Sunday, April 17, 2011


There is a day; a morning; a moment: Late in the winter when hope awakens with the rising sun. Our bedroom sits on our lot down near the wooded hollow, filled with ancient scrub oak trees and orphaned miscellany brought to the mulchy space by fierce Farmington east winds. Three purposeful columnar maples shade our windows in the summer, just outside the bay facing the mountains to the east. In the autumn I leave the blinds open all day and all night. The leaves provide privacy and the glorious golden apricot blend of color in those large flat leaves stuns me every time I enter the room by light of day. I close the blinds in the winter when the trees are bare, mostly to protect the private space between our window and our neighbor’s. All winter long the space is somber and silent; until that one morning when the sun has begun to rise earlier, the light of morning pushing through the blinds, appearing like a blank sheet of radiant lined school paper waiting for a story to be written.

I lay in my bed and notice, for the first time each year, the two toned melody of a bird in the trees. One simple song, by a single winged creature somewhere out there in the woody place where leaves have not yet begun to bud. I take note of the day in March, often close to my birthday, opening the spot in my heart where hope is kept.

I keep hope safely tucked in a rather organized cupboard, unusually organized for one like me. It requires certain keys to open the cupboard door; some distinct hard evidence to serve as a trigger to pry it loose. The song of the winged one is the key in the hand of spring, hope of seasons impending. So often I forget to recognize hope for what it is. So often I think it only appears as the elusive quest in our human hearts for things unseen and eternal. I forget that it shimmers in the distant lights across the bay when we are headed to Salt Lake City at night. At dusk, when the waning light confuses the landscape, hope tells me the city is there because it has always been there and cities generally don’t disappear in real life. Hope reassures me my Kate is alive and happy in Houston, and that Annie’s baby is growing in perfectly healthy ways with her belly. And it sings to me in wordless melody that spring is coming. I know that song. Each time I hear it hope throws its roots deeper and deeper into my soil of belief, so that soon hope becomes trust.

Spring is in the offing. My skin can feel the rising sun through the window blinds. The solitary bird is joined by other songs as the days progress; a cacophonous set of harmonies much like the Debussy choral piece we did in high school choir. I leave the window on my side of the bed slightly cracked open throughout the year, inviting fresh crisp air into our space regardless of the temperature. We are sheltered by the architecture of the brick structure, the large bay in the Living Room protecting us from wicked winter winds. Only on the bitterest winter days do I seal that window shut. In the spring the music of the birds echoes off the brick, rises to the Bailey house to the east of us and reflects back at us from there as well, the sound amplified as it travels. By the time summer comes there are flocks of small-beaked creatures nesting in those trees and the sound is so abundant that it awakens me in the early hours, often not too long after I have fallen asleep. There is a first chorus around 5 am. Still dark. Not even the hint of a rising sun. Like monks in a pre-dawn chant they gather their songs and offer them in an Avant-Garde chorus. The song is not long lived, maybe ten minutes, maybe twenty. Then the silence returns until the first rays of sunlight peek over the mountains. Then they sing unceasingly. All the live long day. I recognize their compositions, repeated like eternal musical stutterers. For seventeen years I have bathed in their songs and I do not know who they are. Sort of like all the years of my youth I repeated lyrics to tunes I knew by heart, though I cannot tell you even now who the artist was or the name of the band. I realize as I write this how narrow minded I can be, that I would drink the auditory flavors of three full seasons a year and not even attempt to know from whence the offerings come.

I have just spent the bulk of this Saturday morning searching the internet for the sounds of my hollow. I’m overcome with the ease of access; that I, a completely anonymous searcher, can find recordings of the songbirds outside my window tucked here in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. I’m thrilled, and then moved to tears that the songs I know so well have names attached to them. I feel like the pauper who has just discovered the benefactor who has been leaving bread, mysteriously, at my doorway for nearly two decades.

We get so used to the ease of finding things on the internet I forget that someone has spent hours, weeks, months, even years collecting and arranging words and pictures and recordings, then making them available to Mrs. Anonymous. I type a few letters into a search box, click my mouse, and up come my options. This one from the WESTERN SOUNDSCAPE ARCHIVE has given face to the voices I hear every morning, calling me from the softness of my down pillow. Thank you University of Utah J. Willard Marriot Library Digital Collections, for lifting the blinds and swinging wide open the window to my woods, when my own feet are too feeble and my own blurry eyes cannot see through the trees.

I can now recognize the jack-hammer pulse of a northern flicker, followed by the crescendo of his song, the pitch rising in staccato notes then falling again.

The beautiful but brash-throated stellars jay, whose bright blue wings look stunningly brilliant against the crystalline innocence of new born leaves.

Swallows, and titmouse, and sparrows and robins. A whistling warbler, and the doves who make their way down my chimney on a regular basis. They combine to create a chorus I can hardly define but which I know so well. I’m an on-listener at my own bird convention.

And thanks to the Western Soundscape Archive I can now know exactly what to curse on a warm summer afternoon when I am trying to regain some strength through a moment of afternoon repose. Down in the hollow a song repeats, unrelenting, two notes, a third apart. Over and over. I pound my pillow into a new shape, lift my head and turn onto my other hip there on my bed. I cover my ear with another pillow. Still, the shrill notes pierce through. Now that I am educated I can grumble a nasty remark specifically to that black-capped chickadee out there. There’s only so much of two single notes, sung repeatedly, that is appealing to the human ear.

(BTW- in case you didn't already know this; when text is blue in a blog post that usually means you can click on the word and it will take you to a link.  The two colored texts above will lead you to sites where bird pictures and sounds can be seen and heard.  Click on the "black-capped chickadee" and you'll see the pretty little thing.  Then click on "listen" within the link and you'll hear the charming-annoying little thing.)


  1. i think it is a yellow warbler that mom would imitate saying "afton parrish is a pretty little girl". this is something that she remembers her dad singing to her.

    and so sorry the flicker moved from our front porch to yours. i miss the bird but not the mess. i'll send john down next time he is here to scare it away!

  2. My moment of Spring is when the swallows come. Just one day, the sky is full of swooping swallows - they dart in looping feints over our yard, throw themselves merrily over our roofs, swoop across streets and fling themselves up again, high, high, all together in rolls and pleats and dives across the ocean of the sky. That's when hope stirs in me.

    By the way, we call that chickadee a FEE-fer around here. He sings the first two notes of a Star Wars theme. I don't know why he doesn't annoy us - quite the opposite; to my children, he is the song of home.