Sunshine highlights beauty, bustle of summer days

“Walking in the sunshine, sing a little sunshine song.” – Roger Miller

I found myself awake and unable to go back to sleep this morning at about 4 a.m.

My brain was trying to work out problems with some writing I’ve been working on.

Having experienced similar situations in the past over my writing career, I knew the best answer was to just get up and start working on the writing – changing words and phrases around, trying to make them fit like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

I pushed open the window in my study and was greeted with silence seeping in rather quickly from outside.

The scene was still quite dark, and the only sound was an occasional tremolo from a loon wavering through the cool early morning air.

I imagined the bird positioned like a battleship somewhere out there on the waters of the lake, keeping both eyes peeled for any potential approaching danger.

I guess it was about a half hour later that a wonderful breeze began to kick up and pour through my window screen and across the confines of my room.

It was a cooling sensation, but the air also smelled sweet bringing me an added bonus pleasantness.

Floating in on that air were the first hints of light in the sky as the dawn was slowly beginning to break. My attention was distracted toward the window with each soothing gust that rushed across my body as I typed.

This was not to be a scorching day, nor a decidedly humid day either. This appeared to be in the dreamy range of Goldilocks days when everything seems to be “just right.”

I try to be sure to experience the hours around dawn at least once each year but end up doing so on several occasions.

There is a rare quiet then that differs from those at other times of the day. It’s not something easy to explain, but perhaps I could liken it to a calm before a storm.

In this case, the storm would be humanity rushing and scurrying to get to work and every other place determined subjectively to be necessary.

There is a palpable sense that a great deal of activity is about to take place, but those pre-dawn hours are a peaceful interlude that hangs over everything, like molasses dripping off anything – sweet and thick.

I turned back to my work and heard a car running up the county road headed into town. Within a minute or two later, I heard another. The rush appeared to be underway, albeit only in a preliminary fashion.

The quiet pooled back in and swirled around everything.

At 5:30 a.m. sharp, that all changed.

I heard a single bird begin to sing. It was one of the so-called “name-sayers,” birds whose songs or calls sound as though they are saying their names – as in chickadees.

This was an eastern phoebe, a bird that I have not heard singing around the yard in weeks. But here, in the early morning hours, he was the first one up and singing with his raspy and repetitive “fee-bee” song.

He began what was to become like the story described in the singing of the old traditional “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” song which describes, one-by-one, the guests to arrive at Froggy’s marriage to Miss Mouse.

The next to come was a little flea, danced a jig with the bumblebee, M-hm, M-hm.

I wasn’t anticipating I’d hear a dawn chorus of songbirds because it seemed late in the summer for that. Typically, those are April into early July affairs, so even if there was to be some singing, I expected it to be sparse.

I was pleasantly surprised. What the chorus lacked in members, those who sang were quite accomplished – none greater than a male northern cardinal whose singing seemed like it could be heard for a mile.

He and his lovely mate had stayed throughout the winter and were now evidently nesting in our neighborhood. That’s quite nice.

Then a red-eyed vireo joined in, not an unexpected addition as he is heard almost all day long singing his familiar “see me, here I am” song.

What was unexpected was a white-breasted nuthatch, another bird I have neither seen nor heard for weeks around the yard. His nasal call notes were answered by a robin who was now singing nearby.

Way in the distance, I could hear crows cawing at the coming of the daytime. Perhaps they were squawking about the sun taking away their cover that is so easy to find in the darkness of night.

An interesting absence was that of the sound of one, and perhaps two, pairs of house wrens that have taken up residence in a small birdhouse and our much larger purple martin apartment building.

Throughout the day, the bubbly and buzzing sound of these tiny little birds is easily heard from a good distance away. They sing almost constantly, but I guess not at this time of the day.

They may be late sleepers.

Another element absent from the chorus was the great-crested flycatcher. Perhaps another late sleeper?

Weeks ago, I found that our large wood-duck-type nest box was filled with nothing but strips of birch bark. Within a few days, my visiting brother noticed that a pair of the flycatchers had been frequenting the nest box.

I saw them too, but then I haven’t heard or seen them much since. I did hear one of them singing over the past couple days. I presumed they may not be singing because the female was sitting on eggs.

We also have flying squirrels nesting in two of our nest boxes, as they did last summer and the summer before that.

So, just when the chorus of morning birdsong began to swell to a full crescendo, the sounds started to break apart.

It was now as though the act was featuring band members as soloists, while the whole sound kept being produced, though at a much lower level.

It was very cool to hear.

The cardinal was up front wailing like a trumpet player and then he dropped back to let the phoebe get a couple of licks in. Within a half hour or so, it was all over with.

The sun was shining now, and the winds had picked up, but shifted so that they were no longer blowing directly into my window. The air that did come in remained soft and light.

It was almost as if the birds helped herald in the arrival of the new day and the sunshine. Once it was here, they were gone. Or at least quietly going about their business.

The most prominent sound now is the wind shaking and shivering the leaves on the trees. I can still hear the eastern phoebe, though the song is faint.

I close my eyes to allow me to concentrate better on the sounds. Before another vehicle whooshes past, I hear a robin way, way off in the distance.

This experience has given me the idea to linger a little longer this week as I plan to lie in our hammock watching for the appearance of the northern lights. There is supposed to be a great show.

It would be very cool to fall to sleep watching the aurora borealis and wake up to the dawn chorus taking place all around me.

An unzipped sleeping bag would keep me warm.

I think it sounds like a great idea.

For today, I plan to take a walk in the sunshine to see what I can see.

I’ll be looking for some more peace, relative quiet and birdsong to soak up, along with those hopefully still fine breezes of summertime.

This is the kind of day I dream about on those gray, sunless days of February.

I need to schedule some time to get outside to enjoy it.

Some days, if I don’t set some type of intentional mechanism to remind me to get out there, I can get swept away by the demands of my day and float on into wishing I had acted differently.

Here’s looking forward to a great many wonderful outdoors moments to be present in today and everyday.

Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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