I Can Hear You Callin’

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

I think I was hearing the music to “It Keeps You Runnin'” by the Doobie Brothers/Michael McDonald when I thought up this title instead of the Three Dog Night music which is where it belongs, but the phrase was inspired by two experiences I had this week on the way to the train in the morning through the snow and cold.

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As if to welcome the new year, I heard both a Black-Capped Chickadee and a Northern Cardinal singing on January 2. It seemed quite remarkable then, as it was already snowy and cold, but as the weather deteriorated further, it has been eerily quiet around the neighborhood through all the arctic chill. Wolf-whistling European Starlings, something I could always count upon in previous years, are a distant memory,

Thursday morning I was in a general funk on the way to the train. Every body part ached, piles of snow seemed almost insurmountable, layers of clumsy clothing further impeding whatever is left of my agility, and I was not looking forward to going to work and was generally tired of even trying to deal with it.

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Then when I was perhaps three blocks from home, a distant Black-Capped Chickadee started to sing, immediately interrupting my misery. I  tried to respond – my whistle not being very whet – and he sang back. My whistle improved, and we continued like this, back and forth, for a moment of another block or so until I got out of range. Donald Kroodsma so aptly describes the song, “Hey, Sweetie” – and I realized the Chickadee had come to my rescue and completely dispelled all my negative, self-absorbed thoughts. It was almost as if he heard me calling out for help and responded in the only way he could, by offering song, since he was too far away for me to hear his call, “dee-dee-dee.” How wonderful for him to be there to remind me that music is the most important thing in life.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

And yesterday morning, again on the way to the train, albeit the weather forecast improving slightly and my mood much improved by the fact that it was Friday, a Northern Cardinal began to sing with a bit of reserve. I whistled back, almost under my breath, and that must have inspired him because he started to sing louder, more elaborate phrases. I do not in any way attribute this to “countersinging.” He knew I was not another bird and he was not trying to out-whistle me. Indeed, I think he was glad to have an audience and was inspired by my response to his singing because then he knew someone was listening. And this gets back to the very first times I started playing music for birds and listening to their response. We began to communicate in this way: we were listening to each other. It’s not all about territory and attracting mates. It’s about the sheer joy of making music and offering communication to the universe. The birds have known this for millennia. Through them I again come to realize music is the defining force in my life.

As I sit here brewing another pot of bird-friendly coffee, my indoor birds call and sing, back and forth, and the radio is playing infinite Strauss waltzes and polkas. Outside, a considerable melt is progressing, now with a forecast for flooding. Walking home through driving rain, deep puddles and melting snow and ice last night was an adventure I don’t care to repeat. Although I welcome changes in weather as they dispel monotony, now a little monotony would be appreciated.

But the birds never stop paying attention, and to them, every day is new, and now, longer than the last. They are attuned to every nuance in the climate because they live in it. Most likely the extended daylight has triggered the singing responses of my avian friends in the morning. And I am thankful that I was out walking early enough to hear them. I am also convinced my responses to their singing were almost as important to them as their expressions of life were to me.

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