Late this afternoon I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for my mom, who isn’t feeling very well right now. As I left the store and crossed the vast parking lot to my car, I suddenly heard, over the noise of cars and traffic …
I stopped next to my car, shopping bag with mom’s pills in my hand, and just listened, entranced. I’ve always loved birds and loved listening to birdsong, but I can’t really identify many of them. Was that a robin? A meadowlark? A flicker? A wren?
But I know the song of the redwinged blackbird by heart.
Many years ago I was canoeing around a pond at dusk while Mr Wren fished for crappie and bass from the shore. We were way out in the countryside, surrounded by low mountains, vast stretches of wildland and a few small farms, and it was very quiet. I dipped the oar into the still water as softly as I could, not wanting to break the sweet silence even with the sound of a splash as I glided along. I was waiting for the muskrat I’d seen duck under the surface of the pond to reappear.
And then, to my right, a bird trilled. It was close. I looked, and there, in a thick stand of cattails was perched a red-winged blackbird, his bright scarlet and yellow shoulder caps glowing against his jet black feathers. He trilled again, his beak opened wide, his bright inky eye on me. I stopped rowing and sat still, watching. Listening. I was absolutely entranced. There was nothing in the world but me and that blackbird.
He flew off after a while. I didn’t hear him again. But that moment has remained utterly clear in my memory, one of those moments filed under “precious.”
And now, today, in one of the uglier places one can be in the world—a big asphalt parking lot in front of a ubiquitous grocery store—I was being regaled with not just a redwing song, but an entire redwing chorus. It sounded like there were dozens of them. A flock of blackbirds, every one of them singing the end of the day.
I looked for the birds. There were parking lot trees dotted here and there, but I could see no blackbirds in any of them. None sitting on the lightposts, either. In the end, I gave it up. The air was full of song, but the singers were invisible. I drove back to mom’s house, smiling like a goof and feeling like I’d been given a very special gift.
I’m grateful for it. I’ve been homesick lately, wishing for my own home in the mountains, where I wake up to birdsong instead of traffic noise every morning, and where I’m surrounded by a forest of evergreens, whispering in the breeze. Hearing those blackbirds singing today was like a cool balm to my soul. And I’m grateful, too, that autumn has finally arrived with her cooler days and nights and beautiful colored leaves. I’ve had more rheuma pain lately, no doubt because of the changing barometer, but with redwing blackbirds to listen to, I don’t mind.
Click here to listen to a redwing blackbird sing. Scroll down a bit to find the recordings of the various calls and songs.