Grounded by the Tufted Titmouse

Today’s forecast called for rain, so I got out early for my stationary bike ride. Usually my ride offers many walkers on our road and lots of bird calls in the pine trees that dominate Isle of Pines Road. Today it was eerily quiet as I began my ride. No wind; not even a slight breeze moved the pines. No bird calls. Just the hum of my front tire against the resisting wheel of the stationary machine. Then, off across the road it called. Then an answer somewhere in one of  the 39 pine trees in our front yard. The two birds called to each other or answered the other or protected their turf as I warmed up during my ride.

Some months ago a neighbor asked me what the bird call was that we heard emitting from the pine trees. I listened and told her I thought it was the chickadees. However, later that week as I was going to a neighbors, I heard the same sound and then saw the bird sitting on a power line: A tufted titmouse was going hard at it—making some important announcement for all to hear. I marveled at such a strong note coming from such a small bird. Later when in the house, I checked our bird book and the recordings of the tufted titmouse to be certain. It was correct, and I sent the recording to my neighbor: “peter-peter-peter”.

If you are of a certain age, you will remember those gosh-awful, historically mistaken television shows and movies of the western frontier that we dutifully watched and believed. If you recall, many times the attacking tribes would use  bird notes (or other animal sounds) to communicate with each other before attacking the settlers. I remember the sound being a powerful, soft message of pending doom. The call of the tufted titmouse sounds like that powerful whisper from one hidden foe to another. Fortunately, as far as I know, the tufted titmouse does not attack humans, but the floating call and returned answer bring back those memories of television long ago.

In the forest of pines that I ride under, and the ones in neighboring yards, the small, tufted titmouse is impossible to see, but easily heard. The soft, powerful, fast repeated call of peter- peter-peter – seems to bounce from one pine to another then one farther down the road. It is mysterious, yet known and understood, and relaxing in a manner of sorts. This morning with the uncanny calm before the rain, and the walker empty road, the tufted titmouse calls to each other grounded me in the knowledge that no matter what is happening, nature and her ways are here as a salve for rips and tears of the world.

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