Memories of Birds

Christine Maccabee

As gardeners and lovers of nature, our lives are enriched not only by the plants and in the flowers we cherish, but as well by the many insects and birds we encounter. All of us retain memories, as very young children and right on through life, of these various creatures and how they touched us with the beauty of their song or the fascinating nature of their appearance or personality. As far back as I can remember the sounds of the cicada wooed me through many a long, hot summer day, and the sight of delicate butter-flies as they flit from flower to flower on my butterfly bush takes me back to my grandparents' bush which I am certain I must have stared at for hours on end my first few years of life. Just the peculiar smell of those flowers, not sweet, yet not unpleasant, stimulates images of myself; tiny, mesmerized by the smell and the wonder of that beautiful bush and those butterflies.

As for birds, it takes no more than the sweet silvery song of the house wren or the cheerful caprice of the robin to project me back to my childhood home in Baltimore. Even the delicate warbling of the gold-finch here at my mountain home reminds me of one precious canary which long ago was a source of joy to this child of nature.

Before his death in 1996, my father sent me a moving portrayal of a few of his memories of birds throughout his life. It was typed on a very special notecard with paintings of birds by Marjolein Bastin, the most important nature artist in the Netherlands today. I'd given the empty notecard to my father requesting him to write me a message on it so I might keep both the card and the words as treasures forever. Within less than a week I received it, and I was deeply touched. It was a true joy to see my father writing again, as

he was on an upward swing after a difficult winter of illness and depression due to cancer and misgiven chemotherapy. I'd like very much to share his special memories with you....

"This is delightful notepaper; interesting and colorful. It makes me want to write something appropriate, about birds of course. As I pondered about that, I wondered when I first became aware of birds. Probably when I was very young in the spring of 1922 when they could be heard singing as I lay in my crib close to an open window.

There was a time which I remember well when I was in grade school. The birds, mostly robins, built their nests and I used to watch them feed their young. Then, the young left the nest and followed the adult birds with beaks agape. The adults chattered excitedly and looked fiercely at us kids when we approached the young and tried to catch them.

The wrens awoke this morning with their song. They were so small and somewhat too arrogant for their size. I loved them.

A low whistling often came from the gooseberry bushes along the alley

fence where the orioles would feed on the bugs. They did not eat the berries and it just occurred to me that our gooseberries were actually healthy and plentiful because of the bug patrol of the orioles.

Down at the Lake Michigan shore there were always various kinds of seagulls. When the fishing boats returned from the day's work the men would clean fish and throw the refuse to the birds. They followed the boats like a cloud of wings and feathers full of squeaking and squawking.

When I was aboard ship in Alaskan waters [during WWII], I saw the horn of tufted puffins with their big colorful beaks which fluttered off shore and often rested in the water. Occasionally we would be followed by an albatross as they soared behind the ship, never resting their outspread wings.

Even here in Maryland we counted 21 different kinds of birds at our feeder in 1978. We do not seem to have that variety anymore.

The robin singing in the evening is a mellifluous sound, an angeles sweeter than the bells which betoken "peace be with you".

Love, Dad

Thanks Dad, for the inspiration! Your loving daughter, Christine.

Christine Maccabee is one of a growing number of Certified Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalists throughout the state and the nation. She can be reached at 301-271-2037.

Read other articles by Christine Maccabee