29 May 2004

The Red-Winged Blackbird

I had a wonderful childhood. My parents provided me with a safe, secure world, with just the right mix of freedom and structure. I grew up in rural Michigan, about a hundred miles north of Detroit. Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten. I grew up in the Thumb area (as it’s called), not far from Saginaw Bay.

Between kindergarten and fifth grade, my family moved several times. This can be hard on kids, but I took it in stride. Old friends were simply replaced with new ones. Almost all of our houses were in wooded areas, with creeks and meadows nearby. Like my brother Glenn, who’s two years older and a lot crankier, I came to love nature and animals.

One of my earliest memories is of our house in Metamora, where I attended kindergarten and first grade. This would be 1962 through 1964, about the time our nation lost its innocence. We lived a couple of miles from town, near a marshy meadow. (The marsh part was filled with cattails, which waved in the wind.) Although I was only five or six years old, I loved going into the meadow to “explore.” (Is anyone surprised that I’m a Lewis and Clark buff?) Glenn and I made “forts” in the bushes. When we got BB guns, we hunted birds. (This is before we were moral agents, so don’t blame us.)

I will never forget the sound of the red-winged blackbirds that frequented the meadow near our house. Today, while riding my bike in Pilot Point (north of Dallas-Fort Worth) with my friend Butch Moldenhauer and his two-year old son Lance, I heard many red-winged blackbirds. It’s the only bird note I can identify, and it transports me instantly to Metamora four decades ago—to a time of innocence, wonder, security, and joy. Here is the Wikipedia entry on the red-winged blackbird. Here is a site that contains a sound file, which will allow you to hear the bird’s distinctive (and, to my ears, lovely) note.

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