Friday, May 27, 2016

Spring Cacophony

Spring is such a raucous season. Unfolding from winter’s relative quiet, spring opens with the musical call of peepers from just-thawed ponds and the varied songs of birds returning, the noise building to an impressive crescendo that ebbs and grows throughout each day.

Last weekend I escaped to the front porch for a few stolen moments of solitary peace. Only they weren’t solitary – or peaceful, really. All around me there was noise and movement. A catbird meow-called from the highbush cranberry in the front yard. The whir of wings revealed a hummingbird was exploring the flowers in the planters on the upstairs porch railing. The piercing screech of a hawk drew my eyes upward, where two raptors spun circles far, far above. They seemed too high to be hunting; just playing on the breeze.  

On short evening rambles with the dog, as most birdsong quiets with the approach of darkness, we hear the beautifully melancholic trilling of the hermit thrush from the woods. The peepers are just warming up then, testing out their voices for another night of singing for love – or at least reproductive prospects. By the time I am in bed, with the windows open to the welcome warmth of the spring night, the singing of these tiny frogs is a boisterous, chiming cacophony, one of the wonders of nature that amazes me no matter how many times I hear it.

The robins lead the chorus that awakens me on spring mornings with their rambling, cheery singing. A varied choir of other birds joins in: the question-and-answer of the red-eyed vireo, the ovenbird’s somewhat screechy “teacher-teacher-teacher,” and the white-throated sparrow singing, “Old Sam Peabody-Peabody-Peabody.” There are song sparrows and goldfinches, phoebes and slate juncos – and the chickadees and nuthatches who’ve stayed with us all year. It seems impossible that one yard contains such a variety of birds – and birdsong – and I’m sure I’ll never learn them all. That kind of noise is nice, anyway, whether or not I know – or see – who’s making it.

Not all the twittering happens from tree branches or the pond, of course. Tom turkeys gobble as they make their way along the paths through the back field. A gang of crows yell their caw-caws at a red fox as he meanders through the yard in the early morning, patrolling the invisible borders of his territory before trotting off to some quieter spot.

Amid all of this noisy nature, we humans contribute to the sounds of spring, too. The drone of lawnmowers returns to yards everywhere. Bicyclists call to each other as they ride past in spandex-clad pairs. The hum of sporadic traffic drifts through open windows. And if there is a baseball game at the school two miles down the road, the cheers drift into our yard, and I pause to silently root for the home team.

Even the appearance of spring, once the season really gets going, is a bit noisy. The grass, finally, turns a bright, lush green. Leaves unfurl on trees. New vegetation pushes through last year’s dieback in the field, and lupine leaves grow higher and fuller, moving toward the plants’ burst of color – coming soon. The apples trees are blooming now, all white and pink, and the buds on the lilacs are opening into a cascade of purple and the sweet scent of almost-summer.

These pastel hues will build toward summer’s audacity of color, when a cacophony of blooms bursts forth from the gardens and fields. By then, the peepers will have quieted and the birdsong will have started its slow fade, as birds move from attracting mates and establishing territories to hatching and feeding broods of chicks. (Who has time to sing when the kids are demanding food all day long?)

But now, in these days of approaching summer, when winter has really and truly faded into a cold and provisional memory, the sounds of spring rouse me from sleep in the welcome brightness of early morning. All the noise and color draw me into this season, growing from the last, rolling into the next. 

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the May 27, 2016 edition of the Littleton Record.

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