Sunday, November 11, 2012

Not Exactly The Bluebird of Happiness

I've been studying Mason's list of attainments for children of six years, fretting over the half or so that Dorothy, age six, has not attained. We don't study French. I have begun introducing French songs through YouTube, and we've learned a few phrases, but we are definitely not able to speak short sentences. We are studying Hebrew, and Dorothy would be able to name 20 objects, and she would be able to read and translate from Hebrew to English a few short sentences, but I don't believe she would be able to speak them from memory.

As for finding directions using a compass, we don't yet own a compass. She can tell direction by sun and wind, so about this point I'm not too anxious. She can describe many walks. She knows that if we leave our home and turn south, we will greet the Chinese Elm with its strange hanging leaf clusters, several sickly Magnolia trees, a grape vine twining over a yard gate but never putting on fruit, and at the end of the street is a Loquat tree, and an orange tree with sour fruit. Turn right and there among the rocks and crunchy leaves is a patch of wild blue dayflower (of which we took a wee sample and transplanted below our rose bush). She could describe with equal vividness what would lay across our path if we took a left turn. And of the one pond that we frequent (man made and cultivated) she can describe both it's wildlife and vegetation.

We've never mounted wildflowers, and have spent little time drawing them, something I plan to remedy, but her knowledge of wildflowers is expansive. We buy our plants at a nursery that specializes in indigenous wildflowers, shrubs, and trees, and each time we visit, Dorothy and Brian flit from plant to plant like butterflies drunk on nectar. That is when they're not seeking out the resident cats.

But of all the attainments that have most intimidated me, I've been most embarrassed about our (my)lack of knowledge about birds. I can pick out a cardinal (by sight), and a pigeon (by sight), and a blue jay (by sight). The pigeon and blue jay are so prevalent in our area and distinctive that it would be hard not to be able to pick them out of a line up. But of all the bird noise, until a month ago, I would have been hard pressed to pick out more than the coo of a dove. But I've been studying, reading Comstocks section on birds, perusing field guides, haunting this sight, listening to bird songs, trying to untangle the cacophony of noise we hear outside our door.

And the work is finally paying off. This morning, after chores we had a light breakfast of seeded bread with peanut butter and milk on the patio. I raked and tidied the lawn, while the kids played under the fig tree. Then we scattered bird seed and filled the birdbaths. And we waited. For forty-five minutes we sat, still as mice on the lawn as the birds flocked to our yard for a snack.

At first, no one but the doves would deign to dine among us, but that gave us ample opportunity to study each dove, noticing small differences. One dove in particular we were able to distinguish from among the others. Dorothy promptly named her Midge and gave a little whimper each time Midge took to the trees. After awhile, what I am almost positive are house sparrows came to call, shooing the larger pigeons away from a fairly large circle of seed.

Then our robin pair showed up. Dorothy has become quite good at distinguishing between the male and female, even when they visit one at a time. For the past few weeks, they have always visited our yard together, never being very far from one another. But today we noticed that only Mrs. Sparrow paid a call. Dorothy supposed that Mr. Sparrow "must be sitting on the nest." You know, I think she's probably right.

Then the blue jays swooped down over our little party, frightening even the intrepid sparrows away. They squawked at us for a few moments before flying away. They'd drop in on us now and then, but almost immediately leave the vicinity. I think they were waiting for us to leave. Unlike the others, the jays seemed to be made uncomfortable by our presence.

And just as the kids were beginning to stir, cramped feet and rumbling tummies disturbing our contentment, who should finally make an appearance, but Mister Cardinal himself, in all his scarlet finery. The kids were absolutely delighted. Mister didn't stay with us long. I believe Dorothy's startled squeal of delight perturbed him, but that brief flash of red, and his nearness, close enough to observe the pattern of black around his beak, was enough to make us happy.

After lunch (outdoors of coarse) during which we chattered about birds, Dorothy went off to play by herself, while Brian, growing a bit drowsy, crawled up into my lap and we reclined in the lawn chair, tipping our heads back so we could gaze into the tree canopy overhead. I stroked his brow, while he curled a lock of my hair around his fingers. I closed my eyes and listened to the birds, picking out not only the coo of the dove, but the harsh chiding of the jay. A mocking bird went through his repertoire, from a branch overhanging the north fence.

The sparrows chip, chip, chipped from all directions, and the sweet call of the cardinal let us know that while we could no longer see him, he hadn't left us all together. Then, among what I would have called bird noise just two months ago, I heard something new.

Again we heard the call, so clearly I could hear distinct tones.


After a few minutes he became silent, only to be copied, though not as beautifully, by the mocker overhead. I went in and got my iPad and began surfing through the Cornell bird directory, listening to one call after another, after narrowing my search a bit. I found it quite easily, after trying only a handful of birds. Our strange caller was the Carolina Chickadee, a visitor we already knew by a different call. His familiar Chickadee-dee-dee-dee, from which he got his name, is a frequent neighborhood sound.

Funny how in my effort to give my children a rich Charlotte Mason homeschool experience, I'm managing, at 35 years of age, to acquire for myself those formidable attainments Mason put forth for a child of 6.

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