They say that scents trigger memories more intensely than any other sensory experience, but I find that sounds are often at least as evocative. There is, for instance, a certain birdcall that transports me instantaneously to other seasons and another time.
It is a call with the two long, descending notes. When I hear that sound, I am back in my childhood bedroom in the house at the top of Spring Street. I am stretched out on the royal blue bedspread my mother made for me. It has ties of blue yarn arranged in a pattern across its top. I like to twirl the yarn in my fingers as I lie staring out at the dusk through the open window and screen. Summer air breezes in, bringing the scent of just-mown grass. When the bird sings out again, the crickets begin to stir and, one by one, take up their instruments. Their orchestra plays in counterpoint to the bird’s two-note solo, blending into a poignant melody that tells of both the day’s retiring and the night’s blossoming.
Endings and beginnings are tangled up together in that bird’s simple, two-note serenade.
Emily Dickenson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” She could hardly have chosen a more apt metaphor. For what sound lifts a winter-bound heart more than the chirrups and warbles of our feathered friends? Their songs and chatter seem to cast a warmer glow on the dreary days of winter’s end. When I hear their small, clear voices in the still-dark hours of early morning, I know that the day ahead will be a good one.
Birds are small, like hope often must be, but they have amazing powers of perseverance. Many of our hardy, New England species stay the full winter season. Like true Yankees, they simply hunch their shoulders against inclement conditions, knowing that if they wait for a few minutes, the weather will change. Again.
Though they may quiet their singing during the snowy months, their appearance continues to add charm to an otherwise bleak landscape. Enduring blizzards and cold snaps, these tiny creatures bring splashes of color to the whitewashed scenery. While the gray season paints our world in a monochromatic palette of icy shades, the birds add flashes of brilliance – the cardinal’s fiery red and his mate’s dusky rose; the raucous hues of the blue jay reminding us of summer’s cerulean skies; even the lowly sparrow with its shades of cinnamon, fresh earth, and butter-cream yellow. Rose-breasted grosbeaks and red-breasted robins remind us of the vitality of new life that lies just beneath the snow, waiting to burst forth and stretch into the world.
As the migrating birds return from southern climes and the wintering birds warm up their vocal chords, their songs remind me of the seasons’ natural cycles, and the thought gives me comfort. Though we humans sometimes believe we know better, Mother Nature never wavers from her course. Her seasonal routine brings reliable and predictable changes that nevertheless inspire new revelations. Though the curriculum remains the same from year to year, there are always new lessons to be learned and new enlightenment to be gained.
During these final days of winter, listen for and savor the sunny, honeyed chirping and trilling of our small, feathered harbingers of hope. Let their familiar melodies bring you blissful memories from springs and summers gone by. Let their joyful songs slide into your heart and make you feel like you have wings of your own to carry you into a new spring and a new happiness.
Image Credit: Malcom