An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of February 9, 2014
issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center
in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas,
on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

WAXWINGS & ROBINS

Cedar Waxwings in a wintry tree

That morning with a cold front blowing in it was a hard ride up the canyon, and I was peddling right into it. Wind howled through trees and tall grass and there was even a little sleet, but I needed to check something at a certain spot. By the time I got there my legs were wobbly, my face and fingers were numb from the cold, and I was sweating beneath my shirt, an unhealthy combination, and probably I'm lucky that I seldom get around people, else after this I'd probably get a cold.

Leaning the bike against a tree before heading to the spot, I heard them: Robins calling all around, dozens of them, their springy, melodious phrases "cheerily, cheeriup, cheerio, cheeriup" repeated again and again like contented babbling of little kids. The mingled voices were so unexpectedly sweet and musical amidst all that blustery darkness that I just stood in the middle of the gravel road listening as wind blew dust in my face.

Motion was everywhere, robins flying up from and back into dense scrub, and smaller, much more numerous birds, Cedar Waxwings, in diffuse clouds drifting from one wind-convulsed treetop to another, generally heading into the wind, visually ornamenting and starkly contrasting with the mellow, stereophonic robin chorus. The effect was so stunning that forgetting my task I lay in weeds beside the road to listen, looking up into leafless, reticulating branches where at least a hundred waxwings perched silhouetted against low-scudding storm clouds like music notes in a score. A few of the waxwings are shown at the top of this page.

At first I lay thinking how alike the waxwings and I were, both immersed in and charmed by effervescing robin calls but then gradually the tone-bubbling took me back to not long ago, into the hut in the Yucatan where in February Clay-colored Robins similarly serenaded, and I remembered how in that hut at this very robin-singing season sometimes I awaited a friend while Rachmaninoff played on the computer, remembered the raw urgency of the waiting, the beauty of it, the burning feeling in the music, and then the waxwings began drifting away and the robin calling diminished, and a certain bright patch formed amidst the overcast.

So, the waxwings and I were unlike, for no waxwing can ever resonate with such memories of a tropical hut under the spell of singing robins, and the waiting for a friend amidst searing, minor-key strains of Rachmaninoff.

And yet, who am I to say what waxwings think or what feelings move them? For, see how they obsessively cluster together with a sense of community I shall never experience. See how they address the storm from the highest limbs, facing directly into the wind, while I shelter among weeds on the ground. Something within them makes their approach seem right to them, just as something within me directs me into shelter among low weeds.

How astonishing that all this takes place in an obscure little canyon in a fairly random corner of the world, where on a certain morning nothing is happening other than a cold front moving through, bringing dark clouds and wind. Facebook Icon.