I heard somewhere that rain is used to signify “change” in movies. Maybe the character has an epiphany. Maybe they’ve just lost someone, or there is a terrible accident. At any rate, in many pivotal movie scenes, you can bet your bottom dollar there is some rain coming.
Here is a perfect example:
This morning my room is gray. Usually Arya, the World’s Greatest Dog, is awake by the time my 7am alarm dings, but today she is fast asleep. I prop myself up on an elbow in bed and peek through the blinds.
I throw the window open and plop back into bed. Is there anything more lovely than the way warm rain smells in March? Arya completes her morning stretches and hops up to join me under the covers. Together we lie there and listen to the water patter against the sill. Arya nuzzles my palm whenever I stop scratching her ears.
After a moment, I hear it. Hidden behind the soft pitter of droplets there is something beautiful. Something I didn’t realize I was missing until right that very moment. A bird was singing. A BIRD WAS SINGING.
[If you’ve never lived in New England then you won’t understand the joy of hearing the first bird song after a long, gray, depressing and dead winter. If you do live in New England, can I get an AMEN?]
I close my eyes, stroke Arya’s ears, and let the repetitive “hoo-hoo-hoo” drown me in happiness. We stay in bed like this for at least 20 minutes longer than we should.
Finally I nudge Arya away, and we trudge down the hallway to do our morning potty break. I pull on my boots, rub the smudged makeup from under my eyes [this is Brookline, there are standards for public appearances], and don my raincoat.
Once outside, I watch Arya’s nose wiggle like a rabbit’s as she sniffs the air. I wonder if it smells different up here than in Tennessee. I wonder if she smells the ocean breeze from the harbor, or the sewage from the city. To me it just smells like clean morning rain.
A large raindrop smacks her forehead and she blinks comically. I laugh. And then I hear it again: “hoo-ohh hoo hoo hoo.”
I look up in the trees to try and find it. I remember hearing the call from my childhood. What kind of bird is that? How can I have made it 26 years and not know which bird makes this sound? It’s not a harsh crow call, or a trilling whistle. Instead it sounds like four repeated notes from a flute. Throaty and full. Earthy. Wet and warm like this day.
I hear it periodically throughout our walk. Each time I glance up into the trees. Is it there? On the phone lines? The pitched roof of this house? I hear it, but it stays hidden. I pull my hood off and let the rain wet my hair. I don’t want to miss the bird if it calls again.
My eyes are turned upward the entire walk. I nearly trip over Arya when she stops to sniff a hydrant.
Hoo-ohh, hoo, hoo, hoo.
WHERE THE HELL IS THIS BIRD?
For some unknown reason, I decide I won’t be able to function today until I learn the origin of this birdsong. I come inside, give Arya her breakfast and frantically scour Google:
BIRD SONGS OF NEW ENGLAND
COMMON BIRD CALLS MASSACHUSETTS
Between sips of coffee I listen to at least four dozen bird recordings.
That’s not it. Nope. What is it? What is it?
I try spelling it out phonetically. No luck — everything sounds like a hooty owl.
I head to my porch. I want to hear it one more time. A siren wails in the distance. Cars drive repeatedly over puddles. A child laughs loudly. Someone drags their trash bin over the asphalt. A different bird chirps. God damnit, I know you’re out there, I think at the bird. Then it comes. Hoo-ohh hoo, hoo hoo.
I do what any reasonable 26-year old girl does when they don’t know the answer. I text my father: “I just spent 25 minutes combing through the internet to find the name of a bird that’s been hoo-ing all morning.”
“Try a common ground dove,” he texts back.
No way. No way can my father know exactly the bird song I’m trying to find without any prior knowledge of the sound other than ‘hoo-ing’. I practically run to my computer and google COMMON GROUND DOVE SONG.
THERE IT IS. THAT’S THE SONG.
My hair is wet from the rain, and Arya watches me run between the porch and my laptop for two minutes. Hitting play on the computer, then listening for the song outside.
All my life I’ve heard that song and I never knew the name of the bird. Now I will never forget it.
A mourning dove. How can something so simple be so beautiful? I sit on the porch and sip my coffee and listen for it. Each call brings me closer to something better. Something bigger than myself. I just don’t know what it is yet.