I was out early this morning, watering quickly, though mindfully, as we are allowed to water by hand, especially before six. Where it would have been light a month ago, it was dark, and the birds were still asleep. No chattering, just quiet, and stillness today. August is when birds molt, change feathers from summer to winter, so it usually is a quiet time.
Meanwhile I’m cleaning out books. It’s my way to molt. What feathers do I need to nourish in the dark?
In Harold Gatty’s book, Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass, I learn how to tune my senses to my environment. He writes of a famous traveler and explorer, F. Spencer Chapman, who was “kayaking along the east coast of Greenland with an Eskimo hunting party”.
Suddenly the fog came in, and visibility was nil. Though far from home, they were able to keep within sound of the shore. Chapman worried how they would find the narrow entrance to their home fjord but he writes: “The Eskimos seemed quite unperturbed … indeed they beguiled the time by singing verse after verse of their traditional songs and occasionally they threw their harpoons from sheer joie de vivre.”
An hour of paddling later, they turned into the entrance to their home.
How did they do it? Chapman wrote:
“All along this coast, there were snow buntings nesting, and each male bird … used to proclaim the ownership of his territory by singing his sweet little song from a conspicuous boulder. Now each cock snow bunting had a slightly different song, and the Eskimos had learned to recognize each individual songster so that as soon as they picked out the notes of the bird who was nesting on the headland of their home fjord, they knew it was time to turn inshore.”