Northern mockingbird. Photo by Calibas.

The mockingbirds are back, and the air is filled with trills and warbles.  A very inventive bird.  My daughter swears she once heard one imitating a car alarm, that ubiquitous  sound of city life. Car alarms and sirens, music for urban ears.

Every February the mockingbirds reappear in the neighborhood, on the tippy-tops of trees, the peaks of roofs, the tallest branches of the tallest bushes, singing their hearts out and lifting the spirits of all but the most crotchety.  I have known a few people who complained about the noise, and there was a James Thurber story about a man who was driven mad by birds singing at night, though it may have been nightingales, but I really like it.

According to the birding website, 10,000 Birds,

Part of the mockingbird’s advantage over other avians is physical; it uses more of the muscles in its vocal organ, the syrinx, than most other passerines [perching birds] do, many more than non-passerines like raptors or waterfowl. But the mockingbird also has a mind for music. It’s been theorized that this species has more brain matter devoted to song memory than most other birds do. Why does the mockingbird sing? The vocal mimicry trait seems to indicate that lyrical flow is an especially potent aphrodisiac in mockingbird circles, although some lonely males warble and whine the whole night through when unable to find a mate.

Actually, I think lyrical flow is a pretty potent aphrodisiac in human circles, too–not that our species doesn’t also have lonesome cowboys who warble and whine through the night.

Driving up to Pt. Reyes National Seashore with my husband yesterday, it was clear that early spring had arrived, with blossoms on some trees and autumn leaves still clinging to others.  But the real sign was the clutches of cyclists, both the pedaling and the motorized varieties. On windy, narrow, mountainous roads, they add a certain challenge to the drive, but we arrived without carnage, had a scrumptious breakfast at the Station House Cafe, then drove into the park, where we took a walk on an easy, fairly level trail through huge oaks, pines, and eucalyptus.

It was splendid to be out in the woods, despite passing some magnificent old oaks toppled onto their sides by Sudden Oak Death, a mold that is wiping out many kinds of oaks and other native species.  I felt so sad, seeing them. Oaks are a part of the landscape here, they’ve always felt like friends.  The rise in Sudden Oak Death may be related to fire control policies, as apparently it is worst in areas that have been protected from fire for long periods.  Another disease is killing the Pacific madrones, their glowing red, papery bark such an integral part of the coast mountain forests, and fire control seems to be implicated in that as well, along with increasing development. The bitter truth we seem to be learning these days is that attempts to control nature often backfire.

We walked about half a mile and came to the park service’s attempt to recreate a Miwok village. The Coast Miwok are the indigenous people of the area, though not many are left. It’s not a very enlightening display, but at least acknowledges their existence. Further on, the trail skirted the edge of horse pastures, the near one occupied by mule deer with their giant, comical ears, the far ones by Morgan horses, a sturdy, compact breed, one of the first developed in the U.S.   We kept meeting riders on the trail and stepping aside for them. One woman pulled her horse aside for us, and I held out my hand for a nuzzle.  There is something so comforting about a horse breathing warm air into your palm and nosing it with her soft muzzle.

By the end, I’d walked a mile–a big deal for me these days, and though I was in a fair amount of pain, it was worth it.  Just knowing I could walk in the big trees and watch the deer and smell the pines made me feel better.  I’m slowly reclaiming bits of my life that I thought might be gone forever–from alcoholism, depression, disability, pain. Baby steps, not giant leaps, but steps nonetheless.  Never say never.

Life is not perfect, however; my team just lost the Superbowl. But I can live with that.

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