Furtive Angel

August 4, 2018


Certain things want to be said.  Recently the Gray Catbirds in our yard have added to the chorus with an inordinate amount of catcalls and improv, from dawn to dusk. Add to that a  behavior new to me:  Several times lately from my post on the elliptical I’ve seen a catbird swoop down to a belly-landing on the back bed mulch, stretch its wings, pull them back it a little, and remain there for a while.  Is it resting? Hoping to scare up some tasty edibles? Whatever it’s up to I thought you might enjoy a Catbird essay from my book.


Catbird, Settled In

 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; as for me, I will be glad in the Lord.

Psalm 104:33-34


Catbirds. They’ve decided they like our neighborhood. Since spring began, they’ve been burbling and mewing like crazy. But I’ve been unable to find them. No great surprise, for everyone knows that catbirds are a thickety folk. By that I mean they’re “furtive and skulking.” Happy in the hedgerows, dark feathers make concealment easy. Solid gray, black skullcap, long black tail, flipped about with jaunty if secretive air.


How to describe the catbird song, which tantalizes me so? Like their cousins the mockingbirds, they are adept at mimicking the songs of other birds. But not for them the clarion precision of a mocker. No, catbirds are more into improv, that is, rambling riffs of burbles, warbles, squeaks, and chips, interspersed with the catlike mews which give them their name. I hear them at dawn, I hear them at dusk. I am fascinated. I should be content with the music, but I long to see them. For weeks and weeks, I do not.


Until: Late one evening finds me on the patio, snugged into a wrought iron chair, earbuds in, reviewing an emerging mix of sacred song. By some alchemy of weavings from my collection, I find myself growing still. I do not decide to be still. I just am. At that moment, with daylight fading to black, I see a dark gray form on the fence. Another joins it. Be still! Be still!


So still am I that one of the catbird pair, O furtive angel, leaves the safety of the fence and flies to the edge of the fountain not six feet away. There at the fountain the catbird and I are together, with ease.


Next morning, as I’m about my laundry day, a catbird flies down to the grass just outside the back door. Through the glass, he gives me a merry look, and a flip of his slender black tail.


Sunday morning finds me again in my patio corner, enjoying the “hush of nature, newly born.” A catbird flies to the birdbath, oh so close. She gives me a bright measured eye, then calmly takes a drink of water. I guess the ice has been broken.


Author: Phoebe Dishman

Phoebe H. Dishman was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother. An essayist and poet, she teaches adult Sunday school, compiles a monthly prayer calendar, edits the Big Thicket Association quarterly bulletin, and keeps a keen eye and ear open for birds.

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