I’ve made a whole lot of bird lists over the past twenty years. (Made a BIG one yesterday – see the post in a couple of days.) I’ve got lists for my yard, my neighborhood, for Elkin and Surry County, for Pine Knoll Shores, for NC and a bunch of other states, and then of course the master list, the “life” list. I’ve even gone on a couple of organized trips where a guide would point to the bird and tell you what it was – then you add it to another list. And check it off in your database when you get home.
But among all those lists, among the thousands of data points, for some reason there are some individual birds I never forget. My first Northern Parula – right here in my own backyard, but I waited almost an hour for it to show itself at the tip of the big white oak. The Black-Throated Blue Warbler Mary Ellen and I spotted near Muskrat Creek Shelter on the AT, our last evening together on the trail. The Common Yellowthroat Nancy and I stalked through briars so she could see her first one. On and on. I’m thankful for each creature’s tiny jewelled body. I’m thankful they decided not to conceal themselves forever.
The birds I added to my list during organized trips are just not as memorable as the others (well, maybe the Harlequin Duck bobbing in the surf at the pier in Rodanthe . . .). Am I saying that we treasure most those things we have to work for? Good Puritan ethic! But that’s not exactly it; I guess I would rather say we treasure those things we discover for ourselves. The branches are full of warblers – will I raise my eyes and look?
This is the closing section of my poem Leave and Come Home. My journey as father is about to enter unmapped territory – the mountains and coves of grandfather. Warblers are returning from their wintering grounds to make a new home. How have they found their way? How will Josh and I find ours? Some vast unseen magnetism compels us. Perhaps home has always been, although unnamed and so often unseen, that inner will to discover. Maybe home is always that very thing we hope to find.
. . . . .
Leave and Come Home
Backyard, Elkin, North Carolina
Which one is home: what I know and leave behind
or what I have yet to reach?
May 1st storms all day and night but this bright morning
frees the migrants from their cover – tree limbs fill
with warblers. In an hour they’ll resume their passage north,
but for now they’re willing to reveal themselves
if we have the will to notice.
In a few days Josh will become a father. I watch
the corner of his mouth for a hint of one laconic smile . . .
there it is! He follows a trail of a hundred steps to assemble
my grandson’s crib. Outside the back window
Cardinals jostle at the feeder and
among the poplar blossoms warblers ruffle droplets
from their wings, show off their woodland jewelry,
glean aphids from beech twigs. In the spotlight
Black-Sided Blue preens in formal dress, then flies.
And does he dream of the feast of insects
at his Costa Rican winter grounds or of the nest
he’ll build at Clingman’s Dome? Or is it simply
some vast unseen magnetism, cycle of sun and
circling stars that speak to him to reveal
his home? Point to it, Mom. Or leave
me to discover it myself – home may yet abide
in what we hope to find.
Tomorrow I will lean into that crib compelled
by stars and magnetism, leave for later the unnameable
complexity of color, shape, song, that unspoken
trail that twists between son and father:
into that soft pink ear, I’ll whisper Redbird.
. . . . .
[Leave and Come Home won the 2009 Poet Laureate Award of the NC Poetry Society. In four sections, it reflects some fifty years of being a son and father to a son. Each section covers a different geography, the sighting of a different warbler, and a new phase in our relationship as a family. I posted section 1 on 5/8, section 2 on 5/15, and 3 on 5/22. This is the fourth and final section.]