It’s May. Get Out There.

That is what I tell myself at 5:00 in the morning when I wake up and it is still mostly dark and I am sleepy and warm in bed and could use a little more rest before getting up for the day to get cracking on the usual routine. It’s May. Just get out there.

I mean, it is beautiful on a May day when the sun rises and the fog settles over the river and the green of the new buds is almost yellow it is so bright. But May is also when the birds come back. Warblers and orioles and flycatchers and sparrows. And so many more. I get out and try to find them. Every morning I try to find a bird species I have not yet found this year. Lately the birds have just been nuts.

What I mean by nuts is there have been so many birds singing in the morning. When I go out I stand in the driveway and listen. I hear ten species from the porch. By the time I get to the end of the driveway I have heard 15. By the turn in the road I’ve found 20. The past couple of times I have walked out early I have seen or heard 50 species. It is nuts.

Six years ago, when I started birding more seriously, my goal was to learn the songs of as many local birds as possible. I wanted to be able to hear a song or call and know what I was hearing. I know a lot of them. I look forward to hearing the first Savannah Sparrows or Eastern Meadowlarks or Bobolinks. My heart leaps up, as Wordsworth said, when I hear my first Yellow Warbler of the year. Or my first Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.

There are several birds that regularly show up here whose songs I don’t have nailed. That American Redstart? I should know it by now, but I have to re-remember it each year. Same with the Blackburnian Warbler. But it is a new challenge each spring. “Wait,” I whisper to myself. “What is that? I should know that.” And then smile when I get it.

These days I never have enough time. I have to rush back to the house for a shower and a clean shirt and some breakfast before we all head off to work and school. It would be easier if I had more time for that crap as well. But it is May. I need to get out there. In a couple of months, those birds won’t be singing, and the leaves will be hiding them. So I get up, I grab my binoculars and I try to remember to shut the door behind me as I start listening.

Unconscious Singing and a Wrench

My son loves to sing.  He sings all the time–while building a boat out of legos, while sitting down to breakfast, even while falling asleep. He sings songs with words and songs without. He hums. He is just a happy guy. I was thinking yesterday about how I love this about him. He shares his happiness with the world.

Yesterday he and I went for a bike ride–not too far, just a slow peddle down the road to enjoy the amazing day. He was, as he so often is, singing as we went. We talked about this and that, of course, and were having a fine time. Now, this road we live on is not paved, and any unpaved road in Chittenden County, Vermont’s most populous, becomes a destination for walkers, runners and bikers. We live on this one and we use it for all three of these activities. Lots of other people do as well.

Yesterday, as on any given weekend day, comers from parts unknown came to take advantage of the unpavedness of our road. They walked and ran. When my son and I headed out on our bicycles, two women were walking in the same direction we planned to go. They were well ahead of us. With the speed of our two-wheeled vehicles, however, we caught up with them, despite our slow rate. Although we saw them, these two women did not see us. They ambled along, chatting loudly, gesticulating as they conversed. As we got close behind them, on the other side of the road mind you, my son sang a semi-wordless tune.

Once we got close enough, this scared the pants off them. They turned and jumped. Well, one of them jumped, and this made the other jump. On the one hand I felt bad for them–a nice peaceful walk interrupted by a dangerous and insidious force, a beast who’s only goal is slay the innocent walkers…Wait, it’s only a kid and his dad. On the other hand, I thought this was funny as hell and had to suppress my laughter. They laughed, however–perhaps nervously–but they laughed.

We were close enough that I could see that the woman closest to us was carrying something.  My first thought, given the reaction she had just had, was that it was mace. She walked with someone else and with a weapon to ward off would-be assailants. But it was only a wrench, maybe 1/2 inch. This struck me, as it may have struck others in this situation, as somewhat, well, what’s up with the wrench? I didn’t say, this of course. What I said, as we passed them, was, after one of them noted what a fine day it was, that it could be finer if only I had a wrench with which to fix my bike.  The woman carrying it offered it to me, with grand generosity, asking if it was mine. It turns out she found it on the road.

I wasn’t missing a wrench, but I liked both that she offered it to me, despite my sarcasm, and that she picked it up to begin with. Someone dropped it and maybe she could find a place to leave it. She noted that she might just find a use for it, that she must have found it for a reason, and my son and I kept on going. So in the end, all was well, and it couldn’t have been a better day.  I mean, the foliage was shining, my ears were full of song, I was riding my bike with my son, and I was offered a wrench, maybe 1/2 inch. What more could one want?

