Tuesday, September 27, 2011



This morning I could have sworn I heard a woodpecker tap out "shave and a hair-cut, two bits!" Foraging, I suppose, not drumming. There's one drumming pattern I hear here regularly--sounds like a rusty hinge just starting to move. We have two woodpecker species who send representatives to our suet feeders (downy and the paradoxically named red-bellied) but my husband says he's also seen a pileated woodpecker in the neighborhood occasionally. He knows more about birds than I do—unlike you, he's not quite a birder, but rather a good, solid generalist naturalist. Obviously, that’s one of the reasons he and I get along. He has named the birds at the feeders for me; American goldfinches, tufted titmice, the two woodpeckers, finches…cardinals, jays and doves I knew already. But he doesn't know which woodpecker does the drumming.

As you know, I’m not a birder, either. If birding were all visual I could do it—I learn birds by sight fairly easily, though I’ve never put the effort into learning a lot of species. But so much of it is auditory, and the songs mostly all sound the same to me. You could imitate a call, or play a recording, and I’d forget what it sounded like before I could hear it again. The only time I’ve had any success learning bird songs was when I was working out west at that one job where I HAD to learn the songs. And I had access to a computer quiz program that would play the songs over and over so you could guess the names. I learned maybe half a dozen of them, plus the two doves and the woodpeckers that don’t really sing. It was great—I could go out to the study site and know what was going on, where all the territories were, who was fighting, who had chicks, where the fledglings from that nest over by that big mesquite clump had gotten to…it was like listening to gossip. People fantasize about being able to understand the language of animals, and I think it’s perfectly possible to do it, but what they’re saying isn’t complicated, like paragraphs of English. They’re saying who they are, where they are, how they feel…I’m not sure if it even needs to be translated; a bird who says “twitter, twitter, tweet” doesn’t mean “get off my territory” or “please be my mate,” he means “twitter, twitter, tweet.” I wish I could have kept it up when I got back here, monitored and mapped just like I did at that job, but I don’t know enough the songs here, and mapping territories takes a lot of work, and I don’t want to disturb nesting birds for no good reason besides my own curiosity. By now I’ve forgotten most of what I learned.

Speaking of mates, I never ask after yours, though you often ask after mine. Maybe it’s because your relationship is still new, it seems more private, like I shouldn’t ask. Maybe it’s because I am married and you are not; I used to think there was no difference between married and unmarried couples, since some of each split up, and some of each stay together forever, but at some point I realized that getting married isn’t about the relationship between the partners, it’s about the relationship between the partners and their friends and family. Getting married means asking other people to get involved. A ring, perhaps, is a kind of singing, and invites a song in return; “so, how is your husband?” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a girl-friend as opposed to a wife, and maybe I’m overanalyzing what is simply shyness on my part, but maybe in not being married, you are implicitly saying this is one thing you are not ready to share with anyone?

I am sleepy this morning. I'm having a hard time concentrating. I would like to tell you more stories, and I would like to hear more of yours, though I need to get back to work, and doubtless so do you. I sometimes day-dream of having enough time to talk with you properly, without worrying about running out of time, or giving you too much to read, just talk until we don’t feel like talking for a while. Maybe someday you (and your mate?) will come here for a visit; you can read fantasy novels in the hammock, play with our dogs, and my husband can teach you to sail his boat. And we can sit and chat in my outdoor office under the holly trees and you can eavesdrop on the birds and tell me all their local gossip.

-best, C.

1 comment:

  1. This is a lovely letter and lovely post. and I love the parts about the birds - putting in bits of "did you know?" is intersting to me, as the reader.