I can’t see the meadowlark, but its song somehow fills the whole greening landscape in this curve of the highway, those tiny lungs producing enough melody to blanket the irrigated fields below, the little ridge beyond, even the dome of sky above.
Underneath its song is a clatter of other bird calls. The most notable is a chorus of red-winged blackbirds, whose chuttering reminds me of little robots. Crows holler from a rock outcropping and a magpie teases from the trees near the creek.
Listening to this cacophony, I wonder if it’s just me, or if there are more birds out than ever this spring. Maybe I don’t normally spend enough time on my own to notice it? Or, more likely, the small miracles of nature cut a sharper relief against the recent grim backdrop.
Whatever it is, Wyoming’s air this spring seemed to be especially saturated in birdsong. Flickering wings darting everywhere in the periphery. The robins cheeping at twilight. The chickadees waking me at dawn, their “hey sweetie” call an effective alarm clock, even when I am not ready to get up.
While driving near Arapaho, I see a sandhill crane in a field, and it’s so large I mistake it at first for farm equipment. A crew of evening grosbeaks visits my feeder, a Western tanager lands on the fence and house finches hop around the yard, their red caps brilliant against the grass. Great blue herons soar cool and aloof above. A flock of white pelicans parks on a pond along the highway. In a stately cottonwood in the park, I spot a great-horned owl with two fluffy chicks.
Out there, the rites of spring continue.
In the human world, of course, nothing feels normal. A cascade of terrible news pours from pages, screens and speakers.
I am here, 12 weeks on, realizing that what seemed like a novel break from my routine at the office is becoming my full-time program. The panic that invaded my dreams at the beginning has subsided into low-level dread as we continue to rethink our world and absorb fresh disturbing developments by the day.
My toddler daughter, who hasn’t been to daycare in months, obsessively “reads” her picture book featuring babies smiling baby faces. I think she misses her friends.
My husband, a police officer, dons gun and badge and heads out on patrol.
He ventures out each shift, mixing with the community he serves — duty doesn’t stop for disease. That was worrisome enough. Now, as the country roils with unrest in the wake of the terrible police killing of George Floyd, his position is more fraught than ever. I am pinned between dismay at man’s inhumanity to man, and fear for my husband’s safety.
Mask on, I head out to grocery shop. I wonder what social cues and communication aids will be lost in this new faceless paradigm. When the state begins reopening, I meet friends outside, tentatively. After the gatherings, the guilt that I have done something risky conflicts with the physical sensations of joy I’m experiencing. Is my brain flooded with dopamines from the simple act of human contact? But did I also just put myself, or someone else, at risk of contracting the virus?
My problems, of course, are not singular or special.
At work, I talk to people on the phone, send emails, listen to press conferences, read commenters’ thoughts and soak in the stories of Wyoming and the world.
The picture they paint is not pretty. Sickness, unemployment, fear, outrage, injustice, disappointment and occasionally even despair. I don’t have to detail it here. Everyone is touched by this.
At some point in the crisis, I came across a quote. “Who knows if birds are not a collection of all or our sorrows,” it said. I wrote it down, but have forgotten who said it or where. Still, when I grow uneasy and head outside for solace, my thoughts return to the sentiment.
Out there, rhythms of nature march on. The rhubarb unfurls, the tulips pop, the lilacs bloom and then sag. Oyster mushrooms erupt from the stump by the river, aspens color the river bottoms in riotous smudges of chartreuse and the rivers roar with snowmelt. In my garden, beneath the chorus of birds, I thin the greens, watch my radishes grow, then unearth them, plump globes so red they look synthetic. I pull bindweed, and then I pull some more.
Spring in Wyoming is glorious. It’s also oblivious to models and data, upheaval and the absolute pandemonium caused by a tiny invisible virus. And when the human story becomes intolerable, Wyoming’s landscape offers a touch of relief from it all.
The bargaining stage of this grief process is over. Things are never going to be the same. But when the world is least recognizable, the company of swallows looping over the river offers a momentary touchstone.
Out there, the meadowlarks sing their guts out and the sparrows bathe in puddles left by a recent storm. Wildflowers blanket the high country, seasons march forward and nature reminds us of cycles, resilience and the hardships creatures have endured since the dawn of time.