A couple of days ago, I was the fortunate recipient of a songbird’s wakeup call. Our family calendar and the texting app on my phone had my full attention, but not ten feet away on the other side of our back door a bird was making a racket, chipping and fluttering about. Here’s what went through my head in the space of about three seconds: Don’t move. Don’t look. Maybe the wrens are back, and they are shy.
Last week, the day before an unprecedented windstorm blew through Southeastern Michigan, toppling countless very old trees (one of which killed two people), and leaving hundreds of thousands of households without power for days, I noticed a Carolina wren stealing into a nook below our porch ceiling and then back out again. A pile of twigs and plant fluff was accumulating where a beam met the siding. How adaptable, I thought, admiringly.
As the wind gathered energy, I hoped the wren was hunkered down somewhere sheltered enough. The weirdly warm windstorm was followed by wet snow, then dry snow, and a temperature drop of about 50 degrees, overnight. Carolina wrens don’t like cold.
The racket continued. Without looking up at all and moving as little as I could, I switched my phone to camera mode, then very slowly I turned my upper body so that I could look through the door’s window. There was a Carolina wren. I froze. She (or he–they’re monogamous and build nests together) flitted about in the manner we call nervous but that seems to me to be engaged. I raised the phone just high enough up in the air to get this shot. (Sorry about the poor quality. It’s an old phone and I was shooting through a window.)
The news of the day can feel like a sledgehammer, including the report about the young couple killed by the falling tree, and the fact of climate change which, as scientists have been saying for years, will bring more severe storms more often. Being continuously bludgeoned, it goes without saying, has a lot of drawbacks. I think many of us forget to remember we can step away from the news. This has always felt to me like the crux of Gary Snyder’s poem, “Source,” the heart of which reads, “I hear no news.” The poem’s speaker lies (sits, stands?) in deep dark, in the mountains, a source the reader is given to understand of energy, a well of je ne sais quoi quite apart from all the information churned out daily by humans.
The leaves are still off the trees and birds are on the move–migrating, nest building, and just generally making themselves known. If you’re lucky enough to hear birdsong in your neighborhood, I’d like to propose that now’s the time to get out there and meet your avian neighbors–or reintroduce yourself.
A couple of years ago I wrote a little pep talk here after noticing the fact that my wild-nature knowing skills had atrophied a bit, which is really just another way of saying that I had gotten quite undisciplined about paying close attention to the biotic community into which I am woven, a direct consequence of being too caught up in Human’s-Only World (which is an illusion anyway) and too removed from my own sources. You can click here to read it.
I confess to being more distracted than ever, but that little wakeup call this morning did send me out for a walk. In less than 10 minutes I heard, then saw: a Carolina wren, chickadees, a cardinal, a hairy woodpecker, a titmouse, a blue jay, and yes, some crows. You know what to do: Go outside. Listen. Look up, and drink deep. It’s the best time of year for it, and given the news of the day, perhaps the best time of your life, too.