One morning a couple of weeks ago when patches of snow were still scattered across the backyard, we heard the first real sign of spring: the Peter, Peter, Peter of a tufted titmouse. Soon, all around us, the birds who’d lived so quietly in our midst through these last brutal months — cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, and woodpeckers — burst into song. It didn’t matter to the birds that a snow squall had swirled through the Berkshires earlier or that the ground was still frozen. Apparently, it’s the light — not the temperature — that acts as an hormonal trigger and prompts our fine feathered friends to start whistling for a mate. As the migrating birds return, I know these first tentative love songs will soon swell into a mighty chorus of such passionate intensity that, by early June, we’ll need to shut the bedroom window in the morning to get a little sleep. For now, though, the cardinal’s Cheer, Cheer, Cheer seems the perfect toast to welcome a season we were beginning to fear would never come. The beautiful photos of a cardinal (above) and piliated woodpecker (right) were taken by my brother Anders.
Here’s a poem that features birdsong by the American poet Timothy Steele whose formal mastery is often cleverly disguised by a keen sense of humor.
In the Memphis Airport
by Timothy Steele
Above the concourse, from a beam,
A little warbler pours forth song.
Beneath him, hurried humans stream:
Some draw wheeled suitcases along
Or from a beeping belt or purse
Apply a cell phone to an ear;
Some pause at banks of monitors
Where times and gates for flights appear.
Although by nature flight-endowed,
He seems too gentle to reproach
These souls who soon will climb through cloud
In first class, business class, and coach.
He may feel that it’s his mistake
He’s here, but someone ought to bring
A net to catch and help him make
His own connections north to spring.
He cheeps and trills on, swift and sweet,
Though no one outside hears his strains.
There, telescopic tunnels greet
The cheeks of their arriving planes;
A ground crew welcomes and assists
Luggage that skycaps, treating bags
Like careful ornithologists,
Banded with destination tags.