Mourning Dove Songs

They arrived early this morning: a pair of mourning doves who huddled on our cedar deck rail in the 39-degree air. They stayed near each other as the wind occasionally ruffled their feathers. They groomed themselves, cooed, blinked, hunkered down.

We saw them through the patio doors, then moved slowly, quietly, so as not to startle them. I watched them from our dining room table for several minutes.

“I’m surprised you haven’t gone for your camera yet,” my partner Mick said.

“I don’t want to miss them,” I said. “I’m afraid they’ll fly away before I get back.”

Finally, I did retrieve my camera bag. I returned to the dining room table, attached the zoom lens to the camera body, and my favorite birds obliged. They ruffled their feathers some more, blinked right at me as if to say, yes, we know you won’t hurt us. Go ahead. Take our pictures. I focused on them through the window, snapped away.

Mourning doves are the sweetest beings. Their presence made me feel calm and happy, as if I had just completed a meditation session to their haunting songs. Mick and I talked about how they must be nesting nearby and how we haven’t seen as many mourning doves as we used to. It may be that they don’t like our neighborhood much, with the hawks and foxes that have become more common in the last decade. Or it may be that there really are fewer since hunting mourning doves is legal in Minnesota. I can’t imagine someone hunting these soft quiet creatures who hurt nothing and provide very little as a source of food.

Eventually, I had to put down my camera, get dressed, prepare for the day. I ate breakfast in front of the CBS morning news program before I left the house, listened to the sad news of yet another earthquake in Nepal, magnitude 7.3. Disaster layered upon disaster. My calm and happy feelings dissipated as I listened to other news. The stupidity of people shooting each other. The ridiculousness of ongoing war. The devastation of the climate.

I shut off the television, rinsed my breakfast bowl, got in the shower. Later, I drove to an appointment, still thinking about Nepal. When I got back home, settling down to write was tough. I talked to my son, noticed one of the mourning doves on the neighbor’s roof. I watched him while I finished my phone call, the bird’s head bobbing as it walked across the shingles. My thoughts weren’t formulated enough for anything other than scribbling notes, so I went to lunch with Mick. Dino’s Gyros, where we ate, has televisions mounted overhead in their dining room; Nepal was on every screen. The first aftershocks ranged from 5.6 to 6.3. There was footage of people rushing from buildings, gathering in the streets, helpless to change anything. We can’t stop the earth from shifting along fault lines. We can try hard not to live on top of them, but that isn’t always possible. All I can do from my home in Minnesota is donate money; I’m woefully ill-equipped to go to a mountainous country and try to help dig people out.

Back at home once more, there was one of the doves back on the deck rail. I sat down in the dining room again, shot a few more photos. This little bird stayed there as long as I sat at the table. When I finally got up to make tea and get back to work, she flew. It was like she knew how much I liked her, how much her presence soothed. She cooed, her neck bulging with each note.

Maybe we just need to show up in sight of those in trouble, wait until they tell us what they need, and give them a note of hope.

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All photos by KC Mickelson, 2015.

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8 comments

  1. When I was a child I would hear the mourning doves call…and I learned how to mimic the call. Their song became closer to me. To this day, I know how to answer their calls. They seem to like people.

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  2. I often watch the birds at my feeders and find them soothing. The mourning doves stay on the ground and eat what other birds spill out. They are peaceful creatures. We can learn much from slowing our pace, listening to their haunting lament, and by allowing them to calm us.

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  3. My heart frequently aches for other people’s pain. In Nepal, as yours does, and elsewhere too. And yes. listening and waiting and helping where we can is a good start.
    As is watching the small magics of the birds. The big, small magics.

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