My dad. He could whistle the meadowlark's song.


Day of the Meadowlark

            One of the great influences of my childhood was the song of the meadow lark. Larks had become special, because my father had woven a myth wherein the day of my birth, March 21st, and the first day of spring, and the return of the meadow larks were intertwined. In fact he put together a ritual we observed for many of my early birthdays. We would go out behind our barn, and look out across our cow pasture towards the Boise de Sioux to the east and listen.

Unfailingly, bourne on the chilling March breeze would come those glorious, pure, soul-restoring notes of the first lark, 'See see the tiddlywinks'

            "I hear him, Daddy. 'I would shout. I hear the meddlelark! I hear him!"

            My dad was a great whistler, and he would immediately answer the lark's call with his own almost perfect reply. Then the lark would answer; then my dad, then other larks would chime in from other quarters of the pasture and voila, Spring would have arrived!

            Springs really seemed special then, augmented by my boyhood enthusiasm and love for all things natural. But the returning spring birds held an almost holy mysteriousness to my young, developing soul. There was a mingling of spirits taking place: hope, and promise and renewal and restoration mingled themselves with pure joy and jubilation that winter, that grey deathly thing was dying.

            The larks always struck the first chord for me, even though other avian voices were often audible on March 21st as well. Kildeers and red-winged blackbirds would soon or simultaneously be heard from the east side of the red Pinkney barn on those sacred and blessed mornings. And at night, flock after flock of geese voiced, their wild cries adding the miracle of night migration to the awe filled-imagination of at least one young “ brother of the old wild goose” fully tuned to their wild tumult in the night.

            It was the larks that inspired my first venture into poetry. I think I can even still remember something of how that poem went:

                                    Jubilant songster, bird of spring

                                    Singing perched or on the wing,

                                    Making all the pastures ring

                                    Oh welcome home.

                                    How I joy to hear your voice;

                                    Making all the fields rejoice

                                    Hearing you is all my choice

                                    Pour out your song.

            Over many springs since those early days I observed the ritual of listening for the lark.But it was about 1988 when I first experienced disappointment when the larks failed to show up on time. Sadly, that disappointment has been growing steadily for the simple reason that Rachel Carson’s prophecy of the 'silent spring' seems to be coming true at least for the meadow larks of the Red River Valley of the North

            This year’s spring journey down to Bigstone Lake in South Dakota to open our lake cabin turned up not a single meadow lark. I used to see hundreds on such trips even back to the mid-nineties.

  I hope it is just the absence of the little farms with their cow pastures that has become the cause for this dark omen; but I fear intensive areal spraying and wall to wall intensive farming of every available square inch of farmland is the real culprit.

            The good old farmers, many going out of business in my boyhood 50's, often left all sorts of fence-lines and marginal land available for wildlife. Now there is almost none in the valley, nor are there larks--or pheasants for that matter.

 Somehow the redwing blackbirds still thrive, but field sparrows, upland plovers, bobolinks and even killdeers seem to be on the way out.

 I pray God will give them sanctuary somewhere, but what a huge loss it is to the valley, that the few farm boys still growing up out there on the huge expanses now passing as farms, will not be able to stand outside their barns on the first day of Spring and be awed and inpired with the purest thing in all of North Dakota nature: the song of the meadow lark.

            That song was all I needed to assure me that 'God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world.'

Now the kids have rap music. God, help us.

Sept. 13th 2006 

Gene Pinkney