The Mockingbird?

Pat and I traveled yesterday afternoon, from our Blue Ridge mountain home in North Carolina, down to Georgia.

We are spending the weekend with our daughter, Katie.

This morning I wake up to the sound of a bird outside the apartment window. The call of the bird is different, not like the sounds of birds where we live. Here in Georgia, the advent of spring is rampant, compared to our snowy home environs which is several thousand feet higher in altitude and a degree or two of longitude more northerly on earth’s sphere.

Shortly after daylight peaked through Katie’s curtains, as I was laying on the floor to stretch my back and legs because I was not used to the soft bed, I heard the mockingbird somewhere outside.

At least I think it was a mockingbird. I can only surmise it was a mockingbird, because this little creature would not stick to one song, but kept changing his/her calls from one signal to another. So I’m laying there thinking, isn’t this what a mockingbird does? Is it not called a mockingbird because it “mocks” or imitates the songs of other birds?

This little aural adventure reminded me of my childhood at grandma Mimi’s house in Baton Rouge, some fifty-odd years ago. My sister and I would be laid into a guest room for an afternoon nap. This was unique because Mimi had, in that guest room, a fancy (she was of French heritage) four-poster bed with a white fabric canopy over its top, like you might see in movies about 18th-century royals or some such setting.

As I would be reclining on that luxurious bed, I could hear birds chirping on the other side of the curtained window. (The window treatment matched the poster-bed.) Mimi and J.C. had an outside courtyard with high brick walls around it and all sorts of Louisiana plants within–crepe myrtles, azaleas, camellias, canna lilies and gardenias and so forth–and a birdbath or two. So outside the window, the bird would maybe be sitting in the birdbath taking a bath and having fun in the water.

Be the bird as it may, in the birdbath or on the brick wall or perched on the leafy hedge or wherever it was casting its little hybrid songs, the feathery crooner was doing its yakkity thing, just being the birdbrained creature that God made him/her to be. I may have heard a mockingbird at that time and maybe that’s why I’m reminded of that childhood memory as I lay here now in Georgia in March 2013. But actually the bird call I remember most vividly from that nap time was not the mockingbird, but a blue jay.

I think it was a blue jay, anyway. The call was just a single shriek, like a “caw.” But it wasn’t a crow’s caw. It was not as loud that, and much kinder and gentler. Maybe that’s the call of the blue jay, or maybe it’s just the way I imagine a blue jay would sound, with his little bishopric peaky cap on his head and that big black beak sticking out like some kind of stuck-up sabre or something.

Anyway, back to the mockingbird, if that’s what it was, in Gainesville this morning. This bird, as I said earlier, did not stick to one call, but just kept whipping out a whole collection of different calls, one sample after another, like a moog gone au natural under the errantly genius touch of a four-year-old. Some were quick staccatos. . . ch ch ch ch, or some sustained legatos. . .wrr wrr wrr wrr wrr, or mixtures. . .ch ch wrr wrr wrr, or little buzzy blends. . .vzz vzz vzz vzz, or indecipherable birdbrain phonemes. . .brd oop brd oop brd ooo, or jazzy little themes. . .whoobidy shooop whoobidy shoop whoobidy shoop shoop shoop, with every now and then a dovish coo followed by a hawkish wra! wra!  I’ve got rhythm, was a part of the message, like Porgy or Gershwin or some other person of ancient Americana. A kind of poetry it was.

A bird with an identity crisis, I guess, is what it must have been, a little like the interpreter who was stretched out on the floor with nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than harken to those first auditory signals of spring down hyeah in the deep south, y’heah me now?

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

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