|catbird by mountaineeraudubon.org|
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 !