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.

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