Monday, May 09, 2011


catbird by
A marvelous thing happened to me on Mother's Day. There's a backstory, of course. I remember as a child listening to my mother whistle to the birds that frequented our yard in the summer. She traded tunes with robins and bluejays, chickadees and starlings, wrens and titmice and warblers, but the bird she talked most often to was a catbird that nested every year in the venerable lilac bush near the front porch.

Most songbirds have different voices. There are soft spring love songs, strident alarm cries and usually one signature bit of sound that allows you to say, "Oh! That's a cardinal!" Or a red-winged blackbird or a goose. The catbird is no exception. Its name stems from its dead-on imitation of a cat wanting to be let in out of the rain.

First thing on a summer morning Mama could be heard conversing with the lilac catbird. "Meow," she'd say and, "Mrrrreow," the catbird would reply.

"I like catbirds," Mama told me. "They're not showy, they're not scavengers, and they're downright friendly."

As I grew up I could not hear a catbird without thinking of my mother. Once I was on my own, every house I lived in had its resident catbird family nesting within hearing distance and I'd smile as I tried conversing with them the way my mother did.

Mama's side of the conversation ended on a late October day, long after all the songbirds had departed for the season. I clearly remember hauling an old summer lawn chair from the porch of her empty house and sitting in the yard in the late afternoon sunshine, mourning her passing. Suddenly there was a rustle in the lilac bush and a sharp mrrrreow. I looked for the cat but what I saw instead was a bird, a sleek, gray, impossible catbird perched on a branch nearest the house. "Mrrrreow," it said, cocking its head. I couldn't help it. Through tears I replied, "Meow." Satisfied, the bird flew off. I lost sight of it in the blue of that October sky.

This past Sunday, Mother's Day, after my youngest daughter and her family had left for home, I sat on the swing that hangs at the entrance to my Secret Path to the farm next door. I swung my feet idly, leaning back to look at the bits of blue visible through the new green leaves. Into my line of vision came a blur of wings and a sudden landing. On a branch directly in front of me and so close I could have reached out and touched it, sat a catbird. I let the swing slow and stop. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Parker the cat approaching. He leapt to the picnic table near the swing and sat like a statue, his eyes on that bird. As if it always sat within a foot of humans and cats to sing, the catbird cocked its head and began a series of soft spring love calls, little tootles and tweets with a bit of tune here and there. I let the tears fall where they would. I listened to the catbird sing and wished with my every cell and atom to understand.

Strange things happen in this world. I am a big believer in coincidence, but like Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, there comes a time when you know it's "a sign." With a last little "Mrrrreow," the catbird flew off and I knew I'd just been treated to magic.

*To hear a catbird's songs and calls, go here, click on the sound button and scroll down. 

Thank you, Hilary !


Judith said...

So beautiful, Pauline!
And of course it was a sign/magic/message from the universe to you.
(As a sign of his great wisdom, it was said that King Solomon could understand the language of the birds.)

Ruth D~ said...

I think maybe you DID understand, hence the tears. Some sentiment needs not be conveyed in words. Beautiful post, Pauline.

Brian Miller said...

ah. big smiles. i know better than to question these moments. special...

Molly said...

What a sweet story! Glad you had a visit from your mom on mothers' day!

Marion said...

Wow. So glad you understand the message, Pauline. What a perfectly beautiful moment and you wrote about it so wonderfully..

I have never seen a catbird; we're too far north. Thanks for the link to his song.

I love magical times like these! xx

Hilary said...

Not a doubt in my mind. More importantly, there's not a doubt in your mind. Beautiful post, Pauline. Magical.

Anne said...

Beautifully written and very moving. I am not much for believing in signs, but I believe deeply in connections. And I miss the catbirds now that I live in the west where there are none.

Anonymous said...

A lovely post. Congrats on your POTW.

slommler said...

That was truly a magical moment indeed!!
Congrats on your POTW

ellen abbott said...

I have a pair of wrens that like to nest in my garage. they raised one little chick this year. I still see it and hear it around the yard calling to it's parents to feed me.

Hilary said...

Beautiful post. Congrats on your POTW.

Jillsy Girl said...

I've got tears in my eyes...hold on a minute so I can wipe them away...alright, I have to tell you about something. I have a challenge going on this month about childhood. I'd love for you to add this post to it. It's so lovely and heartwarming.
If you decide to, you'll see the button for it as you scroll down my blog. You can't miss it. Congrats on this week's POTW...I can fully understand why Hilary chose it.

Out on the prairie said...

The varibles of a catbirds song are amazing. I sing with the birds also.Lovely story, a real heart warmer.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful tribute to your mom's memory - beautifully written! Thank you for sharing and congrats on the POTW. Well deserved. (To my knowledge, I've never heard a catbird! I hope we have them where I live. I'm going to start listening closer.)

Pauline said...

Judith - King Solomon, eh? I was just so astounded that any wild bird would get so close without the aid of a bit of birdseed in my hand and with the added presence of the cat!

Ruth - my Mama would chuckle to think I'd confuse her with a catbird but she'd also chuckle to think she could visit me that way ;)

Brian - the scientific, have-to-know-why part of my brain is in continual battle with the part that believes in such things

Molly - me, too! That's what I've decided to think of the event as :)

Marion - the glow stays with me :)

Ah, Hilary - thank you and thanks, too for the POTW!

Anne - I would miss them too if I could never hear them again. But - and I'm going out on a limb here, I bet my mother would find me no matter where I moved...

Thank you, ladyfi

Thank you SueAnn - glad you stopped by to read :)

Ellen - I have all sorts of birds surrounding my cottage but none of them come as close as this one did.

Thank you for coming to read, and comment, Hilary

Jillsy - thank you. I tried to lik with your May Challenge but the linky thingy said it was out of service

Hi OOTP - it's good to know Mama and I aren't the only ones who talk to birds :)

Barbara - they are unpretentious birds and their cry is unmistakable - I'd always heard their cat-like meow but this was the first time one sang to me!

Cricket said...

I have read some wonderful posts here, but this is, for me anyway, unquestionably the best of the bunch. Simply beautiful.

Congratulations on a well-deserved potw.

herhimnbryn said...

Oh Pauline, you did indeed experience a true 'moment'. Tears too, my dear one. I hope they helped.


TSannie said...

How very very wonderful.

Much deserved POTW.

Cricket said...

Arg... looks like blogger ate my comment, which was, if I remember correctly:

I have read some wonderful posts here, but for me, this one is the pick of the bunch. Congratulations on a well-deserved potw.

Pauline said...

cricket - apparently blogger ate my comment along with yours! thanks to all of you who commented.

Reya Mellicker said...

Wow, what a beautiful post!

Indeed that bird risked its life to bring you a message. I love this.

A shaman friend of mine told me recently that some arctic circle shaman told her we are all descendants of certain ancestors: star, water, stone, bird ... there were others I don't remember.

Clearly Bird is one of your ancestors. Wow.

Pauline said...

Reya - I like the idea of Bird ancestors!