Mae West was born with the name Mary Jane and was only five feet tall. But doesn't she seem as tall and statuesque as the Statue of Liberty in the mind's eye? Mae Questel was the voice of Betty Boop, and had the face, too: the saucer eyes and cupid's-bow lips made to make kissable little boop-boop-a-doops.
Mais oui is French for an obvious yes, accompanied by either Mae's alluring charms. Tonight I doff my top hat to a May of 31 days, a female month, maybe, buxom and feathered and cascading with song. And in an hour she will dance out onto the balcony and come back in a subtly different raiment: as June.
It's not certain which month will show up on the dateline of this post. If it's June, you'll have to take my word that I at least started this in May, and may May forgive me for apparently leaving her out of my chronicle, albeit in the consoling company of Mae and Mae.
The Hooded Warbler
May is the culmination of a grudging, then yielding, tide of green. And arriving by night is another tide: migrating birds. Some staying, most passing through.
We've been waiting for May since February, when the vanguard showed up—male red-winged blackbirds crushing their trills...skyrocketing woodcocks in meadows at dusk. Finally it's reliably warm, there's the right sort of wind, and it's time to go to the Brooks Estate in Medford, to see what's here.
It's a month-long premiere of the familiar but new—usually heard, then seen: first oriole! first indigo bunting! first scarlet tanager! Even first yellow-rumped warbler. Or the song alone: first wood thrush mystically echoing in the woods. Spooky poetics of a cuckoo. And sometimes it's a surprise.
I meet friend Ed Hazell at the Brooks Estate Stump Dump (bier for Medford's felled trees in a half-acre clearing). I know that look on his face: brimful of exciting tidings. My jealousy guard is up. He can't account for his run of good luck lately, he prefaces unnecessarily. Canada warbler a few days ago (I'd missed it). And this morning, just as he'd arrived here. A half hour ago. Wait for it. A hooded warbler.
Sincerely happy and excited for him, I join a couple of other birders trained on a section of the bushy wall that encircles the Dump. They are waiting out a bird loudly singing but well-hidden in the brush. It has that pleased to meetcha! cadence shared by a few different warblers, and I'll settle for my first chestnut-sided of the season, until one of the birders happens to mention that it's the hooded I'm listening to.
And then it comes out.
When you see a new bird, it's its own template. So for once you're not simultaneously comparing it to other indigo buntings you've experienced. This is the first first. The brain likes new and unusual. The senses open wider. Instead of scratching an itch, it's the original itch.
So I follow it for a long time, as long as it will let me. It's just a bird, but I keep repeating the just-seenness of that black cowl and yellow face, the exotic that is already becoming experience, as long as I can. I'm trying to do it now. It's halfway between that May morning and a photograph of that May morning.
Either way, it stands for a month of birding, never mind the lack of a Canada warbler, and even without the pileated woodpecker at the heron rookery. But that's a story for next time.