Sunday, March 29, 2009

Robin World Returns

Before it’s even light, I can hear the morning robin songs and calls; when I step out the door to go to work, I immediately see robins flitting by; and when I return from work, robins are dotting my lawn and sitting on my roof. This is why, in Spring and Summer, I refer to all of outdoors as “Robin World.”

I have been out walking in the fields, even though they are still kind of muddy. When I’m outdoors, I like to reflect on how the metaphysical elements of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water are intermingled. Each Spring I observe that the fields have pushed up new rocks—which makes me happy because I like to look for fossils and puddingstones, though the rocks are an annoyance to farmers. It’s fairly rocky ground around here, and we also have a lot of ground water, so it fairly seems like the rocks are able to swim through the earth, like animate beings.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spring Unveils Winter's Roadkill

Today I saw my first buzzard of the season—and I’ve been watching for them. This buzzard has arrived later than the robins, blackbirds, grackles, killdeer, and sandhill cranes. Possibly the buzzards have been detained because they had to work their way up by first cleaning up the roadkill in Indiana and Ohio. At least there is no excuse for any buzzard or coyote to starve in Michigan. Roadkill is one thing you notice while walking, and it’s especially noticeable when you first get out in Spring, once the ice gets off the roads so you can walk. Not only have you previously been prevented from getting out, but a lot of carcasses had previously been covered by snow—though they are well preserved due to being frozen. Out here in farm country, there is at least one dead deer for every mile of road frontage, (and sometimes more).

Every carcass marks not just the end of the trail for some poor animal, but also the end of its story. Sometimes you wonder about the story’s end. A very short walk from here, in a tree just a few feet from the road, is a narrow crevice about three feet up from the ground. Hanging out of that very tight crevice are the tail and hind legs of a dead raccoon, and I wonder, did the raccoon get stuck climbing into that crevice to explore it and die there, or did he maybe get hit by a car, crawl to the side and try to climb into the tree crevice for safety, and then expire there? Because I see it every time I walk that way, I can’t help but wonder what happened there.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Robins Bringing in the Spring

Because my course-work fills my evenings and weekends, I have been able to get to neither my blogging or my walking in a good while, but happily things are lightening up now.

Walking is a great way to get to “see the spring come in,” (as Thoreau put it). On today’s walk, I saw how a tidal wave of robins is flowing across the landscape. In an extensive field that was sporting some new, green growth, hundreds and hundreds of robins, spaced out but a few feet from each other, were hopping along. In the adjacent fields and wood margins were even more robins, and they spread throughout my larger neighborhood, (which would be described as an “agribusiness” area), so this must have amounted to thousands and thousands. Unlike blackbirds, which form large flocks that criss-cross the skies, robins move northward more by flitting from branch to branch or hopping from lawn to lawn, so their migration isn’t as visible as it would be if they all formed a tight flock and flew overhead.

I suspect there probably weren’t as many robins back in Indian days, because there were fewer fields and lawns. Robins did like to frequent Indian villages, and the legend goes that the robin was once a boy whose ambitious father forced him to stay on his dream fast longer than normal, in the hopes that his son would gain greater supernatural powers that way. Despite the boy’s pleas that his dreams were boding evil, the father wouldn’t relent, and the boy was transformed into a robin. As related by Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, “He looked down on his father with pity beaming in his eyes, and told him, that he should always love to be near men’s dwellings, that he should always be seen happy and contented by the constant cheerfulness and pleasure he would display, that he would still cheer his father by his songs, which would be some consolation to him for the loss of the glory he had expected, and that, although no longer a man, he should ever be the harbinger of peace and joy to the human race” (164). Elsewhere I have read the Ojibwe name for the robin is “Pitchi” or “Peechee.”

By the way, Jane Schoolcraft (1800-1842) was half Indian, and her Ojibwe name was “Woman of the Sound that the Stars Make Rushing Through the Sky.” Her story about the robin is included in a book by Robert Dale Parker, “The Sound the Stars Make Rushing through the Sky.” Parker asserts that Jane Johnston Schoolcraft is the first known American Indian literary writer, and he has tracked down and published her manuscripts in his book.