Sunday, February 11, 2007

Who needs rodents and shadows?

A spark of deep cobalt landed on a wire fence as I passed yesterday: a male mountain bluebird in all his royal blue finery. It's not unusual to have a few stick around through the winter here (often inspiring a surprised or worried phone call from a tender-hearted observer), but something's definitely afoot. Or a-wing, as the case may be. In the last 24 hours I've had two phone calls and a conversation on the trail which all began with "I just saw a bluebird!"

I remember being quite surprised the first time I learned that migrations labeled "spring" and "fall" really have little to do with either of those calendar designations. (I was well over 30.) As a child I had learned the Universal Truth that "birds fly south for the winter," and at no time since had I received any information to challenge, or at least qualify, that statement.

Why did no one ever explain, for example, that migration is a two-way trip? Sure, the fact that we didn't run out of birds implied that they must also "fly north for the summer"... by why was that deemed the less interesting fact? Why was departure the icon, instead of arrival? And why the implication that nothing noteworthy happened in between?

Sure, there are some quiet moments in the year, but around here owls have already begun nesting preparations. Song sparrows and house finches are singing up a storm. Dippers are chasing each other in the river. Waterfowl are bobbing, stalking, calling, flirting. Bluebirds are appearing on fences. Despite all this, the landscape still looks like winter: ochre and brown and gray as a broken cottonwood branch.

Halfway though my walk I was stopped by a woman ("I saw a bluebird!") who commented on the exuberance of this morning's birdsong. "It's only February," she said, "but doesn't it all seem like it means something?" I could tell she hardly dared to hope-- that she, too, had learned the Universal Truth that said nothing more about bird life and February than "south." "Doesn't it seem a little like... well... sort of like... spring?"

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