I had a plan to work on a project related to birds and people when I applied for Chalk Hill Artist Residency, so I was more than delighted to be greeted by an avian chorus upon my arrival. Over the subsequent two and half weeks in Sonoma County, I came to think of the Spotted Towhee, Brown Towhee, Scrub Jay, Stellar’s Jay, Dark-eyed Junco, Tufted Titmouse, Bushtit, Mourning Dove, Northern Flicker and Acorn Woodpecker combo as one of two of my 'house bands.’ Within a few days, a Red-winged Blackbird could often be heard singing lead. The late afternoon/early evening house band was slightly different: Lesser Goldfinch, Western Bluebird, House Finch and Robin. Often, the California Quail, Song Sparrow and Savanah Sparrow sat in with both combos. Nature’s jazz!**
I always keep a casual list of birds* I see when I stay somewhere. At Chalk Hill, this of course quickly turned into a song, which is part of the larger musical project idea I came here to focus on. Very soon, I also started recording the bird songs and calls I was hearing. Which dovetailed (no pun intended) with my other intention for work here: to write for different voices and use found rhythm as much as my guitar to write for those. (I’m going to say more about this in the coming weeks as I want to vet some of what I came up with before I share it so publicly!) Suffice to say, I’ll be leaving here with nearly a dozen songs underway for my musical project.
As I’ve started to turn my attention toward returning home, I wrote up my Chalk Hill bird list more neatly for the residency guest book. Then I went for a walk up the hill here to big rock that looks over the bend in the river. I was feeling a bit unsettled as I began my walk back to the house— worried about the state of the world, the health of my loved ones, my community, how I was going to earn money, what’s going to happen next — and decided to sit on a bench on the side of the hill to quiet my mind (I don’t have a formal mediation practice. I tend to just …sit). Within 30 seconds I started to see a Golden Eagle sitting in a tree about 20 yards in front of me! It gave me the side-eye for a couple seconds then very calmly lifted its wings and soared silently upriver.
I felt better, walked home, called a friend, and then saw a great big rainbow!
The unknown still remains, but if I’m going to hold onto anything in the coming days, I’m going to strive to hold onto those.
And speaking of choruses. When I got back from the hill, I found I’d been tagged in an Alameda group post about having local musicians, playing on their quarantined porches, at the same hour, 6pm, on Friday. I love the thought of all us sitting on our various perches, warbling away, for the sheer joy and offering of it. And I hope more of this kind of community music-making — like Italians singing from their balconies — continues. (See my earlier post about this quarantine porch fest idea).
*I expect to add to this list as I expect to use some of my upcoming quarantine time to try to key out the birdsongs I recorded but didn’t always recognize or see who was singing.