Published by
Hydrogen Jukebox Press

gifmilesbanneracopy.jpg (82930 bytes)

      An Online Edition

  edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers

Copy of birdbuttona.gif (2810 bytes)


Tuesday, May 12, 1914

[The Woodthrush and the Chat]

     "After the loss of my mate and nestlings in the destruction of an old shed on Fifth street a few weeks ago," said a Sparrow who has been for some time away from the Fountain. "I felt utterly unable to take up the season's work a second time. I was lonely and discouraged, and felt quite lost; so when a friend who lives on Mission Ridge invited me to go home with him for the weekend, I thought I might as well be fashionable for once, and accepted.

     "It is a great way to Mission Ridge; the journey tired my wings, although we made our way by easy stages and had frequent stopovers for meals in wayside lettuce beds. The top of the ridge, when we at last reached it, seemed to me like the boundary line of civilization itself; but he is accustomed to being on the extreme verge of things, and pointed out to me that there is much wilder country beyond--more than I had ever imagined could be in the world. It gave me a strange feeling to look at that green wilderness undulating away for hundreds of miles in every direction--miles of it without even the rift of a cabin clearing.

     "We ate in the garden and followed a baby's trail of cake crumbs across a doorstep, and I made new acquaintences among the birds about. There was a brilliant-feathered Cardinal Grosbeak and his brown mate in the cherry trees, and a number of Wrens and Swallows, who were very satisfactory, sociable people. But something about that place oppressed me, and after night settled down the stillness became something awful. It kept me awake for hours. I missed the good, comfortable, breathing purr of the great, tired city as it composes itself for the night. I would have given one of my tail feathers to feel myself within a few minutes' flight of Market street when, after dark, it fills with light and loud music and the tramp of thousands of pleasure-going feet. I said to myself that if I ever got back to my home streets I would have no more to do with these commuters and their ways.

     "Why, ever familiar sounds were different. The whistle of the incoming northbound passenger train was so refined by distance and sweetened by wild echoing overtones, repeated among the lonely hills, that it seemed a sound blown down from the moon. But at last I went to sleep perched comfortably enough on a slight projection under the eaves.

     "I was tired and slept well, until just before day I was awakened by voices strange to me, which my friend assured me were those of a Woodthrush and a yellow-breasted Chat in the thick grove down the slope of the ridge. The Chat uttered querulous, harsh notes, brusquely staccato, and appeared to be finding fault with everything. It was fairly reasonable, everything he said about this lonely country, where for hour after hour there is absolutely not a sound except for four or five field crickets thrilling on as many different tones--harmonious enough, but seeming only to emphasize the aching desolation.

     "And the Woodthrush, who is in the habit of waking earliest of all the Birds, then struck across the bast hush with a note like a flute and silver cymbals. I'm no highbrow; these classical nocturnes and symphonies are entirely beyond me, but I could tell that his strains and separate phrases, with intervals of silence between, coming in regular sequence like the different motifs in an opera, were very fine music. When presently another followed this sequence of phrases with a slight variation, like an answering obligato, although I cannot say I enjoyed it much, I knew I was hearing something out of the ordinary.

     "The Chat appeared to be something of a ventriloquist: he seemed now in the trees of the orchard, now among the lilacs behind the garage and gain in the hedge of currant bushes by the garden. At last, however, as a dim light came stealing through the green treetops, I located him in some underbrush. He was nearly as large as a Robin, with a yellowish breast brightening in color toward the throat and beak, having darker wings and tail. In the thicket he sat and scolded grouchily, his head bobbing forward with each loud note. 'Quack! Cluck! Darn it--chee-chee-chee-chee-cheat!'

     "Neither the place nor the season, he declared, had come up to his expectations; he knew they wouldn't when he settled there. The peaches were first frost-nipped and then beaten out of the trees by hail; the strawberries were late, the cold wind was making it hard for his nestlings; and such luck about hunting worms he never saw--life was all a ch-ch-cheat, anyway. I quite sympathized with him, for everything has gone wrong with me, too, this year, and since I gave up trying, my health has not been good. I was about to ask why he did not try going down to the city, for in my opinion it is the only place to live; but I got to listening to that Thrush again.

     "'Quiver, morning planet, like a white flame,' he sang. 'Flare across the east, oh, red wings of the morning! Dawn on the sleeping woods and dew-blanched meadows. Morning clear and perfect! Welcome to the sun, lord of life, giver of light and laughter! Dawn leaps down on the land.'

     "It was a song older than the race of Birds--perhaps older than time, I don't know. It told more than any one bird could possibly know. I don't believe a word of it, myself, of course--but it was beautiful, I suppose. There were a number of those singers about, and toward sunrise their responsive choral became a continuous fugue, a chime, pealing in pure notes on that strange, still air, ringing toward the brightening east. They were singing of the reality and ultimate ascendancy of ideals--the most impossible stuff, I knew, and after a time I felt afraid to listen. When I pulled myself together, in fact, I was scared to think what I'd been listening to.

     "All this time the Chat was scolding away down in the thicket, fretting about weather and the failure of his building arrangements.

     "'It is not real,' sang those Thrushes. 'Nothing that vexes is real. All is from God. God is all good!'

     "When the sun had somewhat dried the dew, I and my friend shared what breakfast we found, and then I bade him good-by, refusing as graciously as I could his invitation to return. I explained that I simply couldn't stand the big, empty silence.

     "'You'll get used to that inside of a week,' he assured me, 'and it's ever so much cheaper and easier living out here since the covered garbage can raised the cost of living for us in town.'

     "I told him I should never get used to those birds singing before day.

     "'The Chat? You mustn't pay any attention to him. He doesn't mean half what he says.

     "'No, the Thrushes,' I replied. 'I can't bear to hear that things I see and touch are--not real. I might come to believe it if I stayed here long. As I was saying--this classical music is too much for me.'"

Copyright 2000 Hydrogen Jukebox Press All rights reserved