May 13, 2008 at 3:26 AMIt is Saturday, amid the drowsy warmth of a sunny California afternoon, and my family and I are doing our respective family things. My husband is in the office, tapping away at the computer while my son Jonathan putters about in the playroom, pausing from time to time to take his play outside. I am upstairs practicing on the violin. A soft breeze from the open windows sends forth fragrant puffs of pine-baked air. Outside next to our patio are pines and manzanita trees that house birds who come to drink at our bird bath. Beyond the patio stretches the San Lorenzo Valley, flanked by tiers of redwoods that rise high into the sky to form the coastal mountain range.
I am practicing a Bach minuet, having recorded the second voice so I can duet with myself. Me and myself, we’re sounding okay. Nice, even. Apparently I am not the only one to think so.
When I hear the whistle from outside I assume it’s Jonathan and one of the whistles he must take outside because it is so loud. But the sound persists beyond Jonathan’s normal attention span. Curious, I pause the recorded Terez and peer around the partition that separates my practice corner from the rest of the room. Through the open screened window I see the source of the noise. It’s not a whistle. It’s a finch (or a finch-like bird). He is on the bedroom’s balcony railing. He is whistling. Loudly.
Birds have perched on the balcony railing before; they have twittered and whistled before flying off. But it has never been like this. He is focused, intent, as he whistles straight at me. His eyes are unblinking, as if he has a message that he must get right, that there will be no second chances for him here.
The finch is serenading me. Well, my violin. Or surely it is the ineffable clarity and beauty of Bach. No matter. He continues to sing out in my direction in that clear, oh-so-loud whistle. I begin to play short phrases in response to him, not daring to break the spell by going back to the music on its stand in my practice corner. I fudge it. He doesn’t seem to mind. I play, he listens, head cocked, then sings back.
It is charming, miraculous. It reminds me of the scene in Shrek where Princess Fiona is singing so beautifully that a bluebird flies over and begins to duet with her. Granted, once Fiona hits a clinker note, the bird, unable to reproduce such a horrific sound, blows up, blue feathers wafting downward. This does not happen to me and my finch partner. I am grateful.
This goes on for over fifteen seconds, a wondrously long time when you’ve got a wild creature singing to you. Then the finch, spying the adjacent picture glass window, flies over to it and bumps into it. He wants to get in. He must get in. He must meet this beloved. He bumps his head against the glass a second time, a third time, before finally accepting the intransigence of the glass. Then he flies away.
I stare at the space long after his departure, transfixed by what has just occurred. Then I run downstairs, crying for my family to come here, come here, there was a bird and he was singing to me. They follow me upstairs in a bemused fashion and I begin to feel a little foolish as I try to explain the impact of it, the magic. And then the finch comes back. “Look!” I cry and as if on command, he begins to whistle again as I play again. An encore performance. Then, like the shy little performer he is, he flits away soon after.
I tell my husband and son the rest, how the finch tried to get into the room, to which my husband responded in the pragmatic fashion that defines him, that the bird merely saw his own reflection and was trying to get closer to his exotic twin. The rationale makes sense to the logical mind. But I know in my heart that the finch just had to get closer to the music. That magic sound, of violin and Bach.
There is no problem here with the birds flying into the windows though. Maybe that has something to do with the cats constantly in the windowsills, staring at "Cat TV"!
I use a basic Peterson Field Guide to identify birds: "Birds of Eastern and Central North America". I bet you can get a decent California-specific, or western edition. It is nice to find out exactly what kind of critic/duet partner you are dealing with...
Oh, that's funny! Thanks for the tip on the field guide - I Googled around on Sunday, looking for a photo of the bird I saw, b/c he is still so clear in my mind, but I never found it. A field guide will do the trick.
Karen - in ten years of living there, it has never happened (to that window) before. It's in a hard to reach spot (second floor, away from balcony), so we'll probably let it go. Maybe I should open the screen window instead, next time I play Bach. : )
It reminds me of a time when a friend was playing for a group of chickens (okay--it only sortof reminds me--your story was lovely; this one was just silly). But they were TOTALLY responding to her--getting all worked up and squawking rhythmically and flapping their wings. They never tired of it either. All of us spectators laughed ourselves silly, and I'd NEVER seen chickens so alert and focused.
Too bad my dog is mostly indifferent (kids too, for that matter).
Laurie - loved the comment on the narcissism. Confession time: I practice in front of a mirror at least 50% of the time. Only to observe if I've got correct form, mind you! (And to be humbled by the sight of my double chin on the chinrest... ugh!)
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