On a Night Like This

Photo: Grackles in the Parking LotWhat happens when I go for a quick grocery trip at dusk, mainly to get a handful of bananas to keep our household well-breakfasted the next day? Usually, just bananas. You know, go in and get a handful of them, hop in the car, and zip home.Photo: A Gathering of Grackles

But not on a night like this (last night). Sure, I go in, I find the bananas, and—as usual—I find a few other things that I’d forgotten were on my list from the last shopping expedition, and I head out to the parking lot. But as I’m walking to the car, there’s a huge wave of action overhead: the grackles are coming in to roost in the trees all over the lot. It’s like a cartoon version of Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds‘. Daphne Du Maurier never imagined it like this; flocks and crowds of scrawny, scruffy, long-tailed grackles chattering, nattering, whistling, and whirring as they flit from power lines to parking lot, from tree to tree. Nobody’s running and screaming, and no birds are diving at anybody, but the action is lively and just a little loopy. This time of year, especially, it’s quite the show.Photo: Grackles by Moonlight

So I load the groceries into the back of the car, throw my purse onto the front seat, and grab my little camera, because the surreal silliness simply grabs me and makes me feel weirdly, cheerfully glad that we ran out of bananas at just this time. I hang around taking snapshots and a little video, where despite the breeziness of the evening I think you get a hint of what it was like to stand in that cackling cacophony, and then I hop into the banana-mobile and drive home, keeping the windows down so I can hear the grackles for a very long way and listen as they segue into cicada and cricket songs before I pull into the driveway at home.

Is it the brightness of the moon? The changing of seasons (subtle as that is around here)? A convention? I’m not sure, not at all. But I’m glad I stumbled into it. The song will ring in my ears for a while. You never know what might happen on a night like this.Photo: A Night Like This

Memories are Migratory

A flock of American Robins passing the area through may not seem especially worthy of note to some people. But if, like me, you remember them as one of the prevalent birds around you when you were growing up, you might notice it with a certain eager delight when several dozen of them descend on your holly tree and Indian Hawthorn hedge all of a sudden and dive on the berries like divas on diamonds. I noticed.photo

I had been seeing the signs of the early northward migration already, as the grackles that never entirely leave north-central Texas no matter what the season or weather were in ever larger clouds that swept from field to field and perched in growing masses at those points on the trees, hedges, bridges, billboards and power lines where we come to expect them to collect at dusk. It seems to me as though the sheer volume of grackles in the region means some have to migrate, however slightly, just to stay on the fringes of their preferred climate, so when the seasons change I do see even more than the typical congregation of those whistling, flitting avians hanging about on every corner and post.photo

But the robins, well, they are not so often seen in my own back garden. To be sitting at my desk and hear that familiar liquid warbling is to be transported to when I was climbing the backyard apple trees of my childhood. I looked up on that more recent afternoon from the predictable digital ‘pile’ of email and saw the unexpected flash of russet on a bird’s breast as it streaked by my window, then another and another, and suddenly felt I was in the midst of a happy storm of robins as they dashed and dove, a modest flock perhaps but enough in number to nearly strip the hedge and the little tree before retreating to the woods of the ravine behind for the evening. By next morning, there were fewer that came back for a final pit stop before the whole collective took wing to continue north. They came and went so fast, and moved so quickly and stealthily in the shrubbery in the meantime that I had no moment to grab a camera and commemorate the welcome moment.

The moment will, however, remain, just as the childhood pleasures were revived in the first chirruping calls and those quick glimpses of rosy feathers: robins will stay in my heart as long as the memories remain.

Silence may not be Golden, but Control of Noisemaking Keeps Everyone Safer

photoPractice as though Your Life Depended on It

Two singers strolled into a wood, and I

Followed the one less skillful; why?

Starved beasts will flock to an anguished cry,

As they did that day; in the wink of an eye,

I was on the road less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

[With sincerest apologies to Robert Frost]photo