This morning I’m writing with the window open to finger-tapping of rain on the roof, pattering droplets upon hollyhock leaves, and a tumult of house wren notes drenching my senses. The wren song is close–coming I think from a favored perch on top of a manzanita. Silence only for seconds. Then? Two ravens up high in the pines hold a lofty discourse of cacophonous philosophy.
I began the day as usual with journal writing, an aphorism, and a poetry attempt. I turned then to David George Haskell’s book Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity, and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction. I tend to read all Haskell’s books in the mornings with coffee when I can be most attentive to the woven lyrical prose, science, and mind-bending connections.
The chapter that leaped into the house wren song out my window is called “Resonant Spaces.” He begins outside a limestone cave in Germany. David is listening to a warbler called a Eurasian blackcap: “The song has a rich timbre, a rapid flow of fluty notes, a performance lauded in bird field guides as one of the finest in Europe. But most striking to me today is how the sound comes alive in this space.”
The blackcap sings from a chosen perch at the edge of a miniature amphitheater in the limestone– a place, he writes… “in which sound blooms. The space cups each note of the blackcap’s song, causing them to linger and ripen.”
Epiphany. Yes! Why wouldn’t a singing bird seek resonant acoustics? I think of the glissading notes of a canyon wren coming to that perfect taper within your heart. It makes sense that canyon wrens shift positions to find varying resonances of notes reflecting, echoing, and amplifying beauty.
Where the canyon wren notes are falling waters from a cliff, the house wren melody traces the jumbled layers of the lilac, plum, manzanita, and ceanothus that is just now blossoming in creamy clustered blooms. The singer flits from lower manzanita to upper lilac and plum, eschewing the heights of the ponderosas. I am listening. Do I hear a difference as the wren sings from an airy perch or within the many canted leaves?
It’s time to tread barefoot into the rain–slowly to not scare away the California quail hobnobbing on the ground. Their soft cooing “Where ARE you?” notes flow around lava rocks, lupine, bunchgrass, and forget-me-nots starring the sky floor in purple.
Outside, my ears are attuning to more sounds…like the neighbor’s rooster (one I try to tune out) and a flurry of mourning dove wings. Two house wrens begin duetting about five-feet-up in a lilac bearing sweet-scented purple blooms. I’ve learned that both males and females perform arias, but apparently females are singing in answer to their mates soon after pairing up, and often include high-pitched squeals–not what I’m hearing. Could it be that instead these are competing males? I’ve read they may sing nine to eleven times per minute during a nesting season. As I listen, one spritely bird flap-dashes into our mason bee box that has become enfolded in native clematis and appears to have enough room for a wren to squeeze inside and nest.
If I were to translate this house wren singer into mnemonics, I believe the lyrics shift to fit the life-giving mood of the day, this one cloaked in gray sky and windless showers gifting water. “Ch-ch-ch-cherish all of this-this-THIS!” And I do, because I live in the drought-struck west and anticipate the coming time of no rain, of extreme heat, and wildfires driven by climate change. Here’s to splashing in puddles, spattering mud, rising rivers, happy fish, and belted kingfishers who belt their staccato notes like arcing rainbows in a storm.
Returning to my window perch with screen window open and cool air pooling, I hear house wren song uncorking a champagne spray of celebration–right as a white-headed woodpecker alights on our hanging suet and a lone Anna’s hummingbird flashes by in shimmery hum.
Why wouldn’t birds explore singing from vertical levels, within natural echo chambers, leafy interiors, and from high pines where needles comb the wind? Do they find acoustic niches? Are their songs and calls shaped by habitat?
In my morning journal, I wrote down this quote from David George Haskell: “Experiences of musical beauty can knit us back into life’s community. But we must first choose to listen.”
Time for another curiosity wander among the glistening, soaking, exuberance of house wren song within the chaotic rough-and-tumble of our pollinator acoustical yard.
Please see my NEWS page for my upcoming events this month for Halcyon Journey: In Search of the Belted Kingfisher.