Monday, February 22, 2010


“Have ye heard any cardinals??” I ask my wife and son when they come in the door, like some kind of landlocked, cabin-feverish, Ahab. The answer is always the same: no.

Meanwhile, my friend Ed emails me from Somerville: “The cardinals along the bike path this morning were singing up a storm!” This is the same Ed who two days ago agreed that marking the winter-busting song of the cardinal based on someone else’s experience “would be hearsay.”

So, disallowing Ed’s birds, I pedal on, out to Lexington, down to Alewife, back around to Medford, listening for the pure slurred cherry whistle that cracks the ice, because almanacs are all about signs, tipping points, critical masses, shingles being hung out, and this one goes with February. Only it can’t be hearsay, or hearsong, for me to hang out the cardinal poem. Right?

From cherry notes to cherry trees: Happy Birthday, Mr. “I Cannot Tell a Lie”! (Fond snatch of three-cornered hat and tousling of powdered wig) Of course, it was a lie, the cherry tree thing, but a much-loved lie. Much of what we think we know about George Washington is based on hearsay, come to think of it. Chopping down the cherry tree. The wooden teeth. Throwing the silver dollar across the Potomac. But it’s okay, because we kind of know they’re myths and Washington lived in that quaint period before photographs anyway.

So, maybe cardinal hearsay is okay, too! After all, it’s hearsay to start with: only a rumor of spring, probably to be gainsayed (ok, fine: gainsaid) by a few more reversals of the weather before it finally bears fruit. So why not take stock in Ed’s Somerville cardinals, after all? If a cardinal sings on a bike path and I’m not there to hear it, does it make any noise? (Fond tousle of wig again.) As sure as George chopped down his daddy’s cherry tree!

So, what the heck, it’s still precedence day. Here, before the fact, is the cardinal poem, which means I'll probably hear it tomorrow.

out in February!
Not the blossoms
but the FRUIT!
takes one on the chinzer
on the choppers
on the SNOOT!
When you
hear that cardinal whistle
it’s a signal
something’s LOOSE
Don’t ignore it
kid, explore it!
All aboard
the red CABOOSE!

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