When I first got to North Carolina, I was invited to dinner at a colleague’s home. As we sat on her tree-lined patio at dusk, the lilting song of a bird rose over our heads.
In New York, I had heard birdsong at daybreak that made my heart soar on innumerable occasions, but I had never heard a bird sing in the evening. But as day became nightfall that June evening, I was enchanted by a song that was extended, with variations like a symphony, light and delicate, winsome and melancholy, so lovely I was moved as I always am by beautiful music.
Though there was only one bird, it sounded to me as if this was a song evolving into the songs of a number of different birds sung one after the other.
When I asked what bird it was that was singing, the answer was, “It’s a mockingbird.” And from somewhere I remembered a few lyrics of a song “Listen to the Mockingbird, Listen to the Mockingbird, the Mockingbird is singing”….wasn’t sure of the next words…
Me, being me, I did a little research to find out that a mockingbird can have a repertoire of over 200 songs, invented and copied from other birds, and that lone males sing the longest and most complex songs.
When Doug moved here, and I got the feeders up, first came sparrows, then warblers, finches, and cardinals, finally mourning doves arrived to peck the ground at the larger sunflower seeds from the feed mix dropped to them by the littler birds. All, got their turn, all got along, all had their notes and music. And at last, a mockingbird arrived. I was thrilled.
There was the evolving extended song, the pert tail, the flashes of white on the wing. The mockingbird seemed to listen to my husband whistling and repeated his notes. As soon as Doug came out on the porch, this mockingbird would arrive, flying into one of the nearby trees. Doug would whistle and the mockingbird reply…a little like dueling, first one and then the other, Doug mimicking the bird, the bird “mocking” him in imitation. The grandkids began to call him, “Boppa’s bird.” We loved him.
I had a lot to learn about mockingbirds.
They are among the bullies in the bird world, aggressively territorial. Gradually, I noticed that when the mockingbird was near, he was always alone. As I watched him, he stayed in the tree nearby, but didn’t go to the feeders. Looking up more information, I learned seeds were not in his diet, and got a suet feeder for him. But when he was around, I finally realized the other birds remained hidden, only chirping a bit from the bushes.
But worse than the other birds just avoiding him, to my chagrin, I saw that if they did try to come to the feeders, and he was anywhere nearby, he would violently drive them off. Though the other birds wouldn’t eat the bugs, grubs and beetles or fruits favored by mockingbirds, and thus were not competition to his survival, he attacked. Swooping and whirling, he would dive into them, head first, bill extended, over and over until they retreated.
I realized one Mockingbird song was “Mine, mine, mine, get away, get away.”
The mockingbird chased the other birds, unwilling to share…anything, even access to food he had no interest in. He wanted the whole habitat all to himself. It was all about him. And my nesting pairs of littler birds, who had come and made their homes in my yard, were kept from the feeders though they posed no risk, simply seeking to feed themselves and their babies.
Initially, it seemed the mockingbird was powerful. He had dominance and control. He even attracted a mate. Finally, however, the littler birds stood up for themselves, joining together, fighting back, and the mockingbird left, taking his song and his mate with him.
They haven’t been in my yard these last few years…and the other birds have flourished.
Now, thus far, this may seem just a tale of life in my garden…but it came to mind when I read last week’s post by a friend, entitled “Bullies”. She related stories from her days teaching and as a principal about bullies in her school….and went on to make it an analogy to the current election, having not posted about politics before. Link to Clare’s post, Bullies
Like her, I had never before specifically addressed individual candidates. But like Clare, I now feel compelled to speak in the face of the horrifying nature of this election. I am not willing to let a bully win, even if all I have to fight him with are my words.
Donald Trump is a Mockingbird. He sings varied songs calling out to the scared, to the struggling white, formerly middle class, men in manufacturing and mining, some of his songs mock women, some mock Muslims, the handicapped, Mexicans, immigrants, the communities and neighborhoods where there are a preponderance of African-Americans, recently he mocked Clinton’s stumbling when she was sick, some of his songs resonate with the actively racist. He sees himself sitting at the edge of night, singing a song of a “great” past, and telling us he is our only possible savior. It is all about him.
Like the Mockingbird, he wants to drive out others from “his” territory, keep out the “different,” remove illegal immigrants, keep out refugees, build walls. At one point, he kept African-Americans from renting in his buildings. He has “used” small businesses to feather his nest without paying them, gone bankrupt multiple times thus not paying his debts, hurting his sub-contractors, cheating his employees, and accruing that failure to his own benefit by paying no taxes at all to support the country, or its military, while criticizing how poorly our president has managed things.
He sings songs that are not even really his own, that he thinks people want to hear, “Keep jobs in America, Make companies bring back jobs, Make things in America” while his company makes shirts and ties in Asia and Central America.
Donald Trump’s songs are alluring, and he is more than willing to change them…pretend he never sang the notes we all heard him sing. He lies. Not little white lies, but the big profound deceptive hurtful kind that can destroy individuals and undermine a nation. Like a mockingbird, he loves to attack others swooping in on them, “twittering” into the night.
So little birds, it’s time to unite. We can’t sit safe on the edges, we can’t just stay in our nests, or let this mockingbird win. We have to defend our country and ourselves, and we have to call out this bird, this candidate, this charlatan for what he is.
We have to talk about this and we have to vote…and though I fear the song may linger, we must act and call out to our neighbors who are mesmerized by Trump, “Don’t listen to the mockingbird.” The actual end to the line from the Mockingbird song that I couldn’t remember is “The mockingbird is singing o’er her grave.” There’s meaning there.
So, together let us chirp and tweet and sing, write and speak up to encourage others to vote and to join their voices to ours in a morning song, a song of inclusion, a welcoming song, a song of joy.
That is what really makes America strong, and it’s why America has always been great.