Sing, Robins

I lingered on our porch yesterday evening, gathering a few pieces of firewood. It’s warm enough now that the fire could stay out, but somehow letting the hearth go cold in March just doesn’t seem right.

There’s that worn-out cliche that the laughter of babies is one of the best sounds on this planet — and it’s not a cliche, because baby laughter is really dear.

But so is the songs of robins.

We’re back again in these melodies. Around us, mud and thaw pushing up the debris that’s hidden under the snow all winter. Pieces of cardboard and empty yogurt containers, the runny mess of my ash pile, my youngest’s holey (or is that holy) pink socks where she tossed them over the porch railings in a burst of spring enthusiasm.

Oh, robins, mud your nests, lay your eggs, raise your newborns. We need you!

Open a window. Rain falling
on good land is good for melancholy.

Jody Gladding

Hardwick, Vermont

A Word About the Garden: Sign of Spring, Hardwick, VT, #10

Robins land in my garden — how close these songbirds swoop to my hands curiously digging in leaf mulch for the first green bits of garlic, the sage greening at a few unlikely ends.

The garden at our former house spread enormously, surrounded by buckwheat field and forest, the woods spreading unbroken over Woodbury Mountain, territory of moose and black bear, bobcat. The songbirds, leery, remained at a distance. Always, at that house, I sensed a tension between domesticity and the wild, my garden the sometimes porous buffer between human and animal life.

Here, on a sandy moraine with a view of the river, the sweetening bones of Hardwick’s passed souls lying six feet buried beyond the row of lilacs, cultivating this patch of earth will be a different variation of home and wild. We haven’t moved far, but cardinals nest here; at our former house, we had seen only a single, stray, lost red bird.

April showers have fallen for days, and I expect rain to fall for days more. The girls complain, but I think, Let it fall… Water our soil, the knotty clumps of root, deeply, well.

The leaves are fresh after the rain,
The air is cool and clear,
The sun is shining warm again,
The sparrows hopping in the lane
Are brisk and full of cheer…
It is a happy thing, I say,
To be alive on such a day.

— James Stephens, “April Showers”


Auditory Postcard from Vermont

Last night, hot from bike riding with my daughter and watering transplants in the garden, I madly put the screens in the upstairs windows. We slept with the glass opened all night, and this early morning is cool and lovely, a symphony of songbirds serenading my children in their dreams.

When I was a teenager, my cousin from New York City visited us in the summer and remarked every morning that the birds woke him with their singing. Turbo birds, he called them. These mornings, I sometimes remember the three enormous sugar maples that graced my childhood lawn, prime songbird habitat. As a child, I thought it amusing that someone would comment on songbirds. Really? You might as well comment on drinking water.

Like anywhere, Vermont has drawbacks: I’ve seen mercury at 42 below zero fahrenheight, the public libraries are too tiny, rural living can be darn lonely, and my ears are swollen with bug bites. But here’s just one ineffable joy: birdsong.

“A Minor Bird”

I have wished a bird would fly away,
And not sing by my house all day;

Have clapped my hands at him from the door
When it seemed as if I could bear no more.

The fault must partly have been in me.
The bird was not to blame for his key.

And of course there must be something wrong
In wanting to silence any song.

Robert Frost

West Woodbury, May evening


The Little Hermit Thrush

Around my garden, hermit thrush are nesting for the season, singing their enchanting melodies, amazingly pure and piercing sounds from a bird so small it’s a handful of feathers and bone. The thrush is not a songbird from my childhood. As an adult, backpacking along the spine of the Vermont’s Green Mountains and sleeping outside, I first heard these unmistakable notes, and here, at this house on the edge of forest, these birds became my companions.

Now the thrush’s song has been a litany through my adult life, from before I become a mother to watching my children grow up. The birds lived here before I planted a garden, and no doubt will remain, long after my work with a hoe and spade have ceased.

Morbid? I don’t think so. There’s a real grace to be gathered here, listening to these symphonies of tiny songbirds – admission gratis. These mating calls are an audible tapestry that renders time not so sparse and dear but stretches it out into an immense arc of infinity. Sing on!

Nothing’s certain….

Watching, we drop to listen,
a hermit thrush distills it: fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end what source
links to wonder….

– Amy Clampitt, “A Hermit Thrush”

Woodbury, Vermont, twilight



Last evening, walking along our dirt road with my daughter, she chattered about our shadows in the lingering daylight, how the sun had merged us into one person, and we appeared to be one being with four legs and a curious kind of goose neck she had made from her hands.

While we were standing there, I suddenly realized I had been listening to the robins singing in a nearby maple tree, without any particular consciousness – and yet on some level I must have been listening keenly. Just recently returned, a whole flock of red-chested couples are nesting in the maples around the garden.

When we first moved to this house, we had two bird-stalking cats and the field was wooded then: the songbirds are not prolific as they are now. But, as all things go, our terrain has changed, and one benefit is this spring melody. How funny is the human mind: winter and cold has now fled our immediate memory, and it’s spring and seeds and the garlic pushing up through a mulch of rotting leaves.

We don’t have to live great lives, we just have to understand and survive the ones we’ve got.

– Andre Dubus