Thursday, April 1, 2010

Catching up on Spring

In “Walden,” Thoreau writes that, “One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the spring come in.” For me, watching the spring come in is one of the greatest pleasures of life. Sometimes spring comes gradually, and sometimes it’s an explosion. This year in Michigan was the latter, as the birds’ arrival had been held back by a series of snowstorms and weeks of blistering cold. Consequently, the blackbird flocks didn’t show up until March 6th, and then the robins, grackles, and killdeer were right on top of them. (Usually the robins and grackles are a step behind the blackbirds.) One day you go for a walk and see no blackbirds or robins. The next day you go out, and “They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere!”

It is in the course of walking that we are likely to notice many of the first signs of spring. In my case, to assure that the arrival of spring is “official,” I make a point of taking a daily walk past a certain large maple tree on a certain lawn on Toles Road in which the first contingent of blackbirds usually congregates, though this year they surprised me by going first to the house and yard a little over and across the street from the usual place. In fact, the massive Redwing Invasion Force seems to have actually arrived WHILE I was taking my walk. (Back on March 6th--I’m sorry it has taken almost a month to write about this.) As I walked west on Toles, (15 minutes one way), I saw and heard no blackbirds—and I was looking and listening. However, shortly after I turned around to head back home, (going the same stretch of road), I saw and heard great numbers of them in the trees I mentioned, (i.e. Maxine’s place). A few minutes later, I saw my first robin.

The blackbirds are of special interest to me because my March 4th birthday is close to their average time of arrival. Even though the robin is the state bird and Michiganians used to do more to celebrate its arrival, the blackbird is initially the louder, more evident sign of Spring—though eventually the robins do become so ubiquitous around houses and lawns that I refer to outdoors as “Robin World.” A large number of African and Native American traditions attach significance to what sort of things are going on in nature at the time of your birth, and among those peoples it’s very common to name children after such features of seasonal nature. Sometimes special powers are associated, in the belief that children can have some influence over the natural phenomena they came in with, so a winter child might be called upon to help soften the blows of a winter storm, by going out and speaking to the elements. While I don’t claim to have any supernatural influence over blackbirds and robins, I do believe that if we took more notice of what Mother Nature was doing at the time of our birth, we could enjoy at least a philosophical sense of attunement.

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