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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Redwinged Blackbird

When I was in my early teens we lived at a crossroads.  You could go five miles west to one town, three miles north to a second town or six miles east to a third town.  In other words I lived in the center of nowhere.  During the spring and summer one of my favorite pastimes was to walk the mile to the Cocklebur ditch and go fishing or just hang out.  We were poor farm laborers and other than raising chickens to eat, which we raised from the egg, the fish I caught in the ditch was about the only meat available unless I could trap or shoot a rabbit once in a while.  My mother saw my trips to the Cocklebur ditch as adding to our diet.

One spring day as I was walking along the side of the highway I noticed this Red-Winged Blackbird.  How can you keep from noticing something that flies over you and then continues to hover there.  This type of bird will try to attract your attention to itself so you won’t notice its nest.  Now I had grown up with this type of bird around every summer so there was nothing exceptional about this particular one except that I noticed that it had a feather missing from its right wing leaving a very noticeable space when it hovered over me. The bird had nothing to fear from me since we didn’t eat black birds and we definitely didn’t eat their eggs.  All spring and summer I observed this particular bird because of the space in its wing as it would hover over me as I walked along.  It wasn’t the only Red-Winged Blackbird that lived along that stretch of road but all of the rest of them looked alike with nothing to distinguish one from another.  He or she was very distinctive.  This type of bird is migratory so when late fall and winter came I continued my walk to the ditch to fish but there was no Red-Winged Blackbird to keep me company on my walk.

The next spring was a carbon copy to the last one for me.  I guess when you look back after more than fifty years they all really seem to be very much the same except for those few outstanding occurrences that cause you to remember a particular time.  The astonishing thing that created this memory for me was that my Red-Winged Blackbird was back.  Nesting in the same little tree, in the same spot, I know because the same feather was still missing from the same wing. This sent me to the library to discover that migratory birds generally return to the same place each year.  However I had thought that if you pulled a feather out of a birds wing it would grow back.  My Mom informed me that was generally true unless the feather socket is damaged.  She had experienced this with the chickens she had raised.  So I knew I had the same Red-Winged Blackbird and it seemed very special to me that the same bird would fly over me all spring and summer each year.  It seemed almost like every time I walked to the Cocklebur ditch I would be met by a friend.

Eventually the bird didn’t return.  Your guess of what happened to it is as good as mine, but each year I would look for it as spring began.  It was my friend for four or five seasons.  To me it is one of those memories which reminds me of the slow easy times of spring and summer, walking along in my own world as I headed for my favorite pastime, fishing.  It dates that particular period in my life and gives me a nail to hang my memories on.

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