The memory is vivid: from, I suppose, the year before kindergarten, when the other kids -– the pack of cousins and friends who spent their days under Mumsie's supervision –– were away at school.
Mumsie was a housewife then, an unapologetic homemaker. She ironed the laundry after taking it in from the line. She waxed the wood floors and prepared hot dinners every night. On some weekday mornings, she met with other housewives for coffeecake.
But she also made a study of wild birds. She went to the occasional meeting of the Audubon society. She carried a fresh paperback Roger Tory Petersen field guide everywhere she went.
I wonder about these two impulses, the domestic and the outdoorsy. She'd crank up the hifi and put "Songbirds of America" on repeat while pottering around the house. To this day, I half expect the sweet "chu-tweedle-ee" or what-have-you of wild birdsong to be followed by an authoritative male voice announcing, "The territorial call of the common Wood Thrush."
Echoing birdsong is part of how a person learns the birds. I break into "chick-a-dee-dee-dee!" more often than is strictly necessary, but I'm lazy. I return to high-tech assistants like the Cornell Ornithology lab website frequently to help me make an identification.
Although she wasn't really impressed by them, Mumsie approved of these innovations: smart phone apps, websites. I think she understood that –– for all the interactive bells and whistles –– all of it is just a short step away from listening to a record.