Soundscape on Evangeline West

Refrigerator humming.

Steady traffic on Major.

Me breathing as I edit a newsletter.

Occasional outbursts of:

Light showers.

Torrential downpours.

Buzzing chickadees.

Chirping cardinals.

Rollicking wren.

Furious blue jays, high-pitched “Help meeee” of broad-winged hawk.

Motorcycle on Major: whine ascending to b’dowdowdow.

Grinding gears of large item pick-up.

Squirrel munching seeds under the birdfeeder. Okay, I can’t hear him. But I see his jaw moving.

Swamp Canary

A thrill for me all summer has been the pre-dawn planets: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. For weeks my adult Sunday school class has patiently watched as I sketch the latest sighting on the blackboard. They can’t fathom that I get up at 5:30.  Me either. This Sunday just past, I came in from my planet gazing, sat down with my coffee, opened my email, and behold! My friend Jim had circulated a poem, “Star House,” in which he expressed how experiencing stars and planets in the night sky calls him to awareness and connections and creativity.  And so it was that later that morning my class got to hear my own planet report AND a poem! One of my classmates liked it so well she asked how to join his circulation list.

After church I got in my car, un-silenced my phone, and behold, a text had come in. It was a thank-you from a colleague for a card I sent his wife, who is ill. He said her bed was now positioned so she could watch the birds at their feeder. He had opened my card for her, and she said the bird on the cover was pretty.  I re-read the text, then drove home. I will leave it to you to imagine my state of heart.

Home, where I took up a poem I’ve been crafting. Subject: Prothonotary Warbler. A light verse about a little ray of sunshine I saw on a tree at the edge of the Neches River.  People call them Swamp Canaries, for their color, and their custom of belting out incredibly loud song from the hot humid depths of thickets. I’ve seen and heard three or four in my time, always in the woods, or at river’s edge.

After a while I lay down the poem and moved to the sun porch, where I took up the Sunday paper, then Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. Presently I saw movement outside – not the swoopings and bathings and feedings of the usual crew.  No, it was more like the erratic flutterings of a big yellow butterfly.  Swallowtail?  No, too all-yellow for that. Whatever it was seemed to be taking the measure of our backyard, in a kind of hyperactive way.  I sped for the binoculars, tore off one eyepiece in my excitement, finally got them to my eyes, and there he was in a tree. Prothonotary warbler. In 38 years, first one I’ve seen in this suburban yard. There he was, briefly, and then, oh my, he flew straight to the window where I was, and hovered. We took the measure of each other.  Then he was gone. All I can do is report my findings.

Mark Twain wrote, “There’s no accounting for human beings.” I, for instance, when mildly perplexed, go earring shopping. Somehow it steadies me. Another quirk: I had my Big Thicket Association editor’s earrings on today, figuratively speaking, and was enjoying a sprightly email conversation with someone about the pitfalls of getting people’s names right, in person and print. Eventually I turned from that to another task, only to find a poem about name-confusion struggling to organize itself in the rhyming room of my brain. I tried in vain to ignore the shouting and scuffling. Finally I caved, and entered that well-beloved room, and took charge. I mean, like new earrings, why not?

Once upon a cruise

Upon the open sea

I chanced to hear some news

It was a novelty!

“At sundown in the Book Room

A Sabbath group will meet

For prayer and fellowship”

Well, this gave wings to my feet!

I’m Methodist not Jewish

But research is my game

To pass on this, far be it from me,

When it clearly bears my name!

I got there early and took my post

With a view of the setting sun

And just when I was wondering

If I’d be the only one

Six Jewish people entered

And confusion soon ensued

Are you the rabbi? quoth they,

And I didn’t want to be rude

So I explained my presence

My full name gave to them

And then confusion swirled some more

Till it overflowed the brim

Fishman! Fishman! they cried out

We know your family well!

But are you the New York Fishmans?

Or the ones from Phila-del?

Well, we finally got things straight

And no harm at all was done

Of all the stories of that cruise

This is my favorite one.