It was a beautiful late afternoon yesterday, so after all our work, we decided to spend some time on our patio, just enjoying what we thought would be a quiet Saturday afternoon. The lawnmowing for the season hasn’t started yet, so the sounds of riding lawnmowers (John Deere’s are the loudest!) hasn’t quite started to fill all the nice parts of days, and the North Dakota State Bison were playing football, so that meant probably 75% of the homes in Fargo had “the game” turned on, so not much outside noise. It was too early in the day to grill, so that noise was also eliminated. It was just going to be a nice, gentle, sunny time – the kind you always hope for. Not even the wind was more than a whisper, so different from the 50mph blowing that happened Thursday and Friday.
Spring really is a lovely time to live in the Red River Valley of the North. Especially in those years when there is no threat of flooding, the air does warm up quickly, and the mosquitoes and flies are still somewhere else, at least for another month. So, with the cushions out and sunglasses on, we sat down just to enjoy some time. We even were treated to the sight of a huge bald eagle circling the sky about a block away. I’m not sure you get to see that just anywhere…
However, it didn’t take more than a minute or two to realize something was amiss. I’ve mentioned before that we have five wonderful huge Spruce trees in our backyard that creates kind of a sanctuary for us – it’s really beautiful. However, the trees are not just there for our visual pleasure. We have found, over the last five summers, that they also function as a kind of time-share condominium complex and enterprise for many different types of birds that apparently rent out the branches and make their nests, drop their eggs, and grow the next crop of baby birds throughout a good part of the summer. Blackbirds come first, then robins, then sparrows and doves, then finches and chickadees and juncos and almost any kind of bird that makes it this far north and likes to roost in a tree. Ducks will spend time walking in the backyard, but they aren’t too good for trees.
Well, as much as I enjoy the beautiful lilting sounds of chirping birds, that was not happening yesterday. In the midst of an afternoon quiet from human noise (only the occasional plane flying over on its way to the airport), we were instead bombarded with the chorus of blackbirds, all busy trying to find their rooms and bring their luggage up in the spruce trees. Honestly, it sounded like the worst kind of spring break… If you have ever spent any time listening to black birds, you know that as a species, they have never spent any money on singing lessons. I expect we have 60 or 70 blackbirds trying to spend a few weeks in our trees, and yesterday, it sounded like all of them were talking at the same time… “Hey Jimmy! Long time no see! How was your winter? Nice trees, eh? Know where to find some good food around here? Doing anything later? Do you know which floor the cute girl birds are staying?” Actually, I looked up the Latin name for blackbird, and it is – I kid you not – Turdus merula. I don’t think I’ll say anymore about that, except that in our backyard yesterday, the name was pretty fitting.
They squawked and attempted to sing, each one of them trying to out shout the other one. They were joined by another contingent of blackbirds hanging out in the trees next to our, all of them squawk-singing as well. Every now and then, for some reason (if they were college students, it would look like they were making a beer run) a huge chunk of the population would come ripping out of the trees, all talking at the same time, and no one listening to another. If they were driving cars, they would have had their radios blasting with huge speakers installed in the trunk, just to get attention.
The sound would rise and fall, but it never got quiet. Not for even five seconds. It sounded like we were at a blackbird professional sports arena, and everyone trying to buy hot dogs or something. You’d have though their little throats would get tired of making such a horrible racket, but apparently they are well-trained to sing what I call the “raucous opera.” The only trouble is, the score did not include a single aria or solo – it was all just a massive noisy chorus, sung over and over like a song in an Irish pub.
Well, after a while, it was getting time to cook some brats on the grill – and the noise continued. I fired up the gas grill, put the brats on – and the noise continued. I finished cooking the brats, took them off, turned off the grill – and they never stopped squawking. They are those kinds of neighbors you hope you never live next to, and pity the folks that have that din 24 hours/day.
The only good news is that we know spring break will be over for the blackbirds in about 2-3 weeks, and then the robins will settle in. They at least have a varied song portfolio – and they will stop now and then…
But that’s spring in North Dakota – if the worst thing for us is that we have a huge population of Turdus merula for a few weeks, it just fine, and kind of funny. I just never thought I would have to wear earplugs to sit out on the patio…
Word for the day: cacoethes. Pronounced ka-ko-EE-thees. It’s actually a Greek rooted word, and as you might guess, it’s up to no good. From the two words kakos, which we have met before, meaning “bad,” and ethos, another known noun, which actually means “habit.” A cacoethes is the itch to do something, and usually, it’s the insatiable urge to do something that is really unadvisable. You’re going to get in trouble, so don’t throw that rock at the hornet’s nest. Put that stuff from the store down – it doesn’t belong to you. Certainly the second half of the Ten Commandments are meant to help us avoid cacoethes, but unfortunately, sometimes the desire is simply overwhelming. Still, just because you think you want to do something doesn’t make it a good idea…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.