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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day 18 Outdoors: Meadow at Daybreak

Wednesday, May 23, 5:50 - 7:00 a.m.

Before daylight the bird chorus began. There is a bank of cloud on the horizon to the east, dark, but low enough that the sun will clear it only slightly later than its light would otherwise reach the meadow. Near the ground cool air stirs gently. It is a morning for looking, watching, seeing; for listening and hearing; for feeling the air in all its subtle movement. For being here.

The meadow was a hayfield for a long time. One summer a decade or more ago it was a cornfield, but since then it has simply been a meadow. It is uncultivated but somewhat managed. One corner seeded with native wildflowers, a strip seeded with native grasses, it is bordered on two sides by young orchard, on one side by wooded bank above the no-name creek, and the fourth side by old farmyard and popple grove. The autumn olive is kept at bay by persistent effort. The meadow was mowed last year, in early summer, but nature wants it to be woods again. Deep-rooted alfalfa, dark green and healthy, persists in spotty clumps through the grass, as do last year’s dry goldenrod, milkweed, and Queen Anne’s lace, but there are also, far out from the more recently seeded areas, wild grapevine, clumps of red osier, and seedlings of maple, black walnut, and box elder. Once in a while a pine seedling appears.

Sounds sort themselves out spatially: rooster to southwest, woodpecker to the east, crows off in the distant south, traffic to the west. Nearer, in the silver maples of the farmyard, robins sing. After a while, though, all other sounds become background to one nearby chik-chik-chik. A very plain sound. The sparrow uttering the dry note perches on a brittle stalk of last year’s milkweed and balances with continual small adjustments, so that any still photograph or drawing of this little bird would be false. Its tail and wings flick constantly, and the bird itself looks about and changes position incessantly, never still for two consecutive moments. Streaky chest, black breast patch. A song sparrow but only giving its repetitive call note. Too early for singing?

Light increases, reaches higher, the dark cloudbank giving way to diffuse, trailing scarves. As at dusk, the cool air rises from the ground, and the breeze gains momentum with the rising sun, as if eager to be in motion after the stillness of night.

Another small bird on another dry milkweed, this one surprisingly more musical than the song sparrow, keeps its head tucked down between choruses but stretches its head, beak upward, to trill its song. These birds have no idea how tiny they are and how big the world is, but the world of this small meadow is all-sufficient to the break of day--the cool morning air, a clump of young black walnut, a nervously twitching sparrow, another bird’s throaty, trilling song, and the clouds evaporating by degrees as the sun clears the tops of the trees.


Dawn said...

...sigh...this is beautiful.

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks, Dawn. The meadow grasses are tall and heavy with seed, and the meadow dances with bees and butterflies. Hayfield out by the highway was mowed yesterday for the first time. I will be having the meadow mowed soon.