Cornell Lab of Ornithology / Peterson's Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern/Central

Day 10. Influential albums.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology / Peterson's Guide to Bird Songs: Eastern/Central

Certainly this a departure from the previous nine albums. It is not an album. It is impossible for me to listen to. One, two, maybe three (bird) songs in I think, "Yeah, I got this. Black-throated blue warbler, ok. Yellow winged, ok." A few songs more, and I think, "Wait, what? How was that song different than the northern parula?"

Bird song, the real thing, influenced me greatly. Previously, I was living urban immersion, hardly considering or even noticing any life forms other than mammals like humans, rats, house mice, and pigeons. I could add insects like cockroaches and bed bugs to the list, as we lived through one of the great bed bug waves that hit New York and its boroughs. My local geology was asphalt. My watershed, the gutter.

We left Queens, and lived in a suburb of Detroit for a summer. We were still living urban immersion, spending our working hours in Detroit. Much of our recreational time was spent exploring Detroit - its ruins, its creative culture which was fiercely upheld by diehard Detroit artists and musicians.

We also often went on long drives through Michigan's ample farmland. We went on memorable hikes at a nature preserve (we saw an orange bird!!! which we later identified as a Baltimore oriole). We visited a colleague's rural home and toured his vegetable garden. He showed us his dying ash tree, and told us about a troublesome insect called the emerald ash borer.

While doing research, we traveled to a rural area outside Grand Rapids to interview two sisters. We stayed at one sister's farm and talked into the night with her and her husband. The next morning, Jared slept in, nursing a painful earache. I watched our new friend's husband, Paul, drive their tractor and hay baler. Perfectly formed bales shot out the baler and landed in the field. I petted their horses. I admired their big red barns and quiet one lane road.

I bet blue birds called, indigo buntings sang, and kestrels flapped by. I was not yet able to hear them.

Months later we landed back in New Jersey, and eventually by very good luck and word of mouth found a little remote cottage for rent in the Sourlands. We were surrounded by thousands of acres of forest. There was very little of the edgy human culture that Jared and I savored in the cities we'd lived in. We had no television.

We turned ourselves loose outside and did what we did when we lived in cities. We walked. It was our very affordable and enjoyable pastime. Birds were among our first entry to the natural world. Jared was great a spotting them. Requiring glasses, I was not. We both tuned into their songs. Jared using the song to spot them, me using it to simply know they were there. And, eventually to identify them.

I remember gleefully jumping into the bed, calling, "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" Jumping flung himself into bed, calling in response, "Dee! Dee! Chick-a-dee-dee!"

Thank you, birds. Your songs changed my life, just as much as any other song.