Sackloth and ashes

2010_0210FS.JPGA pair of horses, Ruby and Chester, used to live in our neighbor’s pasture. But they are gone; only their nameplates on the fence remain. Some cows called the pasture home for a while, but the price of a calf was too steep to replace them once they were retired to the freezer. Grown over and gorgeous, their acreage this spring turned to a bird sanctuary, one whose growth and development I have been privy to watch, morning after morning.

At least one family of bob-o-links calls it home, their nests somewhere hidden amidst the tall grasses and invisible spiderwebs – the kind of invisible ink that only shows itself when dusted with just the right amount of dew and glimpsed through just the right angle of morning sunlight. Their bubbling chortle rises from the fenceposts, ascending in speed and pitch as it grows, much like a precocious little girl, working up into a frenzy with her excitement to relay some urgent news. The bob-o-links made the trip from South America donning their ridiculous confused tuxedos, and chose this meadow to bed down in; here in Ruby and Chester’s fertile soil to raise a family or four. I’m sure they’ll be moving on soon as their clutches hatch and figure out how to forage for their own food. But for now they are here.

And then there are the meadowlarks. They’re a nice find around here, as so many potential habitats are cultivated and mowed. But we have some. At least two, probably more, have spent their spring vacillating between their nesting grounds in the overgrown pasture and the highest tip of my brother’s tallest tree a quarter mile away. They sing to me every morning, screaming at the top of their tiny little lungs. They are wonderful to watch if you are lucky enough to spy them on the ground, not completely enveloped in foliage. They walk around like sandpipers, a locomotion expected along the shores, but worthy of the Ministry of Silly Walks in my backyard. The meadowlarks are loud and festive, seemingly all the time. They puff out their striking chests and unhinge their beaks to project across their territories. Their song can brighten any day, cajoling one from whatever stupor they are entrenched in, if only they have ears to hear.

The meadowlark mourned this morning. She was not her normal boisterous self. She was not flitting nor anxious, serene nor consoling. She wasn’t in the treetops, but perched atop one fencepost, rooted to the spot. She didn’t sing and swoop down over her nest. She didn’t try out all the nearby posts for fit, only to abandon the perfect one for another perusal of the nest site. She sat on her post, unmoving for the extent of my ten-minute observance, and she trilled low and slow. None of the high-pitched warbling or chitters that she normally throws at the sun. Low and morose.

Yesterday my neighbors, certainly ignorant of their heinous crimes, mowed their pasture. I am fairly certain that nesting season is not yet complete, at least not the second brood. While I know that at least one of the meadowlarks was nesting beyond the diagonal fenceline, in the safe zone – the mow-free territory – it seems that at least one was nesting on the road-side of that barbed-wire border. I never would have believed that a bird would grieve—No. Correction. I never would have believed that a bird would grieve in a recognizable-to-me sort of way. But today, my meadowlark did just that, and I had to take a moment to mourn her loss with her.

Judging by the familiar sounds coming from the bob-o-link patch, well into the safe zone – for now – I would say that my fancily-clad friends there are doing just fine, maybe gathering a small meal to take to their hurting neighbor. I hope their side of the fence is not next in line on the mowing schedule.

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