Singing Flames

Jim Minick, author of The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family will be giving a reading at Wing Haven on Oct 30, at 10:30.

(For details see Fall & Winter Adult Programs on our main website)

During the summer, when I sleep with windows wide open, the birds rouse and wake me from that other world of sleep. The scarlet tanager starts the chorus around 5:30, then the towhee and indigo bunting, the cardinal and crow. I lay in that waking moment, my own body half in both worlds, drowsy with the journey of pushing myself into the gray dawn.

But the birds are good pushers in this moment, especially the wrens. In the garage, a pair of Carolina wrens has started their second nest of the year, twigs filling a corner shelf. They dart in and out through the open window, singing from the window ledge. And as they wake us with their “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea” song, this pair reminds me of Elizabeth and Eddie Clarkson and their great adventure at Wing Haven. There, like our pair, Carolina wrens entered the human dwelling to make their own.

House wrens with babies also fill a birdhouse near my bedroom window. Papa house wren rouses me more forcefully than any alarm clock. And there’s no button to turn him off. So like it or not, up I get.

During the blueberry season, though, I get up the fastest when I hear the crows. I jump out of bed and wake up Jake and Little B, our shepherd mixed breeds that both know the word “Crow.” I whisper with urgency, “Crow, puppies, CROW,” and we all three race to the door. As I put on shoes, the dogs whine with expectations, jumping up on their back feet. Then I fling open the door and we run the hundred yards through flower beds towards the blueberry bushes. The crows, with their beaks full of a berry breakfast, fly off as soon as they hear the door, but still, the dogs and I run and yell and bark and chase these dark creatures with their magical wings that carry them away.

Even though they eat our blueberries, the crows still light up the morning for me as they soar and caw and cavort. These birds remind me of a favorite image from Mary Norton Kratt’s A Bird in the House, the book about Wing Haven. In the chapter about wrens, Kratt writes, “It was not at all unusual for the Carolina wren to light on the candles in the dining room….” I love that image of the tiny brown body flitting across the elegant white table cloth, its black pebble of an eye shining. It lands on a candle, and in that moment, it becomes a flame that fills the house with song.