Wild Song


  • Western civilization possesses the hubris to think it commands time itself.  King Canute could not command the tide to cease, but setting clocks ahead or behind seems rule the sun, even though it is only human convention which has changed.  Sunrises are not normally so spectacular as sunsets around here, or perhaps it is merely that I am not so awake as I am later.
  • My camera with all its fancy color filters and light controls continues to confound me.  On the other hand, like all tools, it forces me to pay more attention to the materials I use with it.  I look more carefully at sun, birds, and nascent leaves.  What I really need is the equivalent attention grabber for the increasing sounds of spring as well _ from the ripple of waves to birdcalls to even leaf blowers and overhead jets.


Birds flit ceaselessly, shrilling for nests
Buds explode shouting silently from branches
Crocuses dance to hidden symphonies.  Why

Do I remain so sad?  


  • Andromeda bush out front in full bloom, attracting early insects.  Unfortunately, its small dead twigs are ideal for making nests, and its dark spaces underneath eaves encourage small birds fleeing predators like cats and aerial terrors.  That results too often in a nasty, possibly fatal, collision at flight speed with the picture window.
  • We replaced our windows almost ten years ago, getting rid of the ancient cold and leaky antiques that had chilled the house for over a half century.  I love their insulation and clarity, but I am saddened by the occasional avian carnage.  I know there are increasingly technical ways to make them visible to birds without affecting what we see, which is good, but I do not feel I have resources to update again.  So the poor birds suffer for my economy as much as we all do for the excesses of our wealthy.


Walking along the crumbling seawall at the old boathouse, taking pictures of the greening shoreline, enjoying birdsong and a burst of sunshine warmth.  Linda comes by with her terrier, yapping away.
“Birds noisier than your dog, today,” I notice.
“Really loud and persistent, aren’t they,” she answers.  “Guess they like the brighter mornings too.”
“Think I saw some red-winged blackbirds in the reeds …”
“Pretty early for them,” she says.
“Global warming.  Standard answer for everything.  Like this massive erosion along the shoreline.  Just look at that.”
“High tide line way up.  Rising sea level.”
“Well, the last set of storms were pretty nasty.”
“Again, global warming.”
“What can we do?” I note.  “I’m not gonna make a difference.  I don’t drive my car or ride in planes much anyway.”
“All heat, no action.  Good metaphor for our current politics.”
“Then what do you make of all the bird calls?”
“Twitter!” she laughs. 

We both head on our way, determined to enjoy at least this one fine spring day.


  • Many are amazed by the clarity of harbor water in early spring, and imagine that they view what it looked like year-round before modern pollution.  Summer murkiness at low tide results from decaying fish and plants, algae, crabs chomping away on bottom detritus.  It did so before humans, domesticated animals, fertilizers, and the overharvesting of oysters, although all those have given the algae in particular a strong boost.  Ripples may have been a lot less opaque, but never springtime crystalline.
  • Folks these days tend to overestimate relatively trivial local environmental issues, and underestimate really dangerous global ones.  Huntington itself is probably less polluted than two hundred years ago, when farms covered the land, tanners took over the ponds, and all industry just dumped residue into any handy local stream.  But the world’s seas, and skies, and weather, and ice were in far better condition, even though nobody noticed.  That’s what frustrates scientists and environmentalists now _ global issues can deteriorate rapidly even while
    local standards improve dramatically.  


  • Civilized springtime noises now begin to overwhelm silence, wind, and birds.   Although hard to appreciate, perhaps even house renovation, leaf blowers, motorboats, small planes and helicopters, and the thousand-and-one other annoyances of suburban life _ not excepting parties playing music too loud _ should also be considered wild song. 
  • Humans are the most supernatural elements in our universe, in the sense that they continually overwhelm natural balance in weird ways that have nothing to do with nature before they arrived on the scene.  I’d accept, perhaps, an argument that they should not be considered “nature.”  But nobody will ever convince me _ especially given what is going on in the world now _ that people are not “wild.”  So the first word certainly fits.
  • Now, it may be that a leaf blower is not a song.  Annoying pure noise, far worse than thunder.  Same with garbage trucks and everything else, including certain kinds of music that I do not like.  On the other hand, a pure naturalist may well consider music as mating behavior, leaf blowers as nesting behavior, and certain kinds of mechanical noise as song.
  • But, you protest, it’s not vocal.  Well, neither are grasshopper or cicada serenades in summer.  Before modern humans arrived, clicking of flint and obsidian marked their ancestors’ presence as surely as loud squawks of crows or gulls marked theirs. Tools are as much a part of us as beaks are of birds.  Sounds of tools being used productively may have attracted the opposite sex before speech.
  • Ok, I won’t take this any further.  It doesn’t change the fact, one way or another, that around here the sounds of spring _ wild or not, songs or not, come into full cacophony as the temperature rises.  If I prefer to imagine it some kind of cosmic symphony, perhaps such is an excusable madness in an unavoidable situation.


  • March, of course, is famous for wind, which sweeps along the empty, storm-ravaged shoreline today.  Few flags yet fly, to demonstrate its power.  Its constant background sound provides welcome relief to a crescendo of construction clamor onshore.  Weekend sounds of children playing, dogs barking during exercise, and pioneer power boat drift distantly.  The breeze subsumes all, a muffling blanket, still raw with cold and moisture. 
  • I sit and listen to the peace it brings, watch gulls strut and hidden clams squirt as tide recedes.  In another month there will be others here, but for now I enjoy solitude.  An ever present mass of miracles spreads all about, which I, enwrapped in petty concerns, too often ignore.  Winter ends, spring invites, and hope blooms with the daffodils.       

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