The rocking chairs swing forward and back, their shiny white paint dulled by multiple layers of pollen I’ve yet to find the inspiration to remove. The narrow planks of floor are dotted with swallow poop, evidence of the ineffectiveness of the swallow deterrent my brother helped me install in the eaves. Last fall’s pine straw, flattened by rain, has escaped the confines of the edging around the shrubs and the yard is pitted with holes dug by dastardly armadillos.
This is not the image of spring that I conjured while huddling in front of the fire. This is not the freshness, the brightness, the gentleness that filled my expectations. This is not the reward I deserve for having survived the dark and cold of winter. I give myself permission to pout.
Except that I’m not really very good at pouting. I haven’t been since I was about 3. In response to some horrible injustice I no longer remember, I had stomped outside and was leaning against one of the porch columns — my arms crossed and my lower lip poked out as far as it would go. Aunt Cookie, who was all of 13 at the time and, of course, without the experience she would one day gain by mothering three children, thought that it was funny and that the way to correct my attitude was to tease me. She called me Pouty. It cured me immediately and forever.
So, instead of continuing to glare at the front yard as though it were a sentient being and deliberately chosen to disappoint me, I move. Isak Dinesen once said that the cure for everything is salt water — tears, sweat or the sea. I’ve always thought she was right, but in the absence of salt water, movement is a good substitute.
The backyard isn’t much better from a visual standpoint — the pollen on the screened porch is just as thick, the pine straw just as flat — but what I see is overcome by what I hear. Surrounding me is bird song. From the branch, from the trees at the edge of the yard, from the field, their tunes compete with each other and, yet, it is a single soundtrack I hear.
I’ve often declared that I wish I could identify birds by their songs. The impediment to the fulfilling of that desire is the absence of a concurrent willingness to learn them. For that I have a delightful app on my phone. Merlin allows me to press a microphone icon and have the recorded sound immediately identified.
Today, in a span of four minutes, Merlin informs me that my outdoor orchestra includes the Northern Cardinal, Killdeer, Carolina Wren, Pine Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Northern Mockingbird, White-Eyed Vireo and Red-Winged Blackbird. More than a little curious, I scroll back through the recordings I’ve made since the first day of March: House Finch, Common Ground Dove, Brown-headed Cowbird, Chuck-will’s-widow, Brown Thrasher, Barn Swallow, Tufted Titmouse, Baltimore Oriole, White-throated Sparrow, Blue Jay, American Crow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Phoebe and Northern Parula.
Twenty-two different species of bird. Hanging out — or, maybe, just passing through on their way home — in my backyard. Red and brown and blue. Black and orange and gray. Teal and gold and palest tan. And, if I can believe the identification of the White-Eyed Vireo, a dull chartreuse.
I can’t move. I don’t need to. I don’t need a cure. I have it.
It has been almost 50 years since this farm became my home. Most of the animals with whom I share it — the deer, the turtles, the rabbits, the squirrels, even the dastardly armadillos — are visible in one way or another. They leave tracks, they nibble away at my hostas, they dash out in front of my car. I know they are there. But the birds ... the birds are, for the most part, invisible. Except for their songs. Their glorious, ephemeral songs.
The breeze picks up. The sun is melting into the horizon. I’ll go inside shortly, but for a few minutes more I want to listen to what I cannot see. I want to pay attention with more than my eyes. I want to dwell in knowing that, in this wide and beautiful world, spring is a gift and there is no reason to pout.