Tuesday, October 18, 2011

`If Only to Wake My Neighbors Up'

In a letter to Horatio Robinson Storer written Feb. 15, 1847, while living at Walden Pond, Thoreau says:

“Though I live in the woods I am not so attentive an observer of birds as I was once, but am satisfied if I get an occasional night of sound from them.”

At 2:17 a.m. Monday I was exceedingly satisfied when a northern mockingbird perched in the post oak outside my bedroom window commenced his solo recital. I couldn’t fault him, and he was a “him.” He was looking for love, pitching avian woo. What pleases me most about the mockingbird is not his gift for stealing the songs of others, but the force and purity of his tone. There’s a defiant jauntiness about his sound. In this, he resembles Louis Armstrong.

For three minutes by the clock I lay there listening, enjoying the intrusion, comforted by the certainty I would soon fall back to sleep. His riffing started with a series of rising arpeggios, dropped and promptly resumed, with blue jay calls thrown in for counterpoint. The sound was fluid, confident and precise, and suddenly he stopped and I was out for another three hours. B.C. Robison writes of the mockingbird in Birds of Houston (Rice University Press, 1990):

“It will sing throughout most of the year, and in the breeding season of spring and early summer the melodies of this sassy, conspicuous bird will grace the daylight hours and often late into the night. I recall once being awakened well after midnight in the spring by a boisterous songster in the back yard. High up in a large sycamore tree, in the clear bright moonlight, a mockingbird was cheerfully singing, oblivious to the late hour.”

Cheeriness and confidence, we know, can mask their opposites. Let’s hope my out-of-season chanticleer is soon singing the occasional duet. Thoreau writes in Walden:

“I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.”

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