Saturday, September 02, 2006
This week, I've begun waking up at 5:00 AM, and that means waking up before most creatures of the daytime world. I go outside to walk my dog when it's completely dark, look at morning stars, then finish the first cup of coffee and go back out when dawn is just breaking. I hate being sleepless all the time and having to go to bed before anything worth watching has been on the television, but pre-dawn is almost worth it.
This particular Saturday morning, I slept until just before dawn, and I went outside to walk the dog down the street before anyone else has a dog outside. I heard a mockingbird right by the house. I had startled it awake, and it was singing. Unfortunately for the bird, it was the first avian up.
Mockingbirds are mimics. Everyone knows that. They get mentioned in Southern literature quite often, even before Harper Lee. It's a bird often complained of in blues music, for example. Even faux Southerners like to say something something mockingbird. For people who grow up in the south, mockingbirds are notable only when you're trying to be accurate, because they generally disappear. After all, they're mimics, so you never know they're there.
Bull. Mockingbirds are not mimics. They're prima donnas. They are not ignorable, either. Mockingbirds set themselves up in prominent places, low down, make sure no one else is around them, and then begin to show off. Songs are to mockingbirds what clothes are to famine fashionistas. They sing everything from chainsaws to car alarms to finch songs to titmouse songs to warbler songs. Notice, however, that they never finish a song or leave well enough alone. If they were mimics, if they were camouflaged by their songs, then they'd just sing the Pine Siskin song and flash their wings, so other mockingbirds could say, "Whoa, great imitation... had me fooled until I saw your white wing bars." That's not what they do, though. They do siskin, then do a quick change and come back with the Black capped chickadee, then segue into bulldozer (no link available for the usgs guide to bulldozers in the wild). What mockingbirds are doing is showing off and preening (if you'll forgive taking a taken metaphor back).
Going out at 6:00 was bad this morning, because I saw the runway model naked. The mockingbird had no clothes to flash. It could only sound like itself, and what it sounded like was hoarse, unattractive, and repellent. The bird was shouting at me to go away, that he was not ready, that I was in his dressing room. It was the fury of a fashionista caught with only her own body to show. In fact, it was so ugly a noise that it would make me, if I were a bird, want to sing my own song, sign the air with my voice, just to show him how it's done. That, of course, would allow him to go to his knock-off textile factory and try to steal my fashions.