Monday, May 31, 2010

"Sumer is icumen in"

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med

And springþ þe wde nu,
Sing cuccu!
- Middle English lyrics of English folk song


Summer has come in,
Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
The seed grows and the meadow
blooms
And the wood springs anew,
Sing, Cuckoo!
- Modern English translation of lyrics


The calendar may still say it is spring, but when the temperature is in the upper 90s and the humidity is close to the same, I'd say that summer has definitely "come in". For several days now, my area has enjoyed(?) those conditions and there is no doubt in my mind that summer is definitely here.

Even the cuckoo agrees. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo has been present here for some weeks now and I hear its quirky calls high in the trees often throughout the day. This is the bird that, as a child, I knew as the "rain crow". This solitary and secretive bird was a well-known visitor to our woods in summer. Its call was said to presage the coming of rain. As farm people, we liked to believe that bit of folklore during our hot and dry summers when the earth and the people were parched and thirsty for rain.

Sometimes the bird's calls did actually come before a shower or thunderstorm and that confirmed our belief. Most of the time, no rain fell after the calls were heard, but we just shrugged our shoulders and ignored that evidence. Just like believers of other myths, circumstances that seemed to intersect with our beliefs were accepted while anything contradictory was cast asunder.

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo may not actually be much of a rain forecaster, but, as a bird, it is very interesting. It is, as I stated before, very secretive and, even though it is a fairly large bird, it is often hard to see amid the leafy trees where it does most of its gleaning for insects, its main diet. In fact, its call is often more than likely to be the only evidence that the bird is present.

This bird and its cousin, the Black-billed Cuckoo (which also is sometimes commonly called "rain crow") spend their summers with us here in North America and then head south again when autumn tells them that cooler weather is on the way. Thay are birds that definitely like it hot, all the time.

As things continue to dry out here on my little half-acre, I listen to the calls of the rain crow and I hope that he knows something that the weatherman doesn't. My thirsty garden hopes so, too. Summer is most definitely here and the summer drought is well under way.

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