At long last — weeks after I had given up the hope that I would see them this year — they returned.
As I stood at the kitchen sink, drank from a cup, and stared absent-mindedly into the backyard, I faintly heard a chorus of chattering. I heard it before I recognized it.
My attention tracked the origin of the noise. I went to the door, opened it quietly, and peered up at the old trees. Ah, they were dotted and filled with the purplish, black birds. Hundreds of them chucked like pigeons and squeaked like rusted gates. Hundreds. From the trees in the front of the house to the trees in the back, a crowd of them swooped, and the swooping felt like a huge quiet breath inhaled by the sky over my shoulder: a pause, a contraction, a gathering of force.
Usually, their arrival coincides with Columbus Day. This year, I waited and waited and waited, yet they seemed to have passed by without stopping for me, or perhaps they had not passed by at all, which made me wonder: what is going on in our climate?
The grackles are very late this year. Still, they have arrived and will probably stay for a day or two. While their gang sound is chilling and seems to bring a portent, I am relieved by their visit.
P.S. This video was taken by me, on the morning of November 16, 2009, as I stood on our back steps and looked up at the trees in our yard and beyond to my neighbor’s red roof. As you watch, turn up the volume on your machine to appreciate the effect of a sky filled with grackle sound.