Where have all the songbirds gone?

This spring marks the first in eight years that I will not bear witness to the blooming of the black cottonwood, my favorite tree. It is my favorite tree. Each spring it produces sticky sweet, ovoid pods that fall to the ground and stick to the bottom of your shoes. These pods, as they open, offer the most wonderful smell I have ever smelled in my nearly 31 years on this orb.

I wish I could bottle this scent to release whenever I feel a strong pang for my homes in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. I seem to wish for the bottling of all kinds of sensory experiences these days—joy, bird song, smell of spring in a distant land that calls for me to return. Would that it were so!

During a recent visit to Prescott, Arizona for school, I stayed with the dearest of friends. His home is nestled amidst rock and sand in a wild corner of Prescott. Prescott is a two-hour drive north of Phoenix and sits about a mile above sea level.

In the rocky Dells, cottonwood reach toward the sky in all directions. There is a small creek by his house, a precious oasis that brings riparian songbirds and waterfowl. Common yellowthroat, summer tanager, and black-headed grosbeak begin singing before the light has even started to contemplate streaming through the cracks in the shades the cover the windows.

I was surprised to discover how many of the birds singing were ones that I would hear every morning in spring from my home in the upper Skagit valley of the North Cascades. It felt like a family reunion of sorts. One of the most exciting discoveries was hearing and seeing a macgillivray’s warbler, a tiny, yellow bird, head cloaked in grey, eyes surrounded by delicate, white rings that remind me of an American robin. The call of this bird was one I struggled to recognize every spring until I moved further north and left it behind with so many others. When I first heard the song, I jumped to yellow warbler, another songbird whose song I haven’t yet mastered (as if that is really possible with the nuances of dialect and the brief window of time these remarkable creatures visit and sing their song of life each year). But something felt different. Could it be a mcg? They are elusive, but after multiple failed attempts, I followed its flight from one tree to another and noticed its grey head. I played the song on my ipod from a safe distance. It was! It was a joyful moment, to be sure.

How blessed I truly am, for this recent visit was filled with such joyful discoveries and reunions with dear avian friends. But it makes my return to the urban wilderness that much more difficult. I love my new job, but I long for the wind blowing through the fields at Corkindale, winter wren singing in the darkness of dawn, snipe winnowing from my backyard in Gustavus, and sandhill crane crooning in flight as they make their way north from the ag fields of California.

Where am I and why?

I am in perpetual migration.

I am in hot pursuit of a sustainable existence where I am free to be myself, valued for my contributions and ideas, and invited to partake in projects because my input and skills could be helpful. I have traveled many thousand miles in this journey, and I have the feelings I will travel many more before I put down deep roots.

I am in the middle of my own theater in the round.

I am both lost and found.

I am almost 31, on the verge of another year.

Come In ~ Robert Frost

As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music — hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush’s breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went –
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn’t been.

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