Bird Voices


Birds were calling outside my window this morning in  the dark long before I was aware of their sounds. We  hear what we expect to hear, and for so long through  the winter, there has  been the wind, the creek, the  hum of the computer, the yawning dog stretching in his  sleep in the next room, the ticking of the woodstove and no birds.

When bird voices finally broke through winter’s oblivion, I could not name them. That kind of familiarity with the particulars of life outdoors will return soon  enough as I comprehend it: I am no longer alone in a gray-numb world of winter.  First light lures me with my coffee out onto the front  porch.

A comfortable flannel shirt is just enough. Beneath  the raucous sound of the creek, spring hums underground. I feel it through my slippers, through the soles  of my feet.

March wind carries a trace of sweet loam, moves faint red buds gently at the first hint of dawn. March is to June  as early morning is to noon: there is not much color yet in the day, or the year. But the sun will rise. And it will come sooner tomorrow and stay later, every day adding  more tint to the faint dilutions of February.

By late April, the color will be almost more than the eye  can stand, and I will sit down on the front steps all hours  of the day enveloped in a full palette of artist’s colors.  The east sky is pinking up already.

The pasture grass is smooth as a putting green painted  butterscotch, pressed down flat as pancake batter, snow  after snow. Five black crows move erratically back and forth across the field like ice skaters, leaning forward,  arms tight against their sides, gliding in the twin choreography of hunger and curiosity.

…from Slow Road Home ~ a Blue Ridge Book of Days 
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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. This maple tree I see from where I sit here at my desk, and see the red roof of the barn–just off image to the right in this picture– and just the other side of the road (gravel) from our mailbox.

    We get wonderful morning light (eventually) in our valley and on this particular morning the clarity was dazzling. And even in March, there WAS color, even in the drab, dead pasture that all seemed so monochrome for so much of the winter.

    The problem with the lighting consisted of the wide latitude of exposures between the lightest light of the pasture and the darkest dark of the black tree trunk in shadow.

    I used HDR (high dynamic range) techniques to tone down the highlights and amplify detail in the shadows, making for a striking image.

    Thanks for asking. — Fred

  2. Your writing this morning, made me so home sick. But I loved the brief moment of remembering.

    The photo has such a feeling of peace. Nice!

  3. Nice pic and piece. Really resonates with some of my own feelings about the yearned-for return of Spring. I’ve really been enjoying these recent days of sunlight, the return of the geese, crocus, and birds. The ground has thawed and I can get back to some digging-related projects. Viva Spring!

  4. The first robin visited us yesterday. There were deer droppings in the front yard. The forsythia is budding out. And like Fred, I’ll take my coffee on the porch tomorrow morning.