Autumnal: The Birds

A Murmuration of Blackbirds/Dee Puett

Sunday morning, September the second, we saw birds fly by the kitchen window. When the supply of birds should have run out, it didn’t. On and on they flew, half a dozen visible at a time, all of them passing to the north. They were dark, though not dark or large enough to be the usual crows. We guessed from their numbers they must be starlings. Outside I found they had come to rest in my neighbor’s cottonwood trees. We could not see them at first, but their noise—a high-pitched rustling, as of water heard in a dream, made us know to keep looking for them, and after a moment my eyes picked them out, dark leaves among the golden ones. A moment later they took flight again, rushing off to the east this time; but each tree remained full, because the tree beyond it refilled it with more birds even as it emptied. For minutes on end we watched, the same spectacle renewing itself, and then Tracy said, “That’s nature for you. Fascinating, yet boring.”

I had not until this episode realized the cottonwoods had gone gold. Most days I stroll around my back yard, which is defined by pines. They stay the same color. I had to raise my eyes to see the gold flickering like flimsy coins. Now the cottonwoods were rustling at their own lower pitch; it seemed like the same song I’d heard from the starlings, but played on a different instrument. It made me recall that I’d already seen the sumac along the highway reddening. I told Tracy how the change had sneaked up on me, and she smiled in a way that let me know she’d noticed it long ago.

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