P1070411The opening act is the rooster, starting so far before dawn that the sky, while not black, is  navy blue, a velvety background to the dazzling morning stars. Then comes Merle, who often perches on the neighbor’s television antenna. At this hour, he seems not so much to sing as to deliver either a monologue or newscast. Merle is a merle, a blackbird, and I’ve gotten to know him well over the past couple of years.

Same branch as above, months earlier.

Merle is gregarious, even with our neighbor, whose big heart finds room for any stray and who currently has six or seven cats and twin bulldogs, named Hermione and Hubert. Merle also sings to the neighbor, who looks like Catherine Deneuve did 15 years ago, so I get a bit jealous, but she admitted she leaves him food. But so do I! With no cats to dodge!

Not Merle, but other residents.
Keeping an eye on me.

Merle does spend a lot of time with me. He hops around in the grass, always about six feet away, while I hang laundry on the line. If I turn around or step toward him, he skitters into the bushes, as if I can’t see the fat black bird behind the leaves, especially since he makes a ruckus in the mulch. Merle, get your act together, or the cats will get you!

Bird? What bird?

When we dine in the pergola, he comes to a branch just above it, violating his six-foot rule, serenading our dinner. At sunset, he perches on the peak of the roof and sings his lungs out. Sometimes it’s a complex aria, full of emotional highs and lows. Operatic. Sometimes it sounds more like speech.

A different visitor. Gorgeous.

I keep reading about how smart so many animals are. Elephants for sure. Dolphins. Octopus. I heard an interview with a scientist about how even plants may communicate. Just because we can’t decipher it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. P1070351

Speaking of smart, let’s hear it for the bees.

While filling a watering can, I watched a procession of ants along a wall. Traffic was heavy in on direction, the ants staying in line as if on a highway whose stripes I couldn’t see. Occasional ants made the return trip, and they bumped heads with every single ant they passed. Obviously they were communicating something. Yes, scientists will throw pheromones at you, but I think reduces what they do to something biological and not intellectual.

Teamwork to haul off a naan fleck.

The other day, my kid made naan. Best eaten hot, so we left cleanup for after dinner. Ants beat us to it. I was fascinated. Several ants cooperate to haul away a fleck of dough. They tugged one way, then one would go around to the other side to help there. Maybe they use pheromones, but they aren’t stupidly sniffing (actually they don’t smell; their antennas pick up the chemical) and following.

Imagine ants looking at a computer and saying, “Humans use this to communicate, but it’s all ones and zeroes. Can’t be very important.”

What are they saying?

Scientists also think trees talk (a different one here). They not only communicate but share nutrients and water and protect their young. One interview I heard hypothesized that other living beings are on different time scales and different frequencies that we just can’t detect. A tree might live hundreds of years, and the communication might be so stretched out that we observe nothing. A fly lives months, and might be so fast that we detect nothing.


We are so human-centered that we don’t pay any attention to anything else. We tear up forests for agriculture, and tear up agriculture for houses and shopping centers. More and more and more consumption, most of which we don’t even consume; it goes through our hands momentarily before moving to a landfill.

Saturday morning.

And when ants or bees or other bugs bother us, we annihilate them with chemicals. My thinking on this has changed drastically in the past few years. Maybe I was late to the game. But it seems we have a long way to go.

A bee casualty among the fallen acacia blooms. Why do so many of them die?

That said, please, ants, stay out of the kitchen.

46 thoughts on “Merle, the Singer

  1. Another beautiful post.

    Regarding the bee in your last photo, if it makes you feel any better, that one died because she wore out her wings. It was a perfectly natural occurrence.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know the feeling. Several years back I went out one morning to find my whole colony in a pile outside the hive opening. I haven’t replaced them. I may someday. They are fascinating creatures.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I just started following your blog and am enjoying your style immensely!
    We live near Uzès, and our views are similar… although you have had more rain than we have. Very dry here! Loved this story. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Keep listening to your Merle. He is surely talking more sense than anyone else around! I feel sad to see dead and dying bees near us, too. But in the grand scheme of things, I am also confident that nature and our planet will adapt. Humans, sadly not. Lovely post!

    Liked by 2 people

        1. I saw it yesterday evening on my way to town—the smoke was enormous. I pulled over to take a picture and could see flames at the south edge, even from a distance. On my way home an hour later, the flames had spread and the billows of smoke glowed red miles to the northeast of the earlier flames. The wind was calm last night but today it’s stiff. It’s still far from Carcassonne itself and very far from my house. It’s in an area that was devastated a couple of decades ago. Stupid to build houses there.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the links! Suzanne Simard’s TED talk was fabulous as was the Smithsonian article. Loved Peter Wohlleben’s Hidden Life of Trees. The Japanese concept of “forest bathing” makes so much sense to me: a walk in the forest always feels as if it’s feeding my soul. We need to pay more attention to the natural world that surrounds us.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the song of a blackbird – for years I didn’t hear a single one in our village, and then this spring one took up residence in the tree across the road from where I work!! It’s lovely listening to him in the mornings (and sometimes afternoons). Nature has lots of resources, and many surprises in store for us humans…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel the same way. I have to stop myself from thinking too much about how human’s have ruined the earth otherwise I’d never get out of bed. Fine if we want to destroy ourselves but we don’t have the right to destroy all other species.

