Three weeks ago, Richard and I listened to an amorous chorus of spring peepers out the open door of our motel on the west edge of the Denver Metro area, a wavering tide of frog voices persistent enough to be heard over the muted roar of traffic on Interstate 70 in the background. When the sounds of the community of nature make themselves heard over the din of humanity in an urban area, my spirits lift and my heart swells. I feel more at home in the company of all of nature than in an environment where only humans predominate.
(To my ear, human machines simply make noise, not sounds that are restful or peaceful. Nature’s sounds beat with the same rhythm of life itself, and research shows that exposure to these sounds can actually lower our blood pressure and stress levels, and promote health in a variety of subtle and not so subtle ways. The machine-made sounds we generate, however, tend to trigger our adrenaline system, raising our heartbeats and often signaling our fight or flight alarm responses. Researchers are beginning to consider human-generated noise a pollutant for those reasons.)
Last night, we were back in the same motel as part of another trip to the Denver Metro area. The itinerary for this trip illustrates how crazy my life is now. We drove up Tuesday night for the Colorado Author’s League annual awards banquet. I won an award last year, but couldn’t go to the banquet. This year, I was half of the awards committee–along with the committee chair, mystery writer Chris Goff–so I wanted to be at the banquet to support Chris and celebrate the winners. Yesterday we spent the day touring retirement communities with my parents. Today began at the VA Medical Center where Richard got a CT scan in preparation for his next bladder cancer checkup. This afternoon is a meeting with The Nature Conservancy for a project I’m working on. This evening, it’s the Jim and Susan Show at Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where Jim and I speak to a nearly sold-out crowd on touring Colorado via the state’s scenic byway system from our book, Colorado Scenic Byways. Tomorrow we go home….
When we opened the door of our motel room last night to let in some fresh evening air, the sounds that carried over the muted roar of traffic on I-70 weren’t spring peepers. Those chorus frogs have already mated and moved on to the business of scarfing down insects to rebuild their body-fat stores for winter. (These tiny frogs need to tank up just as insect populations are cranking up for summer, making the frogs’ appetites timely and an important part of nature’s natural pest control services.)
What we heard instead of the chorus of peepers was the Churr-ee! Churr-ee! call of red-winged blackbirds, returned from tropical wintering grounds to northern cattail marshes, where they will mate and raise families. We couldn’t see the sleek black males with their flashy red and yellow epaulets, but we could certainly hear them declaring their summer territories and their desirability as mates from the cattails along the edge of the ponds just over the ridge. Their vocal, repetitive calls made me smile. Biologists interpret male red-winged blackbird calls literally: “I am here! This is my place! See how bright my feathers are, see how well-fed I am! Come mate with me!”
When I hear the red-winged blackbird chur-ee chorus, I hear a declaration of the season and a reminder to stop, pay attention, and not let the days slip by unappreciated. To me, those brash calls say: “Summer is coming!” “Seize the day!” “Celebrate!”
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Over the next couple of weeks, two authors will visit this space on blog book tours. Both are members of Women Writing the West, a top-notch professional organization of writers whose work portrays the West, historical, contemporary, real or imagined. First up is Heidi Thomas, a resident of Washington state whose heart lives in the Sweetgrass Hills area of central Montana, where she was raised on a ranch as a child. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, a story based on the life of her rodeo-riding grandmother, was just released by Treble Heart Books. Heidi’s post on how the landscapes she learned as a child still influence her writing will appear May 26th. (Here’s her blog tour schedule.)
On June 4th, I’ll host Janet Riehl, author of the new audio-complilation, Sightlines, a family diary in poetry in music. Janet rightly calls this a patchwork quilt of family stories, plus music from her 92-year-old father and the group that joins him regularly in his Missouri parlor for old-time country music sessions. Janet and I will talk about the inspiration for this unique four-CD set that showcases her family’s world.
Stop back by to join me in hosting these two unique voices!