Welcome the Sparrows!

Reading and photographs by Robert Towe

From my nature journal, May 20, 5:42 a.m: Through open windows I am wakened in predawn darkness by a soft rain-shower rinsing the new leaves. Night rain is one of the most comforting natural sounds, cleansing the air of pollen and dust, moisting the thirsted land, breathing fresh life-fragrances into our quiet rooms.

In cool darkness I reflect briefly that within the vast expanse of black space encircling the Sun, this beautiful blue-green jewel of Earth is the only planet flowing with liquid water, essential for life as we know it. Listening with gratitude to light rain in the spring trees I close my eyes and breathe deeply the misty night air, and easily walk back into the dark-lit paths of dreams.

Later, day’s first mauve-grey light comes softly, iridescent, the colors of a dove’s breast. The rain has moved on. I am well-rested, wakened by the wild orchestra of bird songs welcoming the new day. Among interwoven mating choruses of cardinals and crows, woodpeckers, warblers and wrens, thrashers and nuthatches, doves and jays, the song of one bird lifts above the others with its lilting ripple of trills---the song sparrow. He is the true virtuoso of the sparrow family including many species. Melospiza melodia may sing twenty or more different musical variations on a late spring morning. Thoreau described one of the song sparrow melodies as “Maids, Maids, Maids! Come get your tea kettles, kettles, kettles!” It is not easy for the human heart to be sad while listening to the jubilations of this wild bringer of songs.

Winters, my favorite sparrow is the whitethroat (pictured above), visitor to the southern Appalachians from October til early May. They have already flown far north for summer, to raise a clutch or two of speckled blue-green eggs before the chill nights of early northern autumns urge them to return south. The whitethroat’s song has been described as having “that ethereal quality of remembered joy” (Rachel Carson). We hear their rills in January sunlight, sparkling with the water music of icicles melting along the frozen eaves.

Sunday evening, May 24: I write this sitting on our back patio, watching trees toss in the twilight breeze. Tall-grass meadows ripple with wind shadows, green-gold sunsetting lights. From half a mile away, vesper chimes of the old Methodist chapel ring softly across the distance, like cowbells on a far and peaceful hill. And suddenly the scene is complete---the plaintive song of a field sparrow lifts sweetly into the evening air. Across open fields his fine silvery tune rings bright and clear--a swift diminuendo of yearning, drifting away in the spring wind like a balloon escaped from a small child’s hand. Then I look up and there, still as bone in darkening blue sky, high above windy birches---stands that white stone bowl of light, known by centuries of native Americans as the Strawberry Moon.