rufus sings a morning song
the plot out back, the one i pretend is my so-called “acreage,” is, at this moment in its history, nothing more than a pastiche of variegated browns, in shades of drab and drabber. (and that would be the politest way to put it.) it’s stick upon stick, dry grasses tumbling in the wind, detritus from the alley scattered hither and yon. as far as gardens go, it’s something of a shipwreck, desiccated timbers strewn upon a sandy cove. it’s faded, tousled, worn from winter’s torment.
in a word or two (or four), it’s the farthest thing from hopeful. at least by botanical standards.
when it comes to animation, however, my sorry plot is awash, aswirl, alive. it seems rivers of airborne currents have carried north a whole new flock of feathered passersby. if you close your eyes and ignore the goosebumps on your arms, you might pretend you’ve landed in a lush big-leafed aviary, a bath of birdsong launching each new day.
here’s the soundtrack of this morning:
among the curiouser and most ear-catching of my vernal crew was one whose high-pitched trill broke through the chatter. i couldn’t help but leap from my typing post to press my ear against the glass. its call was certain and insistent. and it came again and again and again. but i could not, for the life of me, find the megaphone from which it poured. ah, but then it got thirsty — all that warbling dries a fellow’s throat — and it hopped right before my eyes. i’d never seen anything like it. even for an unschooled bird girl like me, the sight of someone altogether new to the neighborhood makes for quite a morning’s thrill.
i did the only thing i know to do when bird spotting is the challenge. i called my Original Mother Nature, aka the one who birthed me, and who at 88 is a master of her bird identification tomes. i put in my description: long tail, white belly, looks like a rose-breasted grosbeak only it’s got robin-redbreast pumpkin-colored patches on its flanks, where the grosbeak sports a splotch of rosy raspberry.
i held the phone up to the wind, so my mama could catch a swatch of this fellow’s mellifluous song. and, presto, not an hour later, my mama was back on the line with full ID: this warbly bird was Rufus, aka rufous-sided towhee. rufous, i’ve since found out, comes from the latin, rufus, for red. it’s the color of a rusty nail, an oxidized-iron sort of orange. but then, in an ornithological twist, just as i was poking under branches scrounging around for so-called Rufus, i found out that while it’s true he remains a rusty-spotted species, the ornithologists have gone and ditched that part of his name. nowadays, all the Rufi in the eastern half of the u.s. landmass are named, simply, “eastern towhees.” in some parts of the country, they’re called “chewinks” because that’s what it sounds like they’re singing. others insist they’re singing, “make your tea.” (i heard no such thing, but i am listening now, i tell you…)
have a listen for yourself.
i find this rush of flight and feather invigorating as all get out. there are loop-de-loops, and swoops galore out there. games of catch-me-if-you-can. doh-si-dohs and pas de deux, of the birdly variety. even my housemates, home for spring break, have taken to pressing noses to windowpanes.
the reinvigorations of the spring come in waves. it’s all as if to say, hold on to hope, the cavalry is coming. what was dormant, sound asleep, is rousing. the birds, keen to shift in sunlight, keen to earthly repositioning, they know what we’ve yet to comprehend: the promise of the spring is in the works. the world will pulse with beauties soon enough. our hearts and souls will soon be dizzied, up-swooped by the glories of the world reawakening.
rufus says so.
a poem for today, blessed reminder that even the most ordinary acts of each and every day are ripe with sacramental possibility, and ours to anoint with our simple attention:
corn kernel, dried bean,
poke into loosened soil,
cover over with measured fingertips
perfect white squares
This rich egg scrambled in a gray clay bowl
smoothing edges till blue quilt fits brown blanket
and nothing hangs out
so the name balances like a cloud
in the center of sky
This table I dust till the scarred wood shines
This bundle of clothes I wash and hang and wash again
like flags we share, a country so close
no one needs to name it
The hands are churches that worship the world
~ Naomi Shihab Nye ~
I drove out to the arboretum this week, hoping for some green, but only found brown, brown, brown. Then I ventured out into the fields, where water was pooled among the prairie grass and heard the frog chorus. It was so wonderful, it just lifted me. I didn’t think the frogs started singing until at least the middle of April.
