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Morning Song. Evening Song. My Song.

It is morning. I slip outside, barefoot and still drowsy. To the east the sun is butter, melting slowly, defying gravity to lift itself from the horizon into the sky. Dew puddles on the deck railing, drips slowly from the thin edge of the metal roof. The branch, deeply green with the sudden flush of summer, vibrates with the calling, the chattering, the singing of multiple birds – mockingbirds and cardinals, wrens and crows, sparrows and doves.

I hesitate to call what I hear a choir. It is more like an orchestra warming up – the strings squeaky, the woodwinds breathy, the brass pompous and proud, all jealously playing over each other until the conductor appears and gently taps the music stand. The longer, the stiller I sit the less raucous are the chirps and screeches, the closer become the notes to a melody.

I have been paying attention, deliberate attention, to the birds at Sandhill for less than two years. With the assistance of an app on my phone I have to date identified the songs and whistles and cheeps of 72 of my avian neighbors – American Crow to Yellow-Rumped Warbler. Not quite A to Z, but close enough to keep me amazed.

I have made a few observations. First, birds don’t wait for other birds to begin singing; they sing when and for as long as they want. And second, some birds sing from perches out in the open – power lines, rooftops, while others make their offerings from the cover of high branches and deep foliage. It is impossible, of course, not to see the similarities to human behavior.

I look at my phone – no new songs recorded today. The list stays at 72.

Now it is evening. The heat of the day that has been sits lightly on my bare arms. Above the tree line, there is the faintest smudge of lavender, deepening by the moment. Within minutes – no more than ten – it will be completely dark.

The road is empty but for me and Owen, who runs back and forth, into and back out of the neatly planted rows of pine trees, sniffing the ground for signs of something he can chase. It is so quiet that I can hear my shoes make prints in the sand.

In the distance a Chuck-will’s-widow offers his plaintive cry. I stop to listen for a response, a call back from another Chuck-will’s-widow. Nothing. He calls again. Silence. I wonder if he knows that he and his kind are on the Common Birds in Steep Decline List. Is that why his song is so mournful?

The darkness is falling rapidly now. I turn for home. I think about lists. Birds In My Backyard. Common Birds In Steep Decline. Birds That Sing Together. Birds That Sing Alone. Why the urge to quantify, to measure, to count?

With every step the porch light grows brighter and the lament of the Chuck-will’s-widow grows fainter. The night grows deeper and the morning – the morning in which the mockingbirds and cardinals, the wrens and crows, the sparrows and doves will chorus again – grows closer.

I answer my own question: I count the birds to remind me to count the other things – the days lived, the breaths taken, the people loved – and in the counting to find my own song.

Copyright 2024

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