new arrivals and a mysterious departure

At some point last night under the cloak of darkness the neighborhood’s catbirds arrived to spend the summer muttering to themselves in the dense foliage. I came downstairs this morning to the welcome sound of their strange twittering cacophony. I looked out the window of the sunporch and saw at least three or four of them skulking in the yard, chasing each other through the ground cover. On the front walk, another of their tribe held in its narrow bill a fruit of the nearby Japanese laurel, aka Gold Dust Plant, or to be more formal about it: Aucuba japonica. Decidedly unimpressed with its breakfast bounty, the bird quickly discarded the bright red drupe (looks can be deceiving!) and flew off.

Oddly enough, our other local representative of the Mimid family, the stalwart mockingbird, has been conspicuously absent from the immediate environs of the house since last fall. A usual year-round resident, this bird (if it has indeed been the same individual) was always nearby in its obvious way, singing and scolding, even visiting the feeder out of desperation during particularly hard winters, and providing an amusing foil to the more retiring catbirds throughout the summer months. Sadly, no mockingbird has yet shown up to take this one’s place. I had often wondered if ‘our bird’ had been a grizzled old bachelor, for on many a spring night I would hear him singing late into the evening hours, yet I witnessed neither courting nor nesting activity. Perhaps his mellifluous songs never attracted a mate and he met with some unknown fate having never propagated his species. I am still hoping, though, that someday soon one of his brethren will appear and take up residence nearby.

catbird chatter

I returned early this morning from a work-related trip to San Francisco (photo post to follow). While I was gone, the catbirds skulked back into the neighborhood and resumed transmission of their esoteric messages from the protection of the now fully leafed out trees and shrubbery. I am happy to hear their secretive broadcasts once again. While out walking Farley, I also heard a House Wren singing on the next street over and a Yellow Warbler singing a little farther afield. Word on the street is that I missed a couple of stellar days of migrant fallouts in this area while I was gone. So I’m a little disappointed about that, although I did manage to pick up a few Western North American species on my trip that were lifers. On multiple occasions, I also saw and heard some of the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, which was really cool as I’d watched the documentary about them not too long ago.

For my trip reading, I took along Anne Tyler’s Celestial Navigation. I like most of her older books and Em El particularly recommended this one. It did not disappoint! I finished up the last few pages over lunch today and was struck by this passage below. It’s certainly not cheery reading, but much of what I read and enjoy is not. For me, it’s all about the shadows.

Being good was not enough. The mistakes he reviewed were not evil deeds but errors of aimlessness, passivity, an echoing internal silence. And when he rose in the morning (having waited out the night, watching each layer of darkness lift slowly and painfully), he was desperate with the need to repair all he had done, but the only repairs he could think of were also aimless, passive, silent. He had a vague longing to undertake some metaphysical task, to make some pilgrimage. In books a pilgrimage would pass through a fairytale landscape of round green hills and nameless rivers and pathless forests. He knew of no such landscape in America. Fellow pilgrims in leather and burlap would travel alongside him only long enough to tell their stories—clear narratives with beginnings, middles, ends and moral messages, uncluttered by detail—but where would he find anyone of that description? And think of what he would have to carry in the rustic knapsack on his back. The tools of his craft; Epoxy glue in two squeeze tubes, spray varnish, electric sander, disposable paintbrushes. Wasn’t there anything in the world that was large scale any more? Wasn’t there anything to lift him out of this stillness inside? He fumbled for his clothes and picked his way downstairs. He made his breakfast toast and ate it absently, chewing each mouthful twenty times and gazing at the toaster while he tried to find just one heroic undertaking that he could aim his life toward.

  • Recent Posts

  • Navigation Station

    The links along the top of the page are rudimentary attempts at trail markers. Otherwise, see below for more search and browse options.

  • In Search of Lost Time

  • Personal Taxonomy

  • Common Ground

  • Resources

  • BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS