It’s the first sound I hear in the morning, before the coffee maker clicks on and steam spatters against the hot burner, before a squirrel patters across the roof: the
It’s the first sound I hear in the morning, before the coffee maker clicks on and steam spatters against the hot burner, before a squirrel patters across the roof: the sharp, high, clear-whistled voice of an American robin, perched somewhere outside my window, just before sunrise. He’s there every day, his sweet song rising with the first light, his lilt nudging me awake, his bright, fluty notes lifting my heart.
By the time I’m outside for my morning walk, the sky has lightened, and the robins have been joined by wrens, Carolina chickadees, and white-throated sparrows, these tiny birds trilling with their whole hearts and filling the morning with a symphony of sound, a full choral concert. Nature’s ode to joy.
I’ve heard these songs all my life, familiar notes that never seem to change. On spring weekends, before my grandmother called me in for lunch, uprooting me from the hammock in her backyard, I’d listen to the bluebirds that were drawn to her garden for the flowering dogwood trees and for the birdbaths that she always kept filled. On quiet summer evenings, just before dusk, we’d catch the soothing coo of a mourning dove.
In later years, when I’d help her walk to Asheboro Friends Meetings for the Sunday service, we’d stop often so that she could catch her breath. Holding onto my shoulder for steadiness, she’d look up, hopeful, her eyes scanning the treetops, the skies. Or maybe beyond; I was never sure.
Then we’d hear it — the pew-pew of a Northern cardinal perched on a branch of the church’s magnolia tree. He sang every Sunday, as if he’d been waiting there for an audience.
My grandmother loved hymns, and it’s only now, when I hear the songs of her beloved birds, that I recall the lines she loved best: Each little flower that opens/Each little bird that sings, from “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” And this one: When through the woods and forest glades I wander/And heard the birds sing sweetly in the trees, from “How Great Thou Art.”
Then sings my soul, indeed.
I think of the birds that converged on my parents’ backyard: goldfinches and red-bellied woodpeckers and brown-headed nuthatches, attracted to the feeders full of sunflower seeds, millet, and peanuts; enticed by the nesting houses and roosting boxes that my dad built. I remember how he stood at the kitchen window in the mornings, stirring sugar into his coffee and watching a flock of birds flitting outside, proud to have created such a safe and hospitable place, such a welcoming environment.
No matter where I go in North Carolina — a walk through a longleaf forest in Southern Pines or a rose garden in Wilson; a trek along a trail at Grandfather Mountain or a visit to Fort Fisher — the birds are always there, too, singing, calling, cooing, peeping, chirping, their voices perennial, perpetual, a ceaseless reminder that I, too, am home.
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