Monday, September 3, 2012

September 3: Shorebirds

Weskeag salt marsh in late summer: hum of crickets, rich sunlight, silvery flocks of shorebirds sifting through the salt pannes as the tide ebbs. The piercing cries of the sandpipers and plovers this time of year are so bittersweet, speaking to us of summer's end and imminent loss. The transience of things, and yet the cycle of life--gone too soon, but back in the spring.

Traditional Japanese poetry often referenced the plover (plover is "chidori" in Japanese--a word that must be onomatopoetic, sounding as it does like the bird's piping call). Yet in almanacs of Japanese season words, or "kigo," the plover is a winter word, as in this poem by Ki no Tsurayuki (translated by Kenneth Rexroth):

Heart overwhelmed with love,
I hurried through the winter night
To the home of my beloved,
The wind on the river was so cold
The plovers cried out in pain.

Those were not the plovers we saw and heard today on the marsh, where the sun warmed the yellowing reeds and mummichugs churned in algae-clouded pools. Today's plovers embodied, for us, a longing for summer to last just a few more weeks.

Stirred by shorebirds' piping cries,
we face fall's chill

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