Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reuniting with the Soothing Call of a Western Meadowlark

For me, smells and memories go hand-in-hand but I’m not talking about the infamous smell of sour milk at a very small spot on the backseat cover of our distinctive-grilled 1954 De Soto, courtesy of my middle sister during a bout of car sickness and detectible only when you laid down back there.

From my earliest memories, my favorite sound has been the plaintive cheerfulness of a Western Meadowlark. You can’t hear it in my adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina (my favorite here is the sound of a Cardinal) but thanks to the folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I can always hear it at these links or via my Audubon iPhone app.Western Meadowlark

I can’t hear or “play” the call of a Western Meadowlark without also recalling the vivid smells of pines and sagebrush, particularly when still moist with morning dew. The bird is common and some stay year-round where I grew up in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of eastern Idaho along the Henry’s Fork.

The sound of this squatty little brown bird with the yellow breast and a sporty black v-neck, typically perched atop fence posts, sounded particularly cheerful in winter whenever we loaded up a gigantic sleigh stacked with bales of hay and pulled by a favorite team of draft horses over five foot high drifts of snow to go out and feed cattle.

I found it interesting that Teddy Roosevelt journaled about the sound of the Western Meadowlark while working on his far western North Dakota Ranch. I wish now I had jogged north at the famed rally town of Sturgis, South Dakota during my 6,000 mile cross-country trip to scout a future motorcycle venture and up into the area where his Elkhorn ranch is now part of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the birthplace of that President's strong feelings about conservation.

From the photographs, the only difference between that part of far western North Dakota and the area of Idaho where I grew up are the spectacular mountains like the Tetons that spike up dramatically out of the Yellowstone Plateau, a caldera of a volcanic eruption 1.3 million years ago. This is a vast country but as Americans we have a great deal in common including a fondness for Western Meadowlarks, second in number as a State bird with six to my other favorite, the Cardinal with seven. Idaho though picked another of my favorites, the Mountain Bluebird.

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