    We have some musical Red Cardinals living in our front yard trees this year. I love to listen to them caling each other.

    I saw a documentary on the intelligence of crows. It was astounding how smart they are and how well they communicate amongst themselves.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Argh! I just lost my comment : (.

    I agree with you completely. I try not to think too much about how humans are destroying the earth otherwise I’d never get out of bed in the morning. Fine if we want to destroy ourselves but we don’t have the right to destroy all the other species on the planet.

    We had a Love Bird for 17 years. He was as smart as my dog, maybe even smarter. I often find myself missing him. It’s been ten years since he died.

    I saw a documentary about how smart crows are and it was astounding. Their ability to communicate with each other was incredible.


    Liked by 1 person

  8. How sweet! Seems like Merle loves your garden, he feels safe there. And I do agree that the over consumption and mindless destructions are aggravating factors. Bees in particular are sensitive to drought. We keep a small glass with fresh water out on the patio table and it’s just fascinating to see how two or three of them carry water for hours, we suspect there must be a hive in our neighborhood. They are like clock work, they show up at the same time in the morning and don’t stop until 5-ish in the afternoon. We believe that there are the same two, but maybe they take turns.They definitely communicate with each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so interesting. We have a lot of bees on the lavender at the moment, and I wouldn’t be able to tell whether they were regulars, plus there are many different varieties. They really do work all the time.


  9. I like your friendly backyard Bird friend. David and I both do beekeeping in our backyard with for hives and up until this year we’ve had really poor luck with the bees them dying every winter or even earlier than that but this year it’s been a good year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congratulations on helping the bees, even if lately it’s been hard. I saw lots of “insect hotels” at the Abbey of Fontfroide and would like to do something like that, but not sure. There’s an article in the New York Times today about Berlin beekeepers.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Merle, seems like an interesting friend to have not to mention amusing. We have cardinals that nest/live in our back yard. It is fascinating to watch them interact with their young and each other. We also have a squirrel that visits all of the time. If he does not find any food he peers in the kitchen window, then if we still do not take him his food he runs up and down the screens making a racket. At our last house we rescued 2 baby squirrels that jumped from their nest after their mom was run over and they lived on our lanai for a year. Pecan was the first one and Paris the second, Pecan was like a pet, Paris was more independent. But both came everyday to be fed. I love watching my birds, and the copious amount of dragon flies that have been out this year. Although I do not chase off the bees and wasps I will be honest I do chase of the spiders.

    Have a wonderful evening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Speaking of the intelligence of animals, pigs are incredibly smart. If you are interested in learning more about them there is an excellent book, Pig Tales written about them.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It’s funny how they come and wordlessly demand to be fed.
      No species but humans indoors chez moi, though I will escort the geckos outside. But in the garden, I don’t chase or kill anything.


  11. Wonderful post – coincidentally, I am in the middle of reading The Overstory, which, though fiction, explores the communication between trees and their differing timeline. I recommend it!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I loved this post!! I was going to say people think they’re the “Queen Bee,” higher on the intellectual food chain than anything else, but then I was reminded of Beyonce… I am not a fan… who is a self-proclaimed Queen Bee. Yes, she’s worked very hard, but there’s an arrogance there that’s off-putting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read an interesting piece about environmentalism, and that some fundamentalist Christians are against it because they consider the Earth was created for man to do with as he likes, and that nothing else matters.
      As for Bey, to each his own, but I think she’s brilliant. Isn’t it her fans who call her Queen, not herself? But a guy who boasts doesn’t get nearly the scorn as a self-confident woman.


  13. Merle is a gorgeous visitor! I do love birds with personalities, especially when they have a lovely singing voice with which to serenade you. When we lived near the sea with a garden, we had some close relationships with successive generations of Australian Magpies (not a corvid family bird, surprisingly), which are both smart and beautiful singers.

    I saw the Wohlleben book yesterday and hummed and hahed over buying it! It’s a fascinating idea that you’ve explored here, the parallel universes around us that we are unable to engage with or even recognise. I’m sure in future centuries, if we’re still around as a species, we’ll have a better understanding of our interconnectedness with the other lifeforms we share the world with and maybe even join in with them, if they’ll have us! For now, it’s really the stuff of speculative fiction. I read a great series some years ago where the cetaceans in the Southern Ocean were the highest life form.

    Your “Saturday morning” photo is beautiful, too!

    Liked by 1 person

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