Jay Meehan: Celebrating the mourning dove’s return
“I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” – Captain Renault (Claude Rains), “Casablanca” (1942)
Omens drop. Their shapes and signal-to-noise ratios vary, of course. Of late, however, they have become a torrent. At times, like, say, two-years ago this November, they grab you by the lapels and shake your bones. This morning, with assistance from the avian community, it was the night sky speaking in tongues.
Seemingly inverted and transposed east to west, Cassiopeia, as is its usual wont, defied translation into linear thought. I’d have to figure it out for myself. That’s never a good sign. If that wasn’t enough, Orion had juxtaposed the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades star cluster. This had interpersonal implications into which I flat-out refused to enter.
Who’dathunkit? The cosmos is chaotic – its evolutionary violence muted by distance. It just seemed that the constellation deck had been shuffled more than its normal rotation around Polaris could explain. I retreated to the sparkle of the clearest night sky I’d contemplated in ages. With the “micro” killing me, I wrapped myself in a blanket of “macro.”
Then, as if on cue, came the morning’s biggest shock of all: the unmistakable, but somehow rekindled in a different key, signature cooing of a mourning dove. I couldn’t believe it. They’d been gone from these parts longer than the buffalo. It was music to my ears and heart.
As I spun slowly with head tilted back checking out the visible cosmos from the small deck out the back door, the totally unexpected and once-familiar song pattern of “trill-coo-coo-coo” washed over me. Elation followed.
Consensus has had it that those bullying Mexican whitetail doves had usurped its territory a dozen-years or so ago. Although a beautiful bird, especially in takeoff and landing, not to mention its elegant yet feeble mimicking of a starling murmuration, the interlopers have proven too aggressive for our tastes.
But there it was, the signature pattern of the mourning dove song almost as perfectly rendered as the one in my audio memory files. As I write this, I still haven’t actually laid eyes upon the songster-in-question, but, utilizing my acute audio directional faculties in the blackness of pre-dawn (yeah, right), it was quite easy to locate its perch atop the fireplace vent on the westernmost peak of the roof.
Although it possessed an unfamiliar quality of “roughness,” more timbre and bass than I was used to – like a New Orleans disc jockey tracing the vocal lineage from Louis Armstrong through Dr. John and Tom Waits – my pattern-recognition detectors immediately defaulted to DEFCON 3.
“That is the coo of a mourning dove,” they sang into my inner ear. “There is no doubt about it, it’s the myth of fingerprints. I’ve heard them all.” That’s just my pattern recognition translator-chorus showing off. Forgive them. They get rather full of themselves. Pay them no attention.
“You don’t suppose the two species actually bred and came up with a hybrid, now do you?” They added (in a minor key, more of a statement than a question). It’s a chorus of white male voices, which does little to detract from their “know it all” attitude. Imagine that!
The white tails, rather than communicate within a musical sensibility, vocalize in a much more strident fashion – say, like a drill instructor at boot camp. Or, if that doesn’t work for you, how about the less-than-articulate ramblings of the national Twitter feed. They came to change the narrative. They blunder, therefore they are!
Theorizing on the whys and wherefores concerning the return of the Mourning Dove (see how I advance my thesis with nary a smudge of logic or anonymous sourcing), I offer both our radical fire season and the always-compelling magnificence of the harvest moon. Whether or not it’s visible, doves have a history of intuiting its presence.
Which brings us back to the current mischievousness of the night sky and its relationship to the singular cooing of the mourning dove.
Could I interest you in a clean one-owner hypothesis that our favorite bird population had been held incommunicado by Montana Wildhack on the planet Tralfamadore until it was time to alert our “brain trust” that the sun had indeed crossed the equator on its journey south.
It’s either that or a dark-web gambling conspiracy to which, for national security considerations, I am not privy. Shocking, I know! Let’s shut the joint down!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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Columnist Tom Clyde wonders whether it would hurt newcomers to Park City to offer the customary “Hello” when passing others on the trails.