from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
February 3, 2002
CAROLINA WRENS BEGINNING AGAIN
Despite the chilly weather this weekend, most of the week has been unseasonably warm and humid. Peas in my garden are growing like weeds and birds are getting frisky.
The most conspicuous among these hormone-saturated birds are the same two Carolina Wrens I've mentioned before dust-bathing in my kitchen where the doodlebugs congregate. While I'm sitting in my trailer working at the computer, right outside my screen door I hear a beseeching little squeaking sound, and its one of the wrens making ingratiatingly domestic sounds as the partner examines this or that spot as a potential nesting site. They nose about my fireplace, pots and pans, and snoop in every disreptable corner.
I've had to clean their nest-straw from my laundry bag, the plastic popcorn-bag hanging from the ceiling, and the pockets of a coat hanging from a nail. This will go on until they decide to nest in the box I've put up for them. It's always like this. They seem to hold my box in little esteem, building test-nests there but every other place as well, and then one morning the female will be in the box working on her first egg.
These wrens have been here as long as I have. As soon as I put up the kitchen they moved in as if they had every right to be there. I've lost count of the years I've been here -- four or five, I think. However, only last spring did I begin recognizing each bird as an individual with its own personality and it's own physical characteristics.
At that time the female was large and self assured but the male was small and nervous -- almost cowardly. Then one night as I was sleeping not far from where they were overnighting between broods, in a plastic jug I'd put up for them, I heard one of them screaming, and there was heavy thumping inside the jug. I figured the Black Racer snake that had been hanging around (and still is) had got himself a wren, and that was probably a good guess. The next morning as soon as there was light enough to fly the little male rushed from beneath my trailer issuing his emergency call, and the female was gone.. Each morning at dawn for about a week, for a good fifteen minutes, he did the same thing, his emergency call again and again, flitting from place to place looking, looking...
Then one day he came in with another female, one about his size, but this time he was the leader, and she was the timid one. They got a nest going in no time and soon everything was back to normal.
Now the female is about as large and self confident as the male, and they are both substantial birds, as far as Carolina Wrens go, substantial both in physical and behavioral terms. They are a good pair, and I think that they will put on a good show this season. I suspect that you will hear a lot more about them.
If you are unfamiliar with what a Carolina Wren looks and sounds like, go to http://birds.cornell.edu/birdhouse/bird_bios/speciesac counts/carwre.html
Friday as I returned from the gardens on my bike I rounded a corner and there stood a deer in the middle of the road. Now, I see deer every day, sometimes lots of them, but this sighting was different. First, the deer was in a vulnerable spot, in the middle of the levee across the bayou, with no quick escape handy. Second, the deer just looked at me for a few seconds before leisurely prancing away.
"Of course," I said to myself. "Deer season ended yesterday... "
Actually, the hunting-with-guns season ended a few weeks ago, but archery hunting and hunting with primitive weapons ended only Thursday, and that's when our hunters departed. Squirrel, rabbit and Bobwhite Quail season continues through February. Later there are seasons for Wild Turkey, raccoon, opossum, bobcat and frogs. It is a relief to me that these hunters are gone.
You might wonder just how much the hunters antagonize me.
It is true that it gives me the creeps being around people who enjoy killing animals. Yet I cannot say that I prefer the presence of a member of the consuming masses, who can fork over money for "meat" at the grocery store without ever a moment's reflection on the animal who has supplied the flesh.
Some of the plantation's open areas are thick with False Garlic, a native wildflower about a foot tall with grasslike leaves topped by penny-sized white flowers in flat-topped clusters of three to several blossoms. False Garlic is NOTHOSCORDUM BIVALVE, a member of the Lily Family, and it is indeed very closely related to onions and garlics. It arises from an onionlike bulb, but it doesn't have an oniony odor. You can see a pretty picture of the plant's flowers at http://www.renyswildflowers.com/allfiles/990329.html
I like these plants despite their being regarded by many as rank weeds. In some places they are called Crow Poison and are considered toxic to livestock that eat them. I've heard that people who eat the bulbs get stomach cramps.
But, walking across a lawn thick with their pretty flowers on a sunny, breezy day, that's a happy time for a barefoot hermit.
ODOR OF YELLOW JESSAMINE
Near my trailer Yellow Jessamine, GELSEMIUM SEMPERVIRENS, climbs into young Sweetgum trees, letting a few of its bright yellow, foxglove-like blossoms dangle fairly low. Saturday afternoon after a long hike in the cool sunlight I passed by this plant and of course I had to take a sniff.
Though the odor was almost timid, for a moment it hit me like a good kick in the stomach -- the mingling of sparkling sunlight, fresh air and this unexpectedly sweet perfume evoked a practically suffocating half-second-long pang of romantic yearnings and memories. In that half second pure Eros tinged with poesy and "music of the spheres" rampaged through my soul like all the redneck hounds of Hell.
This is one of the problems with being a hermit, of keeping things simple for long periods of time: Little things like incidental flower-whiffs can knock you flat. If I had been nibbling cellophane-wrapped K-Mart candy all morning, or if lately I had been indulging my libidinousness, that Yellow Jessamine flower's odor would hardly have registered.
This experience recalls one of my theories. And that is that, in the end, most people who lead lives of regular lengths usually end up amassing pretty much the same measures of the world's pleasures and pains, its ecstasies and anguishes. If a life lacks down-home sensuality, then more ethereal satisfactions blossom out of nowhere, and vice versa.