Learning ways to stay
immersed in nature
while I’m in the city,
I listen for birdsong,
watch the play of sun and shadow
on tree leaves
as breeze gently—or not so
gently—
moves through them.
On the prairie,
sky is the biggest presence,
even more
than the expanse of rolling prairie.
How to notice sky,
then, in a city scape?
These summer days,
a water bottle is usually
close at hand. And one day
I noticed that when I tip it
up to drink, there
is sky.

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I remember the day
I became aware of birds.
It was morning.
I was looking out a window
into the vine-covered yard
of the house I was living in
in Enid, Oklahoma. Maybe
10 years ago. Of course,
I’d been aware of birds before that,
in the sense that I knew they existed,
but suddenly
I was aware of birds. I looked
deeply, took in deeply
the Robin sitting long on the fence.
It was a gravitas moment:
I knew birds would be important
from that moment, on. Companions,
guides, heralds…

And so they are.
When I arrived at the farm yesterday
I stopped at the mailbox
and when I opened the car window
to reach the mailbox door
sweet birdsong filled my senses.
In the city,
when I open the windows at the house
to let in the fresh air,
sweet birdsong floats in as well.
Birdsong has become
a reason for continued hope.
If there are birds singing
we are still doing okay.

The Phoebe couple
nesting on the farmhouse porch
now are feeding their second family.
May we pause and let the gratitude
soar.

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And in the new place in town,
where I have finally hung bird feeders
a flock of skittish,
twittering sparrows,
shower in the dust outside the front door
and empty two feeders daily.

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I’m not sure I can keep up with them.
A Blue Jay helps, sitting on the fence
squawking loudly
when the feed is gone.
It’s mighty hard to refuse
a bird.

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The prairie is still green,
a strange and wonderful sight
for this time of year. Frequent
little rains—strange
and wonderful—have brought just enough
moisture for that. Can’t get a shovel
in the soil though.
Our large, sweeping notions
of signs of the seasons
must give way now,
thanks to global warming
and climate change,
to noticing more closely;
to paying attention to the discrepancies,
the details that are different.
Familiar patterns are
vanishing.

Tree leaves yet to turn
(though some are falling,)
the green view across the prairie,
but…
three mornings ago,
I heard a most welcome sound:
that raspy “fee-bee, fee-bee,
fee-bee.” It is Phoebe,
returned.

This morning I heard,
for the first time since spring,
winter’s chatter
in the tops of the trees
south of the house.
It was a flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds
returned.

Too this morning,
I heard Cardinal—
not summer’s chirp,
but its winter song:
“Right-cheer, right-cheer,
right-cheer.”

Looks like early summer,
sounds like winter’s
coming.

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There is a difference
between visiting a city park
and the thrill of spotting rosy House Finches
flitting in the trees,
and returning to your sit spot—
the place in nature you know best,
that is all soft and familiar
because you are there daily.
This morning I return from the city,
from walks in the neighborhood,
from soulful conversations with dear friends,
sweet and surprising encounters with strangers…
return to the farm,
the front porch in the quiet
country…
to a Cardinal couple,
the Bluejay couple,
the sparrows—
all of us beneath the Hackberry umbrella
of chattering Red-Winged Blackbirds.
Back from travels,
I have hung laundry on the line…
spring-colored linens
and white cotton eyelet wave softly
in the northern breeze.

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Chickens and Guineas
scratch in the flower beds.
A wind chime sings.
Old Maizey sighs, sleeps
curled in the chair next to mine.
Bumblebees crawl
into sunlit purple blossoms.
A White-Crowned Sparrow perches
on the bird bath for a sip.
My soul settles,
sighs,
sips too.

 

The duplex
situated on the edge
of Deep Fork Creek
in uptown Oklahoma City
seemed perfect
for two farm women,
each happy to be in the company
of birds, wind, animals
on their respective farms in the country
but feeling isolated from
friends. We would try it
for a few months—
each in town for a couple of days a week,
working some,
visiting friends
or (in Deb’s case, children
and grandchildren.)

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The backyard
looks out onto the creek.
There is one drawback
for women
used to silence,
birdsong,
wind: Traffic roar from the Centennial Parkway
on the other side of the creek.
So our friend and landlord
said he planned to build a nine-foot fence
as a sound barrier.
Oh, but then,
we said,
we won’t see the trees,
the creek,
the deer!
So then,
he said,
I’ll make you a window.
And he has.
Which means the roar
pours through…
but early morning
the birdsong
is louder
and sitting on the back stoop
sipping coffee in the sunshine
I hear Mockingbird and Robin
in between train and truck
and bask in the brilliance
of Deep Fork,
shining
green
before it’s time
to move into the traffic
and conversation
with human friends.

