A meadow and its family

If you happen to walk past my house heading uphill along the street, going right to the top and continuing past the two large elms that mark the official end of the road, you will be well rewarded for your undeterred progress. For beyond the dark clump of wood lies a gorgeous, green meadow.

Untouched by the council’s civilizing hand, this verdant expanse is a not-very-well-kept secret among the neighbourhood’s residents, although I made the delightful discovery only recently. Many make their way here in the mornings to work off the guilt of recent indulgences; later in the day love, young and old, arrives seeking the serenity of the setting. A few foot-beaten paths run along the contours of the common. Dotted among the tall, waving grass are some benches–put there by some thoughtful soul decades ago and thankfully forgotten by those mysterious beings who keep lists of public furniture.

When the burdens of my vocation become too heavy, or (more commonly) when lethargy towards gainful toil overcomes me, I slip into comfortable footwear, forget to take the house keys, and head to this haven.

The happy absence of lawnmowers and garden pliers has allowed many small animals and birds to make their homes in the grass and shrubbery. Sometimes, if I am quiet and well-behaved, these creatures will allow me to watch them go about their lives. On one such occasion a few weeks ago, I observed a pair of blackbirds at a nest.

The couple had evidently made the decision to increase their tribe somewhat late in the season – it was mid-July already. But no matter, they seemed to think, we still have a few weeks of sunshine. Their parental labours had a hurried air, as though they were trying make up for lost time by working harder and longer. For the two hours that I sat watching, they took turns flying to and from the nest, bringing worms and insects to their three seemingly insatiable offspring.

While the male bird kept guard close to the homestead, the brown and unremarkably plumed female flew along the hedge, stopping on the branch of a holly bush or perching on the boulder by the path to check for unwanted presences, like that of a cat. She always rummaged in the same patch of leaf litter under a large maple, returning with what looked to me like dirt, but was clearly gourmet fare to her ravenous family.

When it was his turn, the glossy black male chose his pickings from a greater variety of sources. He sometimes scratched about under the hedge to find crawly grubs, at other times he hopped around the mossy bole of the oak. Occasionally, he would dive into the grass and disappear from my view, emerging a few moments later with a struggling worm in his bright yellow beak. He didn’t care to give his prey a quick and merciful end, preferring instead to stop at the far end of my bench to watch me awhile to ascertain I meant no harm, before proceeding nestwards.

The untiring efforts of the pair had evidently paid off, for today I saw mother, father and two spotty but nearly full-grown blackbirds hopping about in the same hedge. My earlier investigations had revealed three juniors, but today I saw no sign of a fifth member of the family. Perhaps a magpie or sparrowhawk had had a particularly good lunch sometime.

Nevermind, I said to my somewhat sorrowful heart, as I walked slowly homewards. There are at least two more blackbirds that will sing next spring.

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5 responses to “A meadow and its family

  1. I’ve always wondered how one differentiates the male and the female!

  2. aandthirtyeights: In most birds the female is duller. There are a few species where there is no dimorphism (like crows and mynahs). If you see a pair and one is visibly less colourful, that’s the female. 🙂

  3. There are species where there’s no dimorphism? Oh! Ralph Waldo Emerson was wrong in his essay on “Compensation”: “An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole; as, spirit, matter; man, woman; odd, even; subjective, objective; in, out; upper, under; motion, rest; yea, nay.” (Emphasis mine)

  4. Dimorphism here is only about plumage and such; there are certainly two sexes of crows and mynahs! But if Emerson meant that all species are spilt down the middle in half, then perhaps he was indeed mistaken – natural hermaphrodites exist in a lot of species. And then there are creatures like worker bees, which have no reproductive role.

  5. What a lovely piece! As pleasant as reading Ruskin Bond

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