Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Rains this week-end brought up from the saturated ground an abundant crop of fat earthworms. This morning the robins that populate the yard here at Sewanee were strutting their stuff and twirling wriggling worms in their mouths like spaghetti on a fork.

In that wonderful linen-covered book of birds about which I wrote in a former blog, my mother showed me giant pictures of red birds, blue birds, buntings, robins, wrens, and sparrows. Cardinals and blue birds were her favorite illustrations, and I have two glass replicas of these birds on my desk as a small memoriam to her and her appreciation for the feathered world.

Robins are familiar sights on the lawns at Sewanee as they are birds that tolerate habitats that have been altered by humans. Of course, the most-loved quality of Robin Red Breast is its song of “cheer-up, cheer-up,” and it sings that aria upon rising, just as it forages for earthworms early in the day, thus giving rise to the saying about the American work ethic: “the early bird gets the worm.” The evening meal for robins is fruit, and, along with the brazen deer, they have decimated my wild blueberry and blackberry crops.

Robins sometimes live to be 14 years old, a record of longevity in its population, and judging from the healthy plumpness of robins on my lawn, I have a flock of retirees foraging for worms at 7 a.m. I have a small bird bath in the backyard and one in the front woods that serve as their watering holes, but, unfortunately, the deer get there first.

My brother Paul, who loves nature, will probably shudder when I tell this story about him, but I can remember when he shot robins with a BB gun or slingshot made by my father back in the forties. He hunted on the tree-lined streets of North Baton Rouge, Louisiana, thinking he was getting provisions for the family to have meat for supper. When he brought in a plump robin one morning, my mother had something we in the South call a “hissy fit” and instructed him to take the carcass away. Paul’s perspective on bird life has changed considerably since that time, for I’ve seen pictures of several birdhouses he built in his backyard in northern California – one beneath a Norfolk pine and the other beside a Japanese red maple – and neither bird residence is a captive spot for robins where he can practice his marksmanship.

Here’s a bird snippet entitled “Spring Feathers” from A MOMENT SEIZED, published by Border Press:


Mockingbird in the mock Spring air,
poses a stand-off with a plump jay,

too much the warrior in his incaution,
a brief fight, and they glide away,

reminders of fleeting friendship.

In their tiny brains
Spring is a code,

a minute groove in mockingbird,
robin, sparrow, bunting

foretelling this resurrection,
light out of shadow,

bloom out of folded bud,
sooth in the heart of a pistil,

a flurry of feather, rising.
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