Sunday, January 05, 2014

`It Changes All Hours to an Eternal Morning'

A small elderly woman bent almost double with osteoporosis, wrapped in a long gray scarf and wearing a purple beret, peered with binoculars into the leafless trees. Birding etiquette demands that I stop, in this case beside a younger man holding binoculars in front of his chest, watching the woman. “Right there,” she said, pointing with her left hand and keeping the field glasses to her eyes. “Above the palmetto, five meters up.” The man turned and focused, moving economically. “Ah, I see it,” he said. I asked, “What do you see?” He looked at me and pointed. “Yellow-rumped warbler,” he said. “There’s a gajillion of them moving through.” Naturally, I couldn’t see a thing until it flew off, a yellow-less gray blur. 

Thoreau observed one in Concord on Shakespeare’s birthday in 1854, and noted in his journal: “The myrtle-bird, -- yellow-rumped warbler,…on the willows, alders, and the wall by Hubbard’s Bridge, slate and white spotted with yellow. It’s note is a fine, rapid, somewhat hissing or whistling se se se se se ser riddler se, somewhat like the common yellowbird’s.” 

Thoreau’s transcriptions of birdsong make for amusingly farfetched reading. Go here and click on the warbler’s “Typical voice” button. I couldn’t even begin to replicate such a sound with mere language – yet another reason to envy the birds.  Thoreau is more grounded when he sticks to metaphor. On June 22, 1854, he notes in his journal a memorable encounter with a wood thrush: “This is the only bird whose note affects me like music. It lifts and exhilarates me. It is inspiring. It changes all hours to an eternal morning.”

1 comment:

Brian said...

The notes of the common white- throated sparrow hit me like a trumpeter's call to life: Awake!

The seething of the cedar waxwing seems somehow more insidious.

Glory be to God for winged things.