Mood indigo

black knot

The middle of a warm afternoon in May. The new leaves have reached about half of their full size, and the steep end of the mountain is so green you want to shout for the sheer wonder of it. Below on the railroad tracks an east-bound freight has been stopped on a tip from someone down the line who saw a figure sitting in an open boxcar. A dark-skinned man in handcuffs is being placed in the back seat of a police van. Cars line up on both sides of the crossing as the police sort slowly through three gym bags full of personal belongings, right there on the brick sidewalk beside the station. Where is he from? What language does he speak?

phlock

A line from an obituary: He was truly an honest man and enjoyed tinkering with clocks.

He was. I knew him. A good man who shouldered a great deal of sorrow in his life, including the deaths of both his adult children.

You ain’t been blue, no, no, no.
You ain’t been blue till you’ve had that mood indigo.

indigo bunting

We came home from shopping to find an indigo bunting — the first one we’ve seen this year — sitting on the metal table next to the door, motionless except for a slight trembling and the blinking of its eyes.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

23 Comments


  1. ‘the mountain is so green you want to shout for the sheer wonder of it’ – yes, I know that feeling. And what a very beautiful bird to bless your homecoming.

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  2. Gina – I don’t know, but I doubt it. It was obviously stunned from having flown into a window. Usually when this happens, even if the bird appears to recover and flies off, as this one did, it dies within 24 hours from a blod clot in the brain.

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  3. After reading your mom’s article on box turtles, I took one home and epoxied its shell back together — no luck.

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  4. You mean, one that had been hit by a car?

    We narrowly avoided hitting one on the Plummer’s Hollow Road yesterday morning. Fortunately, my dad has really quick reactions.

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  5. Yup. I was very interested to hear from someone monitoring their population; that their decline is cryptic.

    Oh, enjoyed your focus on the Ovenbird. You got me to read Frost! Do your Ovenbirds say “teacher”? To me that is the most misleading rendering of birdsong into english, and it has confused me for years, but I am over it now. Our Carolina Wren says “teacher”, but I can hear from the Ovenbird no “-er” following the “teach”. Why? Because there is no “-er” being offered! What’s up with that? Thanks for mentioning the dawn song. I’d like to catch that and hope to soon. Not only did you cause me to read Frost but you’ve had me out in the woods after warblers, all to my great satisfaction. I’ll go on to say that Baltimore Orioles have took up around here for the first time, coming to hummingbird feeders which I hung, unusually, in the yard, for the flowerless hummers. Perhaps the Orioles have been displaced by the frost. And you’re right! The Orioles do have a big mouth on them.

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  6. Oh it was your info on delayed windowpane mortalities which prompted my thoughts of the carstruck turtle — I guess I failed to mention that connection out as well! What interesting information you afford! By way of your mom? I’ll still hope for their recovery nonetheless. My turtle has been quite obviously dead for a day now, but I still have the impulse to check on it in the leaf mulch pile — it might just be dead ringer! The caregiver’s point of view has been a good change from the vantage of my truck window. It was nice to try to be of use, though it was very hazardous to make the stop along the highway.

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  7. HI! My grandpa came west on a boxcar during the Depression. Geez, in some ways a kindler gentler time?! He hopped off the train and built Grand Coulee Dam.

    That blue of the bonkered blue bird is a boldly bountiful beautiful blue!

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  8. Oh and furthermore — and don’t interogate me on this for it is useless to try to get information from me, should you want it — on the subject of not getting with the fact that a person or a thing is deceased, I read recently of some public figure, the type you have the feeling you might know well enough, who responded in the affirmative to inquiries after his/her mother’s health years after her death — “Oh, yes! She’s been quite well!” Apparently it was something he/she just couldn’t face up to, among friends, or the public.

    So it goes with me. I just don’t want to let the sadness of your post, with its florid collisions, seep in.

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  9. This time of year, my morbid roadkill scrutiny notes many piles of brilliant blue feathers. What is it with indigo buntings and cars?

    Great collection of blues!

