Riverdave's Journal

April 2015


       The earliest memory I still carry of life on Planet Earth is of an event that took place in a small house that my parents rented on Hillandale Road in north Durham.  It was 1953 and I was one year old.  Alone in my crib, I heard a sound that I still remember as both haunting and comforting.  I cannot recall if I understood what it actually was, but at some point in the following months or years I learned from my parents that this strange sound was the call of the nesting mourning dove.


        As I strain to remember the feelings associated with this sound, I might use other words such as mysterious, intriguing, unsettling, soothing,  and yes, at times very mournful.  I also recollect hearing the shuffling sounds of this creature that I later came to understand were made by the birds as they flew in and out of the nest under the eave of the house.  Perhaps I even heard the peeps of tiny chicks celebrating the return of their parents with crops full of regurgitable food, although that detail I cannot now remember.


       But the most important aspect of this experience was that it was my first encounter with wild nature.  At that time my parents had a resident cocker spaniel, but to have a wild creature build its nest outside my window was extra special.  Decades later when I made my first serious reconnection with the natural world as an adult at 35 years old, it was through birding. The beauty of bird vocalization and the mystery of long distance migration were what drew me.  But underlying these astonishing features of avian life, I sense that I was won over to birding at my earliest age by the cooing of the eave-nesting doves on Hillandale Road.


       Thirty-six years later in 1989, I lived in a house in the Mediterranean coastal town of Limassol, Cyprus.  We had an outdoor patio connected to the front entrance of this house on Ioannou Damaskinou Street.  My wife and I and our three daughters had long taken up the Middle Eastern tradition of cracking sunflower seeds between our front teeth, eating the kernels and then discarding the hulls on the patio floor around us.  Our behavior eventually attracted the watchful eye of a neighborhood rock dove that boldly showed up to scavenge the discarded leftovers around our feet. Eventually the dove learned to even take seeds right out of our hands.  We accepted him as part of the family and named him Ziyaad.


       But a problem soon manifested in that Ziyaad was getting a bit too comfortable around our patio dining table. He was pooping everywhere - on the table, on the chairs and on the surrounding floor.  We loved his cooing which was even more animated than the mourning dove of Hillandale Road.  But the outdoor dining area began to take on a disagreeable odor.  The landlord who lived upstairs complained to us about the staining of the stone wall where Ziyaad now perched.  We soon realized that we had made a mistake to deliberately court the friendship of this wild bird.  


       A plan was hatched.  Despite the protests of our children, I lured Ziyaad into a cardboard box with sunflower seeds and slammed the top shut.  We all drove off to the quaint Greek mountain village of Platres some twenty miles away.  In the town square I opened the box.  Suddenly faced with a new reality, Ziyaad hesitated, then flew up to a tree limb above our heads. The bird looked back at us with that curious, head tilting move that is so common to doves.  We watched him for a while and then said our goodbyes.  I tried to cheer our girls by getting pizza at a Platres restaurant and then went for a hike along a mountain stream. But we were all moody and distracted so we returned back down the mountain.  When we pulled up in our car to our house, there was Ziyaad waiting defiantly for us on the patio table!  


       The news of Ziyaad's remarkable return soon spread up and down Ioannou Damaskinou Street.  One neighbor mentioned that he owned a second home on the opposite side of the island beyond the central mountain range.  He offered to take our rock dove with him on his coming weekend getaway.  We agreed, trusting his promise that Ziyaad would not end up as part of his traditional Greek cuisine.  


       The most recent chapter of my dove experience began one early morning in March of 2014.  Under the eave of our cabin on Wanda Ridge by the Eno River, I heard the gentle cooing of a mourning dove.  It was still cold outside as I huddled next to the wood stove to stay warm.  But Spring vibes were in the air, with a few flower buds opening and birds beginning to strike up their tunes. I walked outside and looked up at the side of the house and sure enough, there was a dove next to a small pile of twigs on a tiny ledge under the eave.


       For days I meditated on the energetic echoes of this bird that had resonated in my life for over six decades. Especially how one wild animal with such a plaintiff call could connect me so directly and with such immediacy to my personal origins.   I was reminded of Henry Thoreau's opening lines in Walden where he noted: 


       I long lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle dove, and am still on their trail.  Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who have heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

       So it seems that I too am still on the trail of this elusive dove. One early reader of Walden later questioned Henry about the hound, horse and dove.  He replied, "Well, sir, I suppose we all have our loses."   

       And yes, from my earliest days, I have experienced my share of losses.  But to have an affirmation of my own grief from such a beautiful avian messenger of wild Nature, has become an unfolding resource expanding my appreciation of a universal experience of loss and abandonment in the midst of Nature's gifts of beauty and unity.  And that work continues.  The mourning dove promptly showed up at the same nesting spot again this year in March 2015, cooing under the eave of my cabin …  
       *** 2016 footnote - Today on February 20, 2016 at 7AM, our resident Wanda Ridge dove showed up on his ledge for the first time this year and began cooing.  I was startled that he arrived an entire month earlier than in the two previous years.  But then the syncronicity hit me again with full force.  My one and a half year old grandson, Tyler, had made his very first visit to our home on Wanda Ridge yesterday evening and was sleeping quietly in the next room as "Ziyaad" arrived ...