Friday, May 29, 2015

LIFE! Happening in a shrub near you!

At left is a robin sitting on the nest which she happens to have built in a shrub near my porch. The back portion of the shrub has died from winterkill; I was annoyed until I realized the nest was right there, and I could look in from my porch chair and see it.

Mama robin was skittish at first, leaving the nest at any sign of movement on the porch, and scolding me loudly from the middle of the front walk. Eventually, we both adjusted: she grew more tolerant of local humans, and I learned to move slowly and to speak soothingly to her.

Last night, when I arrived home from work, Mama was missing -- and I panicked, because I had seen an opossum crossing the lawn the night before. But peeking into the nest, I saw three tiny beaks upraised, waiting for dinner! Three downy babies had hatched!

So I retreated to my chair, and throughout the evening had the pleasure of watching Mama, Papa, or both, feeding their new babies. Worms seemed plentiful, because fortunately we had just had rain. Back and forth, back and forth went the adult robins, returning to the nest and distributing food. Once the brood was fed, Mama settled back down and kept them warm.

And I realized: there's a lot here we take for granted. Snow melts, the sun returns, the earth warms, and life begins to unfold again, as new leaves emerge and new babies hatch or are born to every species. In spring, the time of fecundity, there is new life in every bush. I was there at the right time, and was able to watch.

But we can't take it for granted. Worse climate-change news emerges daily. If we want to be able to enjoy spring birdsong, we'd better takes steps to make sure it can endure.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Waking up with birds

I have to sleep with the window open. It's not negotiable, even in the bleak midwinter when it's 10 above zero -- my window WILL be open, if only a finger's-width. In the summer, I love to hear the night-sounds: crickets, dogs barking now and then, and the occasional falling trill of a screech-owl. This is my bedtime music.

Usually a good sleeper, I've been sleeping very lightly of late. To make up for that, I've been trying to actually go to bed earlier -- 10:30 or 11:00 means early to me, since I'm a real night-owl. My ideal schedule would be bed at 2:00, up at 9:00.

My sleep troubles may have something to do with the early light, as the days grow longer approaching the Summer Solstice. This morning I woke up at 4:30. The square window opening was growing brighter by the minute. I groaned under my breath (so as not to wake J.), rolled over, and tried to go back to sleep.

It was not to be. The minute I had settled down again, a bird began to sing. It was 4:45.

Just one lonely bird, who sounded like he was right outside my window. I love birds, and I can identify by sight most of the birds that frequent my six feeders. But I can't identify them by their songs (except for the screech-owl, whom there's no mistaking). Every time I think I have a song memorized, it goes straight out of my head.

This lonely bird continues singing to himself for a good five minutes. Suddenly, his song was taken up by a more distant bird of the same type, probably a couple of backyards away, and the two continued to sing back and forth to each other.

Around 5:00, other birds began waking up. Soon the dawn chorus was going full-blast in my backyard. Alto birds, soprano birds, a couple of lower voices, too: the choir was all there.

I could have shut the window and (perhaps) had enough silence to sleep in. But, all in all, listening to birds is not a bad way to start the day.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Another thing to learn ... maybe.

I have always wanted to play an instrument. My mother played piano beautifully, but gave it up when she married -- in fact, we never had a piano when I was a child. I think Mom felt this loss keenly, though she would never have said so. When J. and I bought a piano for the kids to play, Mom showed a rush of enthusiasm she hadn't felt in a long time, and bought herself a couple books of piano music. Sadly, she died not long after, without much of a chance to reclaim her musical roots.

When I was in my early forties, my kids took piano lessons, and so did I (briefly). Not only did I lack time to practice, but was totally unprepared for reading bass clef (as a chorister, I read treble clef pretty well, but bass clef might as well be written in Greek). I labored away at it, but never got much beyond "Abide with Me" in my easy book of hymns. That two-hands-playing-different-lines-thing? Not happening. The kids blew right past me, of course. My daughter still plays when she's home, especially if she thinks no one else is in the house.

So when I recently came across an article about playing the recorder, I thought: Hmmmm. Maybe I can do this. So, very hesitantly, I began to price recorders.

The nice wooden ones? Let me tell you, you can blow a few hundred dollars really easily on a nice, handmade rosewood recorder, or a nice burled walnut. Sticker shock set it -- I don't even know if I can learn this! I finally found the right source (, naturally) and found out that decent-sounding recorders come in plastic, too, for the handy price of $35.00,

So now, I am the proud owner of a plastic recorder, and a very elementary play-the-recorder book.

I hope it's written for simple-minded musicians who never managed to learn bass clef.