A few nights ago, two of us went for an evening walk about 700 miles south of our home in Duluth, Minn. We were there for a funeral and had stolen away for a bit of perspective.
If you drew one horizontal and one vertical line across the contiguous 48 states, they would intersect not too far from where we walked that evening. America’s heartland, as they say.
The first thing we noticed was the birds. Mourning doves, roosting in a cedar copse, issued their soothing calls. Robins flitted in small groups through the tops of deciduous trees. A cardinal called, sweet and melodious.
We had gone just for some fresh air, maybe a sunset. But as so often happens when you simply get yourself out there, we had stumbled onto much more.
Up here in the North, we’re a bit short on birds this time of year. Yes, I know a few mourning doves hang out up here all winter. I never see them. I sure don’t hear them. And I know a few robins, too, tough it out here all winter. Maybe they’re from someplace much farther north, and they think of this as the South. I rarely see them, either.
Chickadees, too. Yes, I know. And woodpeckers. Ravens. Crows. Nuthatches. But this walk, halfway to New Orleans, had yanked us back to another season.
We walked through a deserted campground on a small lake, surrounded by birdsong. The lake was liquid. The grass was soft. The air was lovely.
I like Duluth winters. But sometimes, you forget what you’re missing until you’re airlifted to another latitude.
We kept walking. Now we heard a blackbird from someplace near the water. And from a distance, the honking of an echelon of Canada geese. As dusk settled over the land, a great horned owl called from a distant grove of trees, perhaps anticipating the evening hunt. From farther still came the faint call of a barred owl wondering, “Who cooks for you?”
Later, I got to thinking about more summer sounds I had been missing in the midst of a northern winter. The quick loon hoot: “Here I am. Where are you?” Thump, thump, thump on the dock followed by a huge sploosh — the sauna plunge. The purr of a four-stroke easing away from a landing.
And not just sounds, but textures, scenes. A lake breathing up and down a beach. The pure, clear notes of a white-throated sparrow. Mama mallard, young in tow.
Absent, all of them, in the grip of a white winter.
The love calls of peepers. The percussion of a grouse on a log. The triplet murmur of a ruby-crowned kinglet.
Fawn spots. Fiddlehead ferns. Cumulus clouds.
Beach footprints. A South Pier kiss. Summer love.
All put on hold up north.
But for one evening, just far enough south, the coo of a dove had us dreaming again.