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The robin, first sign of spring


The other morning, and a miserably snowy and drizzly one it was, I glanced out through our living-room window and saw my first sign of spring, a robin. O, I know there is a detractor out there who will say that it may have been one who wintered here, but not this particular one. I recognized it as the same one that nested in my garden last spring. You know, red breast, distinctive facial features, etc. All nonsense aside, a robin everywhere is one of the first sign of spring. I still remember from my youth its cheerful song as it perched on a hill or fence near my childhood home singing its heart out. I have said in a column before that as a child I was fascinated with song birds, and their peculiar habits. I had no difficulty telling the male robin from the female by its colouring. The male had a brighter red, and it was the male, I believe, that did most of the singing, and I remember its singing as a series of wavering, musical whistles delivered in a lively series.

The view from Fogo Island - The other morning, and a miserably snowy and drizzly one it was, I glanced out through our living-room window and saw my first sign of spring, a robin. O, I know there is a detractor out there who will say that it may have been one who wintered here, but not this particular one. I recognized it as the same one that nested in my garden last spring. You know, red breast, distinctive facial features, etc.

All nonsense aside, a robin everywhere is one of the first sign of spring. I still remember from my youth its cheerful song as it perched on a hill or fence near my childhood home singing its heart out. I have said in a column before that as a child I was fascinated with song birds, and their peculiar habits. I had no difficulty telling the male robin from the female by its colouring. The male had a brighter red, and it was the male, I believe, that did most of the singing, and I remember its singing as a series of wavering, musical whistles delivered in a lively series.

I am recalling a line or two from a poem by William Wordsworth, and although he doesn't say 'robins' it is always robins I see when I think about it. Remember the lines, "The birds pour forth their souls in notes, of rapture from a thousand throats." Does anybody out there know the name of that poem?

I always thought that birds sang, well, because that was what birds did, to entertain us humans, (What arrogance!) and it never occurred to me that there could be such a mundane reason as staking out its territory. That's what I read once, and somehow or another, I believe that is most likely the purpose. Why would they want to sing to us anyway? We do our own, even if it's pretty miserable at times!

Thursday of this week is really the first day of spring, or as my father would invariably say on whichever of a few days he perceived it so, "The sun crosses the line today." I am sure I had a vague idea of what he meant, but I must say the imagery it evoked was graphic, indeed.

I must digress a little here. As a teacher, I am sure that I would have said the sun crossed the equator, and would have pointed it out on a globe or map. I taught a class of grade fives before I retired from Venture Academy here, and I remember once telling the class this fact: "The equator is an imaginary line running 'round the earth, midway between the poles". On a subsequent quiz I asked the class to define 'equator' just to see if they remembered. One of my students at that time was Quentin Coish an intelligent boy from Stag Harbour, and more often than not, he made my day. His answer to that particular question was this: "The equator is a menagerie lion running round the earth..." When I wondered where he got that piece of info, he was quite adamant that that was what I had said. Of course I hadn't, but I did not penalize him.

Since I am speaking of Quentin, I must tell you of another similar incident. During a particular class the students were volunteering examples of plants that had the word 'dog' connected to them. Examples of these were dogwood, dogberry, and perhaps others; I don't recall them now. Quentin had his own answer and was waving his hand for my attention. When I responded, he said, 'cauliflower'. I can still see the expression on the faces of the class - it was one of questioning and anticipation as they processed what he had said, and they burst into laughter a second or two later, when they got what he was saying. I'll never know whether they were original on his part or not, but he had an arsenal of them and knew when to use them. Quentin, by the way, went on to university, and did a degree in philosophy, or something like that. What else?

Let me get back to the rites of spring, or whatever. Easter the world over is synonymous with spring, and that will be next Sunday. Friday of this week is Good Friday, and did you know that the robin is associated with that particular day?

I am remembering a story from Sunday School in which my teacher said that legend has it that as Christ was bearing His cross, there was a bird of non-descript demeanor nearby. He saw the forehead of Christ bleeding because of the crown of thorns that had been placed on His head. This particular bird did what it could, and that was it took from that crown one thorn. The legend goes on to say that a drop of Christ's blood fell on the bird's breast, and ever since then, that particular specie has had a red breast. The teacher did not say why it was called a robin. I remember her saying also, that because of that, no one ever disturbs a robin's nest, and that weasels and cats would not molest her young. I may have believed her then, but I know that cats, cats that are not properly fed, that is, will try to carry off the young. I saw an unusual sight once where a cat was carrying off a young robin and was being attacked by the mother or perhaps father. What was most unusual was that out of nowhere, seemingly, a half-dozen robins or so joined in, attaching the cat, by nose-diving and jabbing at the cat's head. She (perhaps it was a 'he') did let go of the young robin and it flew away, unscathed, I hoped. I remember the cat's head was bleeding from the attacks made upon it. I hoped that that cat had learned its lesson! Not likely, though.

Indeed, indeed, spring is just around the corner. Usually, by the last week in March I'll have crocuses poking through the ground, making way for a grander show of other 'spring' flowers. I'll bet that if you could go into some of the classrooms here on Fogo Island or elsewhere, you'll see the windows and bulletin boards decorated with the usual spring symbols; daffodils, tulips, birds, etc. (When I wrote the word 'tulip', I was reminded of the time I asked my brother, the parson, that is, last fall when he went to Gander, to get some tulip bulbs for me. I need not say he does not have a green thumb, because he asked me, quite seriously, "What wattage would you want?") Anyway, at this time I wish you a holy and happy Easter. Go a little easy on the holy bit!

benson.hewitt@nf.sympatico.ca

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