New Ground


For a few years around the turn of the millennium, the main clock at my father’s office was one of those clocks that broadcast a different bird’s call from its speaker for each of the twelve hours. The idea behind getting that clock for the office was to help us all be more aware of time, since it’s easy to tune out the same chiming sound , no matter how many (or few) times it’s made at the top of each hour. Maybe our brains react differently when we recognize “oh, it’s mourning dove o’clock,” especially if that’s a signal that dinner will be on the table back home very soon and it’s time to leave work. I don’t think the clock was very effective in helping my father get a better sense of time, though; he was always a workaholic, and I strongly suspect that the sedentary lifestyle that resulted from his work habits was a huge contributing factor to the deep vein thrombosis that took his life over eleven years ago.

My parents had those bird identification books with the plastic covers, and they always took the books with them whenever we went on vacation up in Michigan, but I never got into that whole thing. As much as I’ve loved nature my entire life, and as much concern as I have about the environment, learning about different plant and animal species has never interested me, probably because the science teachers at that abattoir of a “school” I went to when I was younger were some of the worst I ever had to deal with. I’ve learned a little about some domesticated animal species over the years, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like pulling up the online equivalents of those old books to learn about different birds or plants or anything like that.

I didn’t get any opportunities to explore the great outdoors when I was in Colorado last year, since I was so busy writing and researching and looking for full-time teaching work, and that remains one of my biggest regrets about my time there. Still, I spent a lot of time in a fairly quiet neighbourhood near a college campus, so I got a lot of quiet, but I can’t remember hearing any bird calls I didn’t recognize from having lived nearly all my life in Ohio up until then. Maybe I was too mystified by the ever-present mountain ranges everywhere I went, or maybe I was just weirded out by the lack of trees, or maybe I was just too wrapped up in the problems I was having as I adjusted to that first big move of my life, but I can’t remember anything about the birds of Colorado, despite living there for over eight months.

It’s now been over eight months since I moved here to Wisconsin, and I don’t remember hearing any unfamiliar bird calls when I first came here last August, but I did finally hear one just a couple of weeks ago. This has been a challenging start to the year here when it comes to the weather — on top of the record-shattering cold from a few months ago, we’ve been dealing with some extreme fluctuations recently, including near-freezing temperatures early this morning — so I have to assume that bird migration patterns could be different from what’s usual around these parts. Still, when I heard that strange bird call, it served as another reminder of how different things are over here, and how I’m still making the most basic of adjustments to life here in this state.

I’m having even more of those moments now, as the trees near my apartment have finally started to take leaf. Again, the weather may have affected the usual timing of seasonal greening here, but I’m still so used to how these processes went in Toledo that I can’t help feeling like the trees here are still too bare for mid-May — usually my favourite time to walk in Wildwood, where it’s easy to see the early spring greens I love so much — even though I have no clue if that’s the case or not. In all honesty, I’m kind of embarrassed to ask my colleagues or students for help with that, and I don’t even know why.

Maybe there will come a time in my life where the bird calls and foliage here will seem normal to me, but after living for over forty years in Toledo, and being so close to two of the city’s most gorgeous parks for nearly all that time, I have to wonder if anything but Toledo will ever feel normal to me. It’s almost painful to think about, because as lovely as the landscapes are here in Wisconsin, looking at them still makes me wish I was back in Toledo, so I could walk through Wildwood and the Toledo Botanical Garden again, not just to remember my early years of making those trips, but also to experience the comfort of familiarity that I may never develop here.

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