Bad Music

There is this gas station/convenience store at which I occasionally stop, usually to conveniently purchase gas, but sometimes, since they have a clean and easily available restroom, to conveniently expel some gas, that plays fairly wretched music.  I am no musicologist, of course.  I was a DJ for my college radio station, and that station sometimes played wretched music, but the groaners that came out of that basement studio never matched this tripe.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m no curmudgeon or anything.  I tend to think that any music is good for you in some way.  When kids sing it would win no American Idol competition, but I still encourage it.  Makes the soul bound, if you know what I’m saying.  This establishment, the one that I don’t quite frequent, is generally blaring, louder than such a place should blare anything, modern country music.

I grew up in New England, and when I did so, it was hard to find such music.  There was maybe one radio station out of dozens that played it.  There were more on-the-air preachers (Friends!  We realize compassion when we come to passion.  When we share the passion of Christ.  When we share with our neighbors.  When you share what you can to keep the Word coming to you on this station. And so on…) than country music stations.  I thought of it as bad music, but harmless.  Oh some people might enjoy that crap, those poor simpletons, but really, how could it ever catch on?

Eventually, as everyone knows, it crept north, spreading like kudzu, taking over the local flora.  I came of age in the 80’s, when there was a lot of crappy music to be found, but I am still in denial of this invasive species.  Granted, any big country music star has talent, but why waste that talent on simple repeated chords and hackneyed lyrics?  Like some art, I can’t help thinking that my pre-schooler could have created it.  The nasaly twang that pours out these tales of woe that force my eyes to roll involuntarily can be heard in way too many places.

This market is one of them.  Sometimes when I go in there, to grab some coffee after pumping my petrol (fuel for the large polluting commuting machine, fuel for the medulla oblongata) I almost laugh at the seriousness with which the overly loud singer dumps out his or her syrupy schlock.  Are you serious, I want to ask?  But I would both get no answer and insult the meagerly paid woman behind the counter.   She chose this station, after all, and that is one of the few pleasures of  this job that requires only a high school diploma.

I still go in there.  Just like I tune in to the preachers at times, I like to stay keen on my schlock.  Plus, I like to be able to mock it appropriately when I get the chance.  If only I could just mesh the two, it would cut down on my listening time.  Perhaps something like this, heard with the appropriate voice, and you know you know it:

I’m a radio preacher and no one sends me dollars.

My blue jeans are threadbare and I’ve got stains on my collar.

Why does my Christian lady have to tune me ow-oo-out?

Now that’s bad music.  Good thing I’m not in the biz.  But then again, maybe that’s just what the biz needs.

Singalong and Wrapped Stuff

Last night we went to the town library for a singalong.  It was sporadically advertised and not on their web site, our usual source of programming information.  We did find out late yesterday afternoon that it was on, so we rallied the kids after dinner and headed over.

My daughter’s music teacher was the piano player.  She was friendly and good with the children and had, perhaps to the detriment of the event, a fine singing voice.  We used a songbook from 1960, still in use after four decades.  This particular songbook contained lots of songs for people who sing well.  Think The First Noel and We Three Kings.  We did sing Frosty the Snowman (not in the book) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (also not in the book) and had a generally good time.

The children colored the pages left on the back table with crayons and markers.  They also offered snacks–cookies and punch.  Of course, the last thing our children needed was sweets.  Candy canes, chocolate, cookies at home.  They have been getting it all these days.  Bad parents, mostly, I suppose.  But they had some cookies, and so did I.  All the other kids did as well.

There were many children there.  They seemed to have fun.  We even checked out some new books while we were there.  Our previous books were overdue, as usual.  We had to use my wife’s libary card.  I couldn’t find my wallet before we left.  I looked and looked and I just figured I must have left it in jacket pocket or some such.  I didn’t find it last night.

This morning it showed up.  Our kids have been into pretending to wrap presents lately.  They have been wrapping everything they can get their hands on.  We recently had to impose a rule that they only wrap art that they make themselves.  Things kept going missing.  My wallet, despite the prohibition on wrapping objects that might have some value if hidden and unable to be found, was the latest object to disappear into the wrapping hole.

I was with-wallet today and used it when I took my son to the Hinesburg winter farmer’s market.  I only purchased two donuts, along with some squash.  I ate most of the donuts, maybe subconsciously to get back at him for hiding my wallet, but really more because, again, he has lots of sweets these days.  But then, maybe I do, too.