Winter came back last week, bringing its cold air and flurrying snow and giving the mountain five more inches of powder. I should have known it would happen–spring never comes that easily. The weather forecast predicts temperatures in the 40s by the end of the week, but what I really trust are the birds. Last Friday morning as I sat reading by the fire and listening to the intermittent coo-cooing of mourning doves, a new voice flew in honking. I jumped up in time to see two canada geese fly over the yard and on toward Mt. Mansfield. It was just the two of them, but still a sign of spring migration beginning. As Aldo Leopold writes in A Sand County Almanac, “One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.” I’m on the lookout for the rest of the skein.
After the geese left my view, I stood at the window looking for the mourning dove and the red-winged blackbird that had just chimed in with it’s high “tee-err.” My eyes caught a small dot high up in a birch tree; through the zoom of my camera, the blue feathers and pointed head of the bluejay came into focus. As I lowered the viewfinder, I noticed three more birds in a maple–all robins–and another bluejay in a second birch. By noticing just one bird it was as if I could suddenly see them all in plain sight, and excitement surged through me. Imagine what else I can see now–now that I have begun to look!
For my birthday my parents gave me the Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America. I have been curious about the energy that some of my friends and my parents get from birding, and now I am beginning to find out where it comes from. The book’s foreword says that “Peterson often observed that ‘[birds] are the most intensely alive of all creatures–often moving, darting, hopping, flying, or at times migrating thousands of miles.’ By observing them and appreciating them, birders seem to absorb some of this tremendous life force and therefore stay very much alive themselves.” Along with this aliveness, birding brings about a greater understanding of the environment by pulling one’s attention to the details of a habitat–the interaction between plant and animal species–and the consequences of changing weather–the migration of birds through seasons.
As a child, long before I picked up any bird book, I knew the reappearance of wild geese and red-breasted robins meant spring, and that soon the ground would thaw for those robins to find worms. I’ve seen the birds’ return again, so despite today’s freezing air, I trust the instincts of a species that listens, feels, and acts upon the earth’s subtle changes. What other changes might come if we all were to listen?