Listening first thing
this morning to the report
about yesterday’s elections,
something moving
caught my eye
out the front door window.
It was Pappa Rabbit,
who has free run of the farm.
He was sniffing around the leaves
in the flower bed.
Seeing him
this morning,
white and gray
and especially soft-looking,
brought me up short.
I suddenly felt
softness.
Having been away for a week,
and still overcome by the beauty
of the Great Smoky Mountains
and Lake Junaluska,
seeing Pappa Rabbit
just off the front porch
somehow
brought me home.
The cats were waiting
and walked me to the barn,
meowing softly,
where I fed them—
then the Alpaca boys,
the chickens and guineas,
the goats
and finally the dogs.
All around,
the prairie palette
is a monotone
of beiges, with hints of faded gold—
drab in comparison
to the glimmering golds, oranges and reds
on the North Carolina mountains.
But somehow this morning,
the drab prairie
softened around me,
quieted me
and pulled me back.
I noticed the jillions of burgundy Hackberries
dangling silently
on bare branches.
I began to hear
in the soft air,
the sound of birds:
Bluejay’s piercing squawk,
Red-Bellied Woodpecker’s drumming.
There is no wind
on this cool, sunny day;
but once in awhile,
a breeze.
Sheets drying on the porch,
blow gently,
silently,
and the wind chime sings
softly.
A crow calls in the distance
and a flock of sparrows
chatters sweetly
in the Hackberry.
Maybe it’s having been away;
maybe it’s because the pre-election tension
has dissolved.
It is quiet here
today.
It is a soft place
today.
I sink into it,
gratefully.

Killdeer on last summer’s dry pond bed
(notice fresh water muscle shell)

 

A friend told the story this week
about an experience
her husband had
when he first turned on his hearing aids.
He asked
when the locusts had come back.
Not hearing them,
he thought they had
disappeared.
What a joyous moment for him.
The day after I heard this story,
I listened to a replaying
of an NPR interview
with the composer John Cage,
whose composition “4’33”
consists of a pianist
sitting silently at a piano
for four minutes and 33 seconds.
He “wrote” it
to help people
listen
to the sounds around them.
Cage was inspired
to do this
following an experience
in a silence chamber,
where he could still hear two sounds.
Scientists told him
the high sound was his nervous system
and the low sound was his blood flowing.
Also this week
I found an article
in my email
about musician and naturalist
Bernie Krause,
who for the last forty years
has recorded “over 15,000 species,
collecting 4,500 hours of sound
from many of the world’s pristine habitats.”

But such is the rate of species extinction and the deterioration of pristine habitat that he estimates half these recordings are now archives, impossible to repeat because the habitats no longer exist or because they have been so compromised by human noise. His tapes are possibly the only record of the original diversity of life in these places.

‘A great silence is spreading over the natural world even as the sound of man is becoming deafening,’ he writes in a new book, The Great Animal Orchestra. ‘Little by little the vast orchestra of life, the chorus of the natural world, is in the process of being quietened. There has been a massive decrease in the density and diversity of key vocal creatures, both large and small. The sense of desolation extends beyond mere silence.

This sort of thing—
a series of back-to-back, related events—
gets my attention.
And so this morning,
when I stepped outside,
I listened.
The first thing I heard
was a gift indeed:
the piercing, plaintive cry of a Killdeer—
remarkably,
flying overhead
at just that moment.
Then I tuned in
to the squeaky chatter
of the Guinea Fowl;
and then,
their raucous chatter.
The Cicadas’ sizzle.
Bird chirps.
Alpaca snorts.
Woodpecker pecking.
A breeze
in the leaves of the Hackberry tree.
An airplane flying overhead,
then another.

The fragile weave of natural sound is being torn apart by our seemingly boundless need to conquer the environment rather than to find a way to abide in consonance with it.

Sometimes,
when the air pressure
and wind direction
are a “perfect storm,”
I hear the traffic
on the Interstate Highway
a mile and a half
to the west.
Its unceasing roar
is deeply disturbing.
That sound instantly elicits in me
the sense of desolation
Krause writes about,
and I am helpless
to do anything about it—
except,
take note.

John O’Donohue,
in Anam Cara,
wrote:
“Long before
humans arrived on earth,
there was an ancient music here.”
I hear that ancient music
in the plaintive cry
of the Killdeer.
It resonates
deeply in my heart—
not as comfort,
but as longing.
Its feels like a call
to an ancient home.
But maybe,
I have not really heard;
maybe it is a wake-up call
to tend to home
here.