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May 20, 2006
As spring greens up in the Connecticut River Valley, the avian choir – absent and so missed throughout the winter – is tuning up each morning with a vengeance. Depending on the time one awakes (or stumbles to bed), the sometimes melodious, sometimes raspy voices of our native birds can be heard, heralding the coming day.

Most of my remembered childhood was spent a half mile from the ocean and just up the street from a sprawling salt marsh interspersed with dryish patches and trees. The marsh was home to a veritable zoo of creatures - mice and voles, deer, skunks, possums, rabbits.

Foxes, raccoons, woodchucks. Toads and frogs, turtles and diamondback terrapins. Crickets, praying mantis, spiders, mosquitoes and others from the innumerable insect tribe. Nearer to the meeting of the marsh and sea were crabs and flounder, worms and mollusks.

And the plant life! A stunning mix of phragmites – those tall and graceful reeds who wear their feathered headdresses so proudly – marsh grasses, some growing right out of the water, flowering shrubs and plants such as wild roses, marsh mallow, cattails with their plump and phallic brown heads that some of the more adventurous boys would smoke - we called them  punks - trees and mosses and lichens and who knows what-all. The marsh was a botanical wonderland full of surprises.

But my favorite residents of the marsh were the feathered ones – quail, pheasants released to be hunted that had fortunately escaped the hunter’s bullets and lived to populate the marsh, red-winged blackbirds, grackles and chickadees in the trees, owls large and small, sparrows, bobolinks, meadowlarks, Canada geese, who stayed year-round, sandpipers and egrets on the edges of the grasslands bordering the streams lazily meandering to the sea, and if you were quiet and lucky, you might catch the occasional glimpse of the elusive great blue heron. And of course, whenever there was a storm blowing in off the sea, gulls would wing their graceful way in over the marsh and the houses nearby, screaming out their harsh warning about the approaching rain.

I no longer live near a salt marsh. In fact, through some devious and underhanded wheeling and dealing, a large part of my beloved marsh was eventually drained, filled and covered over by semi-detached residences built to attract and accommodate the hordes of city invaders who, tired of the hot concrete of New York City summers, yearned for what they thought of as “the country” and streamed into little Connecticut in great swarms, willing to pay any price for a smidgen of lawn and a place to plant azaleas as long as their bucolic paradise wasn’t so far away that they couldn’t rush right back into the city Monday through Friday for work.

Today this development would not be allowed to be built. But back in the innocence of the late 60’s and early 70’s, mired in worries about gas prices (hah! - here we are again) and Vietnam, ordinary everyday people in my neighborhood didn’t pay much attention to the environment and the rapacious greed of unprincipled developers who would pave over a cemetery with their entire family lying in it if they thought they could make a buck.

But wait – this is not a diatribe about destroying the environment that protects and nourishes us as well as the other living entities of the earth. This is a paean to the song of spring, the dawn chorus of living jewels who dart from bush to tree to feeder back to bush, pausing here and there to welcome the day with joyous voices.

The songs of the residents of the salt marsh and other birds in the neighborhood that thrilled me throughout my growing up – causing my skin to tingle and my heart to feel that it would burst out of my chest for happiness - are still with me. I never knew what song belonged to what bird until I was much older, but it was these remembered and well-loved sounds that impelled me, decades later, to buy bird books and learn which feathered friend was making what sound. And so I discovered that I loved the soft, burry “kkkronk” of the red wing, the rising and falling notes of the chickadee in mating season, the melodious trill of the meadowlark and the metallic &ldquopkkk” of the titmouse. Avidly I began to watch for birds so I could listen to and later identify their particular greetings.

This morning I awoke to the robust warble of a lone male chickadee searching for a mate. I lay in bed, fully awake but with closed eyes, and heard in my head the myriad songs of the birds of my salt marsh. I marveled that with the passing of time, I still know the individual voices of so many birds that for years enchanted me with their morning greetings. At night, when I hear a soft hoot in the woods next door, I know an owl is on the hunt. Even the grating screech of the blue jay is a welcome intrusion into my day, for I know that as long as we have birds, the earth is not so dead that we still can’t work to save what is left of the marshes and forests, savannahs and veldts, steaming jungles and seashores, plains and tundra and steppes.

I would not wish to inhabit a world without the cacophony of birds to greet the sun and echo in the dark velvet of the night. The silence that would be left behind would be deafening. The rodents and amphibians kept in check by the great night hunters would overrun their habitats. The insects not eaten by swallows and other bug-eaters would overwhelm us. I praise Rachel Carson, who noticed that we were killing off our birds and other creatures by carelessly spraying DDT over our landscape. Her tireless work enlightened a generation and helped stave off a potential environmental disaster of disastrous consequences. Because of her intervention, bluebirds are once again beautifying Connecticut. Indigo buntings live on the edge of the forest across the river. Osprey and bald eagles are not so uncommon residents here still, and wild turkeys wander in my yard pecking up the dried corn I toss out by the bird feeders.

So come, feathered ones large and small, sweet-voiced and screechy. Enrich my life with your beauty and music. Remind me of the golden days when the future loomed bright and beautiful and the worries and anxieties of life were an unknown burden yet to be encountered.

©2006 RC deWinter

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Posted: May 20, 2006 12:09am
Apr 16, 2006
Aside from the fact that I do not subscribe to Christian theology anymore, I have always hated Easter, even when a practicing Catholic. Want to know why?

It seemed that every single year - although I don't think this can be true - I was deathly ill on Easter Sunday. I don't know if my illnesses were an allergic reation to the Easter Bunny or simply the bad luck to have contracted some sickness that manifested itself just as surely as Christians believe that Christ rolled the stone away. All I know is that Easter carries the memories of throwing up, sweating in high fevers, itching from German or regular measles, the pain of mumps, etc.

Even when I was all grown up I have frequently been ill on Easter. The year - 1991. My then-husband Chris and I invited my widowed mother to visit us that weekend so we could treat her to a fabulous dinner at the Griswold Inn (if you're ever in the neighborhood of Essex, CT you MUST go there!). Eben was three-and-some and we looked forward to putting him in his cute little jacket, short pants and bowtie for the special occasion. (Yeah, I did that stuff occasionally).

My mother showed Saturday night so we could enjoy an early Easter breakfast all together before heading to the Gris for a fabulous afternoon feast. ALAS - I awoke with an unhappy stomach that soon had me gripping the edges of the great porcelain god, wishing I was dead and buried. So - off went my husband, son and mother to this special dinner while I "relaxed" on the sofa, eyes closed, room spinning, with the shades and curtains drawn and a large pot next to me on the floor.

I hope some of you have better Easter memories that you'd care to share...

P.S.: Oh, okay - I DO remember one Easter that I loved and we have an ancient photograph to commemorate it. My mother, a fabulous seamstress, made me an Easter dress to wear that I remember with love. It was the 50's, so of course I was wearing a crinoline or two underneath, and naturally, patent-leather Mary Janes and short, folded-over, scallop-edged white silky dress-up socks.

But the dress - the dress! The top was soft buttery yellow velveteen, and the sash around my waist was black velvet. The skirt was the best part, though - beautiful white silk organza dotted all over with black, white and yellow bumblebees. At four years old, this was the dress of a princess -

or perhaps a Queen ?
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Posted: Apr 16, 2006 5:36am


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RC deWinter
, 5
Middletown, CT, USA
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