It is sprinkling a bit at Witham Hill Natural Area, a chorus of crows lauding the morning at the house across the street, Robins and Chickadees keeping the background melodic with their usual songs. Misty rain is one of the things I love about Oregon and it doesn’t happen as often as it used to so the day feels like a special occasion.
I start up the trail and hear a metallic drumming from the neighborhood—who is being so industrious (and inconsiderate) on a Saturday morning? I hear it again and realize it is a Northern Flicker carving out its mating territory by drumming on something metal, a chimney perhaps. What a boon metal fixtures are for the prowess of the woodpecker, a development not unlike that of the guitar amp for musicians. I walk up the hill listening for other birds and breathing as deeply as I can; I’m finally in the woods where I have wanted to be all week.
This park has lots of twisty old oaks, there is no shortage of places to paint. Along the trail I hear the peeps of Junkos and rustling of Towhees in the undergrowth. Most of the time when I hear a bird making a ton of noise in the brush it is a Spotted Towhee, I told Jay last weekend on our first birding walk together. We were at Finley and saw more birds from the car on the way to and from the hike than we did on foot.
Neither of us was looking for a flush list, it was nice just to be out together. Later in the day Jay read to me from Victor Emanuel’s One More Warbler, a surprisingly fascinating book about birding he picked up after learning it was an interest of mine.
This was my favorite part of the weekend. To hear someone who loves words read aloud, to be snuggled against the vibrating drum of their body. He reads differently than he speaks. His normal lingo and exaggerated inflections peg him as someone who smokes a decent amount of pot. This is not exactly my preference in dating partners so I was tempted to leave our first date after one cup of tea. But the two month e-mail conversation we had prior was so enjoyable I wanted to find some shred of the person I imagined I’d been talking to.
So we spent the following weekend together, my fairy tale bound with a convenient ambiguity about his occasional pot use. The chapter Jay read to me had a more genuine magic about an ornithologist failing at academics who devoted his life to field work. He ended up living a charmed life in remote forests, his heart full of caring friends and interesting neighbors, all the while making an epic contribution to his field identifying countless birds and their songs.
It was a touching story. It was also fun to imagine Jay’s new voice was the real him just waiting to be coaxed out of a deep sleep with a brilliant kiss or maybe just a newfound interest in birds. I did not get to entertain this fantasy for more than a few hours; ambiguities piled on top of one another and no amount of fairy dust could save me from their impending collapse.
The Towhee, meanwhile, had hopped up on a branch and was screeing at me or the other Towhees, maybe the whole forest. Another Towhee across the way would respond dutifully. A female, still sifting through the leaves of the underbrush, would join in almost absent-mindedly with a soft scree like a friend who wants you to believe they’re paying attention.
As I walk into the middle of the park I hear the songs of Pacific Wrens and then, high above me, the transcendental opera of a hidden warbler. The high pitched tune is so pure and crystalline, my whole being is drawn into its beauty. It makes me think about the importance I give to the songs in my heart, as if she should only sing for the things I am meant to keep.
A brief rain passes through, I find a lumpy old tree to sketch and, like clock-work, I am suddenly tired and have to pee. As if it would be torture to engage fully in this endeavor, the one that makes no pretense of happily-ever-after yet keeps me afloat in life like a magic canoe on a wild ocean.
I wander off for privacy then come back to my tree to make some studies. While I draw the traffic noise and bird songs disappear, it is just me and the intrigue I have with the exact shape of each tree, its exact relationship with all its neighbors. Each immersed in its own amazing tale of birdsong and bug travels, storm clouds and fairy dust.