Do you sometimes hear a sound from your past that calls up memories or feelings from that time? How about the school bell that signals the class change, for example?

For me, having grown up on the beach in Florida, the distant thump and following shhhhhh of the ocean meeting hard, wet sand gives me that lift I would feel walking down First Street to the unpopulated beach at the end of my street. It’s a feeling of freedom and openness and curiosity about a place that’s always the same, yet always different. (And by the way, it’s a different sound than ocean on rock.)

Camden poet Kristen Lindquist read her poem “Evensong” as part of the “Harbor. Poetry. Walk.” at the Belfast Poetry Festival in 2018. In it, she recalls the song of a particular bird from her childhood that her grandmother called a “rain sparrow.” Kristen writes:

“The white-throated sparrow is the quintessential bird of the coastal Maine woods, not necessarily one you would come across on the Harbor Walk but that you might hear or see in the woods along the Rail Trail or at your backyard feeder, especially during spring and fall migration. I grew up hearing this common bird at my grandparents' saltwater farm in Lincolnville.

“It wasn't until I started learning how to ID birds for myself, that I realized the song wasn't that of the (very uncommon) vesper sparrow, as I'd been told, but of a white-throated sparrow.

“Regardless of the bird's name, that lovely, drawn-out, whistled song, especially as the day comes to an end, feels to me like a form of vespers, or evening prayer. For me, that simple song is the music of home and loving memories of my grandmother and how she taught me to respect, revere, and learn about the natural world around us. Even something as ordinary as a sparrow's song can have the power to move us.”

_______

Evensong

Visiting birders from away told my grandparents the sparrow

they heard singing in their woods all summer long

 

was a Vesper Sparrow, which sounded right to my grandmother,

that long, clear song a haunting intonation that carried well in fog,

 

a sort of whistled prayer emanating from the trees at day's end.

So she taught me that's what they were, and then shared

 

her own name for the bird, Rain Sparrow, because she heard

his plaintive song as, "We're going to have rain." Years later

 

when I began to bird seriously, long after she was gone, I realized

I'd learned it all wrong, that the Vesper Sparrow was rare,

 

a grassland bird. Our bird was a White-throated Sparrow,

a common nesting species around here that, according to

 

the bird book, sings, "O Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody."

I prefer the song of rain. And I prefer to imagine that its name

 

refers to more than its white throat patch. I imagine its bill

opening and that throat pouring forth a song of perfect white:

 

white of foam on waves, of whelks we found at low tide,

pebbles of pure quartz I kept in my pocket for luck, tiny white

 

violets that spangled her lawn each spring. Or the crisp white

light of the Evening Star slowly brightening in the western sky

 

at sunset, for Vespers — No matter what we call this plain little bird,

his song, that old story of childhood and weather, always carries

 

me back. I can see again how the setting sun has sparked a path

across the bay, hear once more birdsong rising from spruces

 

along the shore. And every time, I hold myself still and listen.

Every time, those sweet, clear notes rain down their blessing.

— (c) Kristen Lindquist, kristenlindquist.com/blog

Linda Buckmaster was Belfast's poet laureate from 2009 to 2011.