Saturday, June 29, 2013
Every summer when I was a child, a gray catbird made her nest in the lilac bush that grew near the house. In the early evenings after dinner, my mother would sit on a lounge chair on the screened porch with a book and a tall glass of lemonade and she and the catbird would carry on a conversation.
Belonging to the mockingbird family, gray catbirds make a variety of sounds; the most distinctive is a sharp, catlike meow, easily imitated. For several minutes, Mama and the catbird would amuse themselves by meowing to one another. Finally the bird would break into a complicated song and my mother would give up, laughing.
I've since then associated catbirds with my mother. After Mama's death on a chilly October day, long after all the songbirds had departed, I sat in the yard of my childhood home, thinking of her, missing her. A persistent sound made me look up and there on the nearly leafless lilac bush sat a lone catbird. She called out several times before taking flight. "Mama?" I called after the bird, but there was no answer.
A few years ago, on Mother's Day, I was idly lounging on my board swing, reliving the wonderful day I'd just spent with my daughter and her new little family when a catbird flew to the branch just in front of me and began to sing. I simply sat and stared as the bird serenaded me. Then with a harsh meow it flew off into the underbrush. "Mama?" I called after it? There was no answer, but it seemed possible.
Tonight I was reading in my screened tent when I heard a catbird. She was perched on the top of the far clothesline pole. Meow, she screeched, over and over. "What?" I asked her? She hopped to the near pole, still calling. "Meow," I called back. "Is that you, Mama?"
The little bird became agitated. She flew to the side of the tent and clung to the pole. She dropped to the ground and peered in at me. She flew to the lilac bush that grows near the front door of my cottage, calling the whole time. Finally she darted into the small maple behind the tent and sang her mockingbird song, a string of rapidly ascending and descending notes. I gave up, laughing. Do I still think it's Mama? You bet!
photo by robinsegg at http://www.allaboutbirds.org