Friday, April 2, 2010

Old Fashioned Preoccupations

Picking up on the subject of welcoming spring, watching for signs of spring was formerly more of a communal preoccupation. When I was a kid in the city of Detroit, there used to be a bit of a competition to spot the first robin, and it was announced on different TV and radio shows. We also had robin-themed activities in our grade school classrooms. I recall a cute kindergarten production with tots dressed up as robins, hopping around, singing and dancing to that old tune, “When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin' along, along, there'll be no more sobbin'…”

In his essay on “The Politics of Ethnopoetics,” Gary Snyder, with the knowledge that rites of greeting are a practice among Earth-honoring peoples, suggests singing a salute when you see your first deer or red-winged blackbird of the day. If pop songs will do, if there were more songs like “Red, Red Robin,” we could honor more birds and animals by singing them as greetings. A song like “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” should probably not be sung until autumn, however. (And if you’ve ever seen the Isadora Duncan movie, you won’t want to sing it while wearing a very long scarf.)

Maybe I’m not tuning in to the right TV or radio shows, but I don’t seem to hear anything about robin-sighting, anymore. I don’t know whether that’s because nobody cares, or because some spoil-sport ornithologists pointed out that the earliest robins are often stragglers who have over-wintered. It is impressive when you see robins en masse, as I did earlier this week, when the large farmer’s field behind me was dotted with them.

By the way, I’ve been perusing collections of folklore and superstitions, (such as Harry Middleton Hyatt’s “Folklore of Adams County, Illinois,” and Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”), and I note that although they mention customs and beliefs pertaining to first seasonal encounters with turtle doves, whippoorwills, snakes and toads, etc., robins and blackbirds are not mentioned.

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