Warbler wave

May 15, 2007

—Nina Pierpont, MD, PhD

Last night I slept by a pond.  The night was warm.  No clouds, numberless stars in the sky and the grass—really, it looked like stars had fallen into the grass.  Little points of greenish light which appeared and disappeared.  With a flashlight I found something looking partway between a sowbug and caterpillar, with glowing greenish point at one end.  Nearby the dry leaves on the ground were rustling.  I crept over and looked, catching glimpses of glittery blue eye-shine—spiders moving among the leaves.

Something walked by in the shadows on little feet.

I should tell you that despite the dark the air was vibrant with song.  Numberless frogs.  Loud enough to hurt my ears.  Peepers, trillers, and cacklers.  (I don’t know what they are really called.)  They sang for much of the night.  A few nights earlier, a much colder night, only the peepers kept it up, with detached and solitary chirps.  (Imagine being able to sing with a forty degree body temperature.  You and I would be comatose and pulseless.)

Last night the frogs poured their energy into the warm, starry night.

Loons did, too.  There is always a pair on this pond, as soon as the ice is out.  Some years they raise a chick, others not.  I often swim here, and have found the loons curious and imperturbable.  I’ve been monitored by a loon swimming nearby, diving when I dive, surfacing and calling when I surface.  (I don’t go near the nest.)  Last night they called, high and musical, laughing.  On the colder night they sang only single low notes, till a loon flying over in the dawn sunlight, giving flight calls, drew an excited response from one on the lake.

At first light today I heard a black-throated green warbler, a sure sign of the Big Wave.  Warm clear nights are ideal.  Birds pour in, riding warm south winds.  In the morning they are hungry and busy, and find themselves right beside others of their own kind—so they sing and display and protest.

Warblers are the little jewels of birdwatching.  Tiny, colorful, and varied.  They are best seen in this window of time, just before the leaves and black flies emerge.  Since they’re arriving to eat the insects and leaf-eating caterpillars, it’s a slender window.  Over the past weeks they’ve flown from Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America, on their own little wings.  Some will continue to forests and tundra in the far north.

The early morning chorus was full of new arrivals:  parula, Blackburnian, magnolia, Nashville, black-throated green, and black-throated blue warblers, ovenbird, yellowthroat, Lincoln’s sparrows.  They mixed with earlier arrivals:  hermit thrushes, veeries, solitary vireos, winter wrens, sapsuckers, myrtle and pine warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets, red-winged blackbirds, bittern, broad-winged hawk, robins, tree swallows.

So far this spring there have been two or three new birds every few days; today there was a flood.

Today was a morning and night of timeless health and joy.  This is the message of spring—the great turn and renewal of the earth, and the creatures who have been here since the glaciers retreated, in all their minute and wondrous oddity and brilliance.

The fishermen know it, too.  Each morning they arrive early with aluminum boats lashed to the back of pickup trucks—using whatever handy vehicle and vessel will transport them swiftly, and simply, into It.

There are certain joys that never run out—an important clue for telling which of the things we like are truly good.  Another clue is whether something’s wake—what follows behind it—is healing and healthy.  Or destructive and chaotic.  Too many things feel good but are not truly good.  It is part of everyone’s journey to figure out what those things are.

As we age some of the roles we learned to play as young adults fall away, pushed from below by the emergence of self and knowledge left behind long ago.  Rejoining the great cycles of the earth, as (I hope) each of us joined them as children, is one of the deep and healing satisfactions of older age.

Today the doctor is out—because that is where the healing is.