Sunday, September 9, 2007

The drought has broken

Since I've tried your patience wailing about the drought all summer, I thought you'd all like to know that it has finally ended--at least, it rained in a serious way yesterday and today. Of course, we're still way behind on rainfall for the year, but honestly, it seemed as if it might never rain again, so the showers are worth celebrating.

I went out on the trail this morning as usual, even though it was pouring. As much as I might try to pass myself off as the outdoorsy type, I don't much like getting wet, or cold, or bathed in sweat. Deep down I'm more bookish perfume freak than nature girl. Still, I try to get myself outside most days, and I find that if I do it when the weather's hostile I'm nearly always rewarded with something beautiful and out of the ordinary. On one of the coldest walks I took last winter, I came across a big pileated woodpecker feeding on a stump just about knee height. He let me walk right up to him and hang out for a while, watching him excavate the goodies out of the rotten wood.

Today I got completely soaked, and then sat under a picnic shelter for a while, watching the rain and trying to dry off a little. When it finally let up and I was headed back to my car, I walked past a meadow covered with wild thistles and grasses that haven't much minded the drought. It's just the sort of place goldfinches like, and sure enough, there was a big flock of them hidden in the brush. They flew up in a wave as I passed, at least a hundred of them, and headed for the trees.

It was one of the prettiest things I've seen in a long time, and it reminded me of a passage from a Charlotte Hilton Green's Birds of the South, a beautiful book first published in the 1930s. Green's not the most reliable authority on birds, but she more than makes up for her inaccuracies with the charm and passion of her writing.

"We passed by a field taken over by thistles, and as something startled the horse, it neighed loudly. Up from the thistle-sown fields, on both sides of the road, rose a veritable golden, black-flecked cloud, as several hundred goldfinches mounted the air, singing. I think that picture and experience started my interest in birds. I had not realized before that birds could be so beautiful, or so plentiful. Later, in a book by a New England naturalist, I read about "collecting" birds in the memory instead of specimens in the bag. And that picture, of a northern field sun-flecked with goldfinches rising on wings of song, ranks first of my many "memory-chain" pictures."

From Birds of the South: Permanent and Winter Birds, by Charlotte Hilton Green, The University of North Carolina Press, 1933, 1995.


Anonymous said...

There was such relief in people's faces this morning after the first rain in months. We went to a garden party last night, and everyone stood gratefully out in the drizzle and let it soak into their clothes.

The goldfinches at our house perch on the nodding pods of cone flowers, like butterflies in great flocks. Beautiful.

BitterGrace said...

Goldfinches are just instant delight, aren't they?

Everyone seems so happy with the rain. That's a funny, touching image of the folks at the party. It just shows how much we all are still governed by the natural world.