find myself going farther and farther, soothed by the soft air and the scent of fresh-cut hay, pulled along by the next song I hear.

How can I not, when it looks like this? When the beauty flows through me and over me, and every bird is in its rightful place and joyous and singing like mad? This world makes sense to me, has an ordered abundance that draws me in.

When days like this offer themselves to me
When the meadowlark's on the wire and the oriole flies over like a bright burning brand
How can I not partake?
I come to see a world in balance
Where the tanager's in the woods and the sparrow's in the grass
And the green frog twangs from the mirror-still pond.


Lovely! I'm blessed by your sharing of your "hallowed hour" (or two, or three, or four....).


Posted by Fritzann June 3, 2014 at 5:13 AM

Could use your advice !! My neighbor over-trimmed a shrubb outside his house,, exposing a very wary catbird on her nest. NOW she has virtually NO leaf or branch cover.Can I carefully lie branches over the nest without alarming her too much ??

Posted by trixie June 3, 2014 at 5:20 AM

what a lovely read this morning..thank you!

I envy your ability to hear all those varied bird songs -- and then identify them. Beyond my hearing ability so I rely more on my eyes. Your run sounds divine nonetheless.

Wow. There is so much there, all meaningful. Beautiful, baby. Thanks. Xom

Posted by Anonymous June 3, 2014 at 7:14 AM

This post brought me back to myself. And maybe it's time for a doggie stroller for Chet so you can do your 7 mile runs & not worry about him. Thanks as usual for sharing your love of the natural world outside your door.

Thanks guys. It is divine to live here and to love it so fiercely that coming inside feels like heresy.

Trixie, do anything you feel you need to to conceal that poor catbird's nest. She won't miss a beat. Catbirds are supersmart and understand when we are trying to help them. Good luck and thanks for caring.

Ah, your releasing run has my heart! In this season I, too, am surrounded by birdsong--most of them "the usual suspects"--but nevertheless, my fond companions in this season of planting and growing. Thanks for expressing the feeling so gracefully.

Posted by beaverbrook June 4, 2014 at 9:07 AM

It seems that the answers are out on the road, in being awake, aware, present, and connected to Life. I get how you could just keep running, listening, looking, smelling, feeling, being, reflecting and marveling at the beauty, the wonder, the mystery. Out on the road, it all makes sense.

hibiscus.... mine is still inside.... flower eaten most quickly by wildlife: gebera daisy.
those will neve go outside again either.

Chet- you have to carry him. It gives you a full body work out...or it breaks your arms, one or the other. :(

Lovely. Just completely lovely.

You just keep doing what you need to do, dear JZ.


Posted by KH Macomber June 5, 2014 at 7:15 PM

When I saw the last photo "In the Middle of Nowhere" by George Strait started playing in my head. You do live a great, beautiful gift every single day.

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