Sunday, May 06, 2007

Siren Song

May 1st has long been one of my favorite days of the year. Spring is blooming in all its richness and bird migration is starting to peak. I observed the arrival of this special month by playing hooky again for an hour of breakfast and coffee on Moose Hill on Tuesday and Friday mornings this week. By leaving home a little early and spending the time I would otherwise use reading the paper or generally procrastinating, I can get an hour in the woods and still get my work done.

I drove down the hill from the town center and passed the train depot. I saw the suits rushing to the station, heading to work in Boston. There are days I wish I could do that, but these days were not among them. The sky was clear and a bright sun was warming the cool air. I knew the woods held birds I had not seen in months and I wanted to be there to great them. I was glad that the demands of clocks and offices were largely irrelevant to me.

I parked in the sanctuary lot and started walking toward Moose Hill. I was welcomed by the chipping sparrows that are always trilling along the street and the red bellied woodpecker that seems to have a territory right near the beginning of the Summit Trail. Following my usual modus operandi, I hiked to one of the trails around the base of Moose Hill and walked until I spotted some inviting, sun-warmed rocks up the hill. I then climbed up, found a comfortable spot with a view and sat down to survey the surroundings.

I didn’t see many birds as I moved along the trail. The tree buds were just opening, so visibility to the treetops was excellent. Although the sky was clear, I thought perhaps strong breezes were keeping the birds down. On Tuesday, as if to confirm my hypothesis, I saw birds moving low in the forest just as I sat down in my selected spot. The first was a bright yellow warbler with brown streaks on its sides, a neat chestnut cap and a funny habit of pumping its tail rather like a hermit thrush. I carry my old Peterson guide on days like this when I know I will likely see birds I don’t know well. The guide told me this was a palm warbler and they are known for staying near the ground, so this fellow wasn’t doing anything unusual to support my theory about the wind keeping small birds out of the treetops. I looked at the checklist in the front of the book and saw that I had marked this bird off as seen, but that may have been 30 years ago, so this was almost as good as a life bird to me.

Within minutes, a black and white warbler came by. I didn’t need a book to ID this little guy who carries his name in his colors. Other than the usual chickadees, titmice and chipmunks, I didn’t see much else on Tuesday. The steady rush of the wind in the tree branches made it difficult to hear the subtle bird calls and songs, but I was content to be alone and watch how the bright sun dappled the forest floor with clear light.

Friday was much like Tuesday. The woods were quieter than I might have expected on a clear day in early May. I reflected on the wonderful, if troubling, NPR radio program on Tom Ashbrook’s Onpoint Radio. (See sidebar.) They discussed the myriad threats facing migrating birds these days from the destruction of tropical rain forests, to development on the Gulf Coast, to communications towers, to pesticides. Perhaps it was this in this momentary low mood that I reminded myself that May 4th was the day that America killed some of it own.

It would be very unlike Moose Hill to fail to offer up some treat for the senses and, in time, as I sat quietly I began to hear subtle sounds. I heard, and then saw, first a small group of myrtle warblers with their funny habit of dropping from on tree branch to the other. I saw another palm warbler and it was good to see this bird two visits in a row to reinforce my familiarity with it.

As I listened for new birds, I heard a new call just up the hill. It was a “teach-teach-teach” much like and ovenbird, but not quite. It was coming from behind some pines just over a ridge. I walk that way, pausing to listen. I heard the call again, this time just a little further up the hill, still beyond sight. This went on for a while longer with the bird calling but seemingly moving away just as I approached.

I began to imagine myself following this tempting spirit deeper and deeper into the wild until I was lost. I fantasized about discovering beautiful stands of virgin forest with sun-lit mossy openings where colorful birds warbled gentle songs. Realizing I could never find a better place to rest, I set down my pack, wrote a final page in my journal and dozed off into eternal sleep.

Somewhere about that time, my cell phone went off. As with the mylar balloons I picked up from the forest floor, even here the outside world finds a way to intrude. Even though I have no boss and no office to go to, I have responsibilities and work to do, but I am not afraid to set them aside for a few minutes of peace and quiet. There are those who would call me lazy. I prefer to think of myself as tremendously ambitions in my quest for balance.

I recently talked to a young man who is astonishingly successful in the world of money. His family is falling apart. When I suggested that with all the money he had, surely he could spend more time at home. He said he needed to stay productive. Perhaps the balance sheets he reads so well lack some important data altogether. I spoke with another man who commutes in a car for up to two hours each way to sit in an office and profit from those losing everything in the mortgage crisis. In both our natural world and our own lives, all too often we ignore the true cost of things. How much is a happy wife worth? What price tag goes on a warbler’s song? As Ansel Adams said, some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Some people are driven to succeed. Some march to a different drummer. Others hear a siren song. Some are called to the world of clocks, money, productivity and things. Others hear a different tune and are called to walk in the woods on a beautiful spring morning. We live in a world of opportunity, freedom and choices. I choose to spend an hour sitting quietly in the forest thinking about the value of the quest for serenity.

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At 5:54 PM, Blogger Larry said...

I've been known to set too much time aside for myself.-I love to explore woods, hoping to find a special area as you described.-

Never stop taking time out for yourself.

At 10:02 PM, Blogger cestoady said...

As I read your comments today ,I could't but help realize that the real,natural world that you so love is a source of piece of mind and soul and also peace with the world. I was reminded of what I have seen and read at another site: that has much in common with your Moose Hill Journal , but with a few pictures added to stir the spirits.

We all need a place to sit down, hear the quiet voices of the forest, and watch the warblers carry on with their busy lives.

At 5:54 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

Not to worry, Larry. I will always be able to goof off with the best of them. The trick is doing it in a healthy and rewarding way.

Thanks for stopping by, Cestoady. It's always nice to get a comment from a new reader. Thanks, also, for the tip about Natureremains. I'll check it out.

At 8:31 PM, Blogger nina said...

We've just finished clearing a path to the base of our 150 year-old oak tree. It will be our place to sit and think. A place to restore balance.


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