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  10. Fred – Thanks!

    celeste – Welcome! I don’t know if people were kinder back then or not. I remember that vigilante mob cleaning out the hobo camp in Ironwood… and back then, I think railroad bulls actually got away with murder sometimes, literally throwing people off of trains. So i don’t know. But I’m glad it worked for your grandfather. I’ve always sort of wanted to try it myself, but I’m too chicken. Greyhound is enough of an adventure.

    Bill – Ovenbirds. Well, birds have distinct dialects, you know. Around here, the -er part is not only prominent, it’s where they place the accent; teachEr teachER teachEr.

    A lot of what I know about nature I have learned from my mom, but I do read nature books, magazines, and the occasional journal article on my own.

    It’s always hard to know what, if anything, to say about death and loss, I agree. Telling people that one’s mother is fine to avoid saying that she’s dead seems a little extreme, though.

    Rebecca – Really? I hadn’t noticed that. Perhaps indigo buntings are prone to chicken-like episodes of irrational, suicidal panic.

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  11. Rebecca: That may be a “selection bias” — that is, you can see those bright blue casualties from a distance, while other sorts would be much less visible.

    It is sad how so many creatures seem to be killed off just by hanging around too close to humanity and our technological booby traps.

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  12. Oh I notice Indigoes as a roadside bird for sure here is Missouri, particularly our gravel roads. It’s as if they like Chickory, an abundant roadside plant. Yes, I have taken one home and kept it in the freezer so I could take it back out and look at it again.

    Dave, I didn’t mean to suggest that you don’t pursure bird knowledge on your own!

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  13. The two lower photos really do something for me. I’ve been back to look at them several times.

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  14. Beautiful blue monochrome in those last two, Dave.
    There’s something inexplicably very touching in that funny little nonsequitur about ‘a truly honest man and enjoyed tinkering with clocks’.
    I’ve always loved the sound of an indigo bunting, and it looks like I imagined it; sorry that its fate was a sad one for us to be able to see it so close here. The events of your day you weave into a synchronicitously lovely, if very poignant whole.

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  15. When I first read the line from the obituary I thought it said, he enjoyed tinkering with clouds. Maybe he did that too.

    We had a pine siskin hit on the window the other evening. I went out to see if I could put him/her in a box for a little rest, but I couldn’t get a secure hold. I’ve read that some dark, down time can help, if the bird isn’t mortally wounded.

    Quite a beautiful bunting, and I love the leaves in the top pic.

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  16. Maybe the ovenbird was from Boston and thus doesn’t pronounce his r’s. (Speaking of which, Bill, the Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles this afternoon. But you probably weren’t referring to those birds.)

    I enjoyed the obituary line, too. How honest is one who tinkers with clocks, though? Did he do it just to mess with people’s heads? ;-)

    Apologies. I’m on antihistamines.

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  17. So sad about the blue bunting, though. He’s gorgeous. Is there any way you can get birds not to do that?

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  18. *sigh*

    All those shades of blue…and that poor stunned bird, looking like what malachite wishes it were when it dreams.

    I realized I had a little Dave bleed-through — couldn’t for the life of me figure out where the title for my post this morning bubbled up from, and then came back to reread your post. Of course.

    :-)

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  19. David – That sounds plausible. But also habitat – indigo buntings tend to like brushy edge habitat, similar to what you’d find along roads and highways.

    Bill – See above. (I know you didn’t mean it that way.)

    Teju – Cool. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Lucy – Non sequitor is virtually the whole of my poetic technique, so I found that line very moving.

    You’re right in assuming that these were all the events of a single day, more or less. My dad and I witnessed the scene at the crossing (our own crossing being blocked, we had driven into town to see if we could get around the train there and drive back along the other side of the tracks), while my mom was attending the funeral of the fellow whose obituary I quoted, as an old friend of his wife.

    robin andrea – I don’t think there was anything Don didn’t enjoy tinkering with, but he did have to be able to get his hands on it. So, probably not clouds.

    I hadn’t heard that about keeping them in the dark. I should think it would stress them more to pick them up and move them.

    leslee – The only way to keep birds from crashing into windows is to place some sort of screen cloth, or other covering, over the outside of the glass, I gather.

    Lori – I do that too: creative borrowing! Every creative idea is borrowed from somewhere, though, isn’t it? Anyway, I’m glad this post was a bit inspiring and not simply depressing.

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