Teri Orr: Summer signs and sounds
June 5, 2015
I know it was foolhardy to pick the lilacs, I do. But they were in my own yard and this time, for the first time I can remember, all three little bushes are blooming, at once, and well. Not like the huge, vibrant bushes in Old Town. No, not that well. But the best they have been in my little yard. Ever.
It is the rain, of course, from our wet spring that has left the lawn green and allowed for flowering trees in abundance and early herbs and the return of the purple-flowered thyme between the flat stones in my yard.
I know the lilacs won’t last. In fact, they are already drooping in the heavy glass vase next to my bed. But their scent is lovely and their struggle to bloom for me admirable. I have no sprinkler system in my yard. I never did. All the things that exist around my house on the land have learned to do so under the veil of benign neglect. I mean, I have hoses and I attach little, vacillating sprinklers to them and I water, when I remember and when I’m home. But like much of my life, the watering, though well-intentioned, is inconsistent and neglected or too excessive.
Like my bird feeding. There was a time, when, as the Irish say, all was right as rain. I would, each Saturday, go and buy more bags of seed and each Sunday I would fill the feeders. The birds give me much joy. I love their songs and flight and colors and tiny beating wings. Then I skipped some Saturdays to buy the seed so come Sundays there was nothing to fill in the feeders. I would, weeks later, buy more seed on Saturday and forget it on Sunday, or decide the weather was too… cold, wet, hot, windy. And the bags of seed would sit in a giant bucket in the garage. When I would leave the garage door open — to roll out the trash cans or unload groceries or anything really, when the door was open for a chunk of time, the magpies would fly in and start pecking away at the bags. Making a mess of it all.
Last weekend the sun was out. I had bags of seed in the garage. I grabbed bag after bag and started filling the dozens of feeders around my yard. With thistle and dried fruit and safflower seeds and peanuts and sunflower seeds and all kinds of yummy stuff if you are a bird. And then I waited and not much happened. The birds didn’t immediately jump on the feeders and reward me for my efforts. A day later I noticed some tiny black grey birds at the feeder , which was… nice. And then a red head showed up days later with a few others in flight. A different subset of grey back birds followed until the strangest thing happened last night… My yard was a cacophony of songs, right at that space when the sun is setting and dark hasn’t yet landed… In the gloaming, as the Scottish call it. Crazy, crazy amounts of birds of singing and yelling, really, and making such a glorious racket. Yellow-bodied birds and more red heads and chests. And still more black and grey guys.
They swooped in from someplace and were ten and twelve deep on the feeders –then they took off for the trees around the house to keep singing. I confess I thought of that goofy Nicholas Cage/Meg Ryan film from the ’90s, "City of Angels," where the angels met each morning and night to hear the heavenly music/sounds of the day breaking and ending. All those figures dressed in black standing on building roofs and beaches and wires like birds. And my bird songs had a bit of Sarah McLaughlin thrown in then with the refrain "in the arms of the angels," and it was cheesy, really cheesy but also beautiful and peaceful in the middle of the bird chatter.
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This is the time of year I sleep with all the doors and windows open (screens in place). I want to hear/feel the outdoors as I fall asleep and wake to those birdsongs in the morning. And sometimes the wind as it rustles in the trees. And on occasion the naughty raccoons in the night. I wake up, burrowed under my comforter from the coolness, and I hear the chatter of the early riser birds who start their songs before the sun comes up. I can’t remember if it was a quote from a poem or song lyric or greeting-card message, but somewhere, stuck in my head, is the phrase, "faith is the bird that sings before dawn."
My plans for the weekend are modest. A gathering here and there but lots of recharge time, too. Time to tinker around the yard, maybe plant the root vegetables in the garden, some pots on the porch, replace a few tired cushions. And time to refill the feeders and keep the bird songs coming at dusk and dawn. Every day, even Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.