Still dark at 6 a.m. when I take my short, mile-and-a-half walk beneath the budding red maples and sprouting Bradford pears of my neighborhood streets. Up ahead, a car with
Still dark at 6 a.m. when I take my short, mile-and-a-half walk beneath the budding red maples and sprouting Bradford pears of my neighborhood streets. Up ahead, a car with dimmed headlights stops and starts, flashing intermittent brake lights: The newspaper carrier is leaving the warmth of his car to hand-deliver the paper to the front doorsteps instead of pitching it from his window the way you might expect. At this early hour, I’m the only one who sees this act of kindness, and I wonder if he knows how much the residents here appreciate it, how there are neighbors who need the convenience of a newspaper delivered to the threshold of their door or the eave of their porch, a welcome arrival.
By the time I make my way back to the house, the darkness has lifted with the first hint of light in the sky. Occasionally, I’m rewarded with the reds and corals and pinks and apricot and cantaloupe of spring- time sunrises, hues that emerge slowly and deepen into a brilliant swipe across the sky, but even on days when that doesn’t happen, the feather in the cap of my morning is always — can’t resist — the opening trills, the coos and chirrups and warbles and whistles of birdsong, notes that start slowly and swell into an ensemble, an a cappella performance that never fails to lift my mood, to buoy my spirit. A welcome arrival.
I pay attention to the birds.
A few years ago — and, oh, how I hate to bring this back up — in a photo essay in the pages of this magazine, I misidentified a picture of a common redheaded woodpecker by calling it a rare sighting of an endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. I promise you, my mistake did not go unnoticed, and within days, I was inundated with letters and corrective phone calls.
Thankfully, most readers forgave me, but even now, I remain mortified by the error, and shortly after that mistake, I went out and bought myself a squirrel-proof, 10-pound-seed- capacity bird feeder, which I hung from a crookneck pole right outside my kitchen window.
Every morning, sausage in the skillet and scrambled eggs and buttered toast on my plate, I have breakfast and watch for the birds that also come to feast on sunflower chips and shelled peanuts at their feeder. On Sundays, when I have more time, I spread out a laminated, foldable field guide called Birds of North Carolina, identification for 157 songbirds, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, shorebirds, waterfowl, doves, and owls, and I take note of whatever lands here.
I’ve had a profusion of Carolina wrens, which I know from their cinnamon bellies, and tiny Carolina chickadees, which I love for their contrasting black caps and white cheeks. I’ve been visited by goldfinches and warblers, bluebirds and robins, nuthatches and catbirds, and, certainly, northern cardinals, both the brown females and the dazzling red males, and I cannot imagine the landscape of our state without the spectacle of these birds, without the honor of their presence.
On mornings when there are no birds, there’s usually a hawk circling overhead, tracking something from the woods nearby, and I get anxious, awaiting their return. I think of what it must’ve been like 100 years ago, when the now-extinct Carolina parakeet, with its copious 14 tailfeathers, kept company with our avian entourage, and I worry that one day, I’ll have missed my chance to finally see that red-cockaded woodpecker.
I hold out hope that one day it’ll come, and I’ll be grateful for such a welcome arrival.
Editor in Chief