Saturday, September 27, 2014


The happiest part of my day is spent sitting on the kitchen porch after I shoo the dog out of my chair (it gets warm in the morning sun and she likes to lie in it). I sit there drinking my morning coffee and watching the birds at the bird feeder. They are endlessly amusing. Right now there are a lot of Red-breasted Nuthatches coming by. The Chestnut-backed Chickadees still show up, but the Grosbeaks haven’t been by lately. I saw a Hairy Woodpecker the other day – my first one. I haven’t paid close enough attention to recognize individual Chickadees or Nuthatches, and unlike serious birders I do not know one bird song from another. Oh, I know when I hear a crow or a Stellar’s Jay. Those calls are pretty unmistakable, but the little birds all blend together for me. I think it’s the Black-capped Chickadees that remind me of my aunt’s canaries. My aunt had an outdoor cage with two canaries in it for years. This was in balmy central California, and if the weather was harsh, my aunt would lower canvas covers over the screens, so they survived fine out there. At least I think they did. Now I’m wondering for the first time if my aunt was making regular trips to the canary store to get replacements over the years. Another one of those questions I wish I’d thought of when she was still alive. I guess she kept them to listen to their singing, and I remember them tweeting up a storm. There is one chirp the Black-capped Chickadee makes that takes me right back to my aunt’s back yard, and I can see the cage and the canaries again. Oh, and the lemon tree behind the cage. The bird books I consult try to describe the calls and songs of birds on the written page, and honestly, I don’t know why they even bother. If you already know what the bird sounds like, you might read the description and say, why, yes, that is that bird’s song. But if you don’t know it, the descriptions aren’t much help. One bird’s voice description said it went, “Yank yank yank.” I have never heard a bird say, sing, or call anything that sounded to me like “yank yank yank.” Same goes for most of the other written approximations of bird song. For example: the Barn Swallow “utters continuous zip-zip-zip twittering chatter and a kvick-kvick call.” (p. 270, “Birds of Washington State,” Lone Pine Publishing, by Brian H. Bell and Gregory Kennedy) Again, I’ve never heard a bird say kvick-kvick. Sounds like a Yiddish bird to me. So, you want I shouldn’t build my mud nest in the eave over your front door? Kvick you, alta kaka.
I’ll wait here while you google it. When I was young I wanted to be the best singer in the world. As I got older and developed a more rational sense of my own talent, I wanted to be a good enough singer/songwriter that I was respected by other singer/songwriters, which is still a lot to want. Songwriting is a tough row to hoe (I see you songwriters are nodding your heads). It’s not easy because even if you are good, people would rather hear you sing a Johnny Cash song, or anything familiar, than your own precious original creations. Yeah, all songs start out as someone’s precious original creation, but if someone recorded it and had a hit with it, an audience is going to be a lot happier hearing that familiar ditty than your impeccably crafted, but unfamiliar, original song. That’s the way people are. The familiar is more comfortable. That’s why there are so many cover bands that work regularly in bars and cocktail lounges. I also wanted when I was younger to become a better person. I read the self-help books, I went to therapy, I did support groups. Then sometime around my forty-third year I had this epiphany: I’m not going to live long enough to fix myself. Now, in my sixties, I found myself writing to a friend, “Live and learn. Well, actually, I don’t care anymore if I learn anything as long as I keep on living.” My standards and expectations have relaxed, you see. Maybe all I really need to do now is sit in the morning light and drink my coffee and watch the birds and enjoy their songs, and teach the dog new tricks. She learned “spin around” last week, and it was surprisingly gratifying. Maybe that Facebook quiz that said I was best suited to be an animal trainer was right.

1 comment:

Barbara Millikan said...

Chickadees are easy. They say Chick a dee dee dee. The more dees, the more stressed they are.