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.

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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