I love wild birds. Each visual and aural encounter with a bird inspires me, lifts my spirit somehow, and causes me to stop what I’m doing and to watch and listen. “Do you hear that?” I’ll ask my children as we walk on Rabbit Lane. “That’s the cry of the Red-shafted Northern Flicker. Now every time you hear that lonesome call, you’ll know who it is, and can watch. See? There he goes?” The Meadowlark sings the most beautiful and complex melody. Common Sparrows twitter chaotically, wooing mates in the tree branches. Red-winged Blackbirds whistle and dive in for a sunflower snack. Mourning Doves coo softly and sadly. I hope you enjoy this prose poem about some wild birds in the Rabbit Lane neighborhood.
Small striped Siskin grasps a high twig with black-wire feet, glancing repeatedly downward, wishing someone would fill the hanging thistle seed bag.
Two Red Tails sit close on a high bare branch watching the fields together for a mouse or a vole or a gopher that might poke its snout up through the snow. Which one will fly?
A thousand yellow-shafted Northern Flickers crowd a copse of gambel oaks and mountain maples, each of the thousand chatting earnestly to the other nine-hundred ninety-nine. The red-shafted flies alone, flapping then gliding close-winged, after sounding a solitary cry.
Kestrel finds its way into the coop, with no room to dive and where the chickens are ten times its size, and cannot see the way out. Brian grapples it with leather gloves and sets it free to fly, not before noticing the beautiful markings on its face, the scalpel beak, and the black glossy gleam in its eyes.
Bald Eagle came only once to our cottonwoods and stared down at me as I stood stupefied.
I thrill with each dash of color, each beating wing, and each trilling song from Rabbit Lane’s abundant bird life. I admire the Red-tailed Hawk couple regarding me with nonchalance as they mind their nest. Barn owls shooting from their tree holes at sunset fill me with mystery. The tweets, chirps, and twitters of little songbirds never fail to lift my spirits. At times I regard their cheerfulness and freedom with envy. I wish I could flit and fly and sing like they do. This little-boy yearning, coupled with man-sized troubles, inspired the following poem.
AWAY I MUST FLY
I must fly,
sang the restless little bird,
I must fly.
Only for a moment.
Only for a day.
Only for a season.
Then back I’ll fly,
sang the restless little bird,
I must fly
A century ago, Erda’s church-going farmers planted a row of Cottonwood twigs behind the clay-block church building. A decade ago, a bald eagle stared down at me from one of these Cottonwood tree’s 50-foot height. Today, the Cottonwoods are gone, felled by my saw, replaced by the neighbor’s new barn. I can still see the majestic trees in family photos and in my memory as I walk home from Rabbit Lane, past Old Cottonwood, a 17-foot circumference behemoth. This poem is for that and the other great pioneer trees that sit split on our porches and burn in our stoves. (See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 5: Old Cottonwood post, for more on Cottonwood trees.)
The old cottonwood is dead,
dead for many years.
Leaves have flown to join with new soil.
Sun-bleached bark has sloughed and fallen.
But the aspect of its reaching is preserved.
The trunk holds steady, the unseen roots entrenched.
A thousand branches reach sharply upwards,
spiny fingers feeling upwards,
still swaying, though stiffly.
Red-tailed Hawk still reconnoiters from a favorite high branch.
Great-horned Owl still softly calls its mate.
And Kestrel now rests in its cavities.
–In the presence of goodness, good people rejoice.–
My boots crunch loudly on the loose and frozen gravel, rousing common sparrows from their cold roosts in the willow and wild rose bushes. Despite being leafless in December, the bushes seem an impenetrable tangle of twigs and dead leaves. I hear, rather than see, the birds fluttering and tweeting within. I have bundled myself against the bitter cold, and wonder how these almost weightless creatures survive Winter. I imagine them huddled in their houses, mostly protected from the wind, their feathers puffed out to gather insulating air, with temperatures sinking to just above zero. I marvel that these birds constantly peep and sing, fluttering about with the energy of jubilation. I envy them their unconditional happiness. I have come to appreciate their enthusiasm, to rely upon their unassailable cheerfulness. Continue reading →