Plus, I am very grateful for your towhee info. I absolutely love that sound and have always wondered what bird was singing. Rachel Carson wrote fond letters to her friend Dorothy Freeman mentioning the song of the towhee.
Ohhhhh, I love that you know about Rachel writing of the towhee! I tell you it was a song that catapulted me from my typing chair! It was the most glorious shatter-the-noise song I’d heard since mama wren took up her warbling a couple summers ago (she skipped our house last summer, alas).
Spring peeper chorus is definitely in my favorite sounds of spring list. I need to trek to hear them around here.
So I suppose when color evades us, we turn to sound for much needed exhilaration…
Ooh bam, what a treat that you included the sounds in your post! Here in Oregon we’re a bit ahead of you in our Spring season so I’ve been hearing the excited frogs for a few weeks now. Your recording was so wonderful though to be able to hone in on the exact bird AND know who it is!
delighted that a bit of soundtrack enlivened your visit to the chair today. those are high-tech reaches for luddite me. i sort of cross my fingers, hold my breath, and hope it happens. i’d had a great recording of mr. rufus from yesterday, but i accidentally deleted it when trying to edit out the silence between calls……
oh, if only i had frog songs out my window. i’d sleep with windows open, to be sure…..
Stunningly gorgeous bird!!! Like Mary, I pretend, too – I pretend that the Morton Arboretum is my “backyard” 🙂 (Go there, on the west side, on a sunny afternoon when the daffodils and heavenly-blue Virginia Bluebells are blooming in profusion at the same time. It will take your breath away. So many thousands!) Cindy Crosby is Prairie Steward of the Schulenberg Prairie there, also restores Nachusa Grasslands tallgrass prairie near Dixon, IL. By reading her weekly blog (text and her photos), she brings to our awareness the richness of nature, even when dormant, dead and brown or covered with snow, or our untrained eyes miss it. Google Tuesdays in the Tallgrass and you ‘ll see. The very same integration of appreciation of nature and depth of spirituality that we all share here at the table. Thank you, BAM, as always for your thoughts, photos, and sound bites (!) They are the best!
oh, bless your heart. can you imagine being a “prairie steward”? what a fine title. i can’t wait to go take a peek at her https://tuesdaysinthetallgrass.wordpress.com
the first peek i took just now, and i see annie dillard front and center. clearly cindy is my kind of literary steward…..
thank you much for pointing us in her direction……and pulling up a chair this morning…..
Not “make your tea” but rather “drink your tea” that’s what the towhee sings! I’ve heard that song many a time at my sister’s home near Asheville, NC.
ah, yes!!! you are right, and in fact there are those who insist there’s a double verb, “drink-drink your tea!” i DO think i might have heard that, and here is a video that provides quite clearly that translation, which i’d say is mighty close to what i heard in my humble back plot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9iHzozVSZ4
thank you for correcting my verb, dear HH, xoxoxo
Thank you for that beautiful poem by Naomi s. Nye. It celebrates our daily lives and i shall treasure it. What stirred me this weekend? Watching millions of people in Washington DC enjoy that one event that can unite us despite our political differences: the cherry trees blooming by the Jefferson Memorial. What miracles these little pink blossoms can achieve that not even mighty congressmen can!
Beautiful! Revel in those blossoms.
Thank you for reading the Naomi. I loved it; took my breath away. I love her poetry.
So it was the towhee, and possibly a brown thrasher, too, that was enchanting your backyard?? I love the towhees, but I haven’t seen any for a couple of years. Whenever I do chance to see them as they pass through, they’re always digging around in the oak leaves. Gorgeous birds! And that song! Until this post, I couldn’t have told you what the towhee says. Now I know! Thank you!! Love your gorgeous backyard chorus, love the beautiful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye… xoxo
hullo, beautiful! no brown thrasher, not yet anyway. turned out it was definitely the towhee. yesterday a flock of starlings decided to descend, so today i’ve had to suspend my dispersal of victuals for the lovely springtime birds.
sending love from my eastern edge of illinois to your western edge of the land of lincoln! xoxoxoxox