The Bluebird of Happiness?

Kate Flora: As I frequently encourage the rest of you to be, I’ve tried to be more attuned to the world around me lately. The habit of getting up, staggering to the kitchen, and making coffee which I drink while reading the news is hard to break, though. As is what follows–sitting down at my laptop and starting to work. And there’s my “I’m stuck and don’t know where to go next” activity, which is browsing shoes on eBay. I used to joke that you could tell how the writing was going by how many pairs of shoes I’d bought recently.

Well…those of you in New England, remember that insanely heavy rain last week? The one that washed down the street and poured mud and rocks into my driveway? Well, it also washed a pair of shoes, dropped off by one of those casual delivery guys who just dumped in the driveway, into the middle of the lawn. When I found it, those shoes were soaking wet. Perhaps this is a message from the universe to STOP BUYING SHOES?

But this is supposed to be about bluebirds, right? Or paying attention? Well, to help me pay attention, I’ve got the Cornell Merlin app on my phone. I rarely see the birds but I often hear them, and so I’m gradually getting better at grabbing the phone and going out into the yard to let it listen with me. A week ago, there was a very odd new bird sound, one I thought was some kind of hawk, so phone and I dashed outside to listen. Phone said–and this made me laugh–that it was a merlin.

Then, a few days later, another, and different sound, and the bird flew past so fast I couldn’t get a good look at it. But it wasn’t a shy and retiring type, and Merlin said it was a Cooper’s Hawk. I don’t remember all these hawks being around before, but perhaps Merlin is just tuning up my senses.

That’s not all the avian world is offering this summer. There’s a loon on the cove, returned early from inland where I understand they go to breed. There are wispy little hummingbirds visiting my flowers. And biggest treat of all, bluebirds dashing to and fro eating berries from the bush below the porch. A few days earlier, I had said we ought to cut those bushes back because they in the way–the bushes, not the bluebird–but thank goodness we didn’t get to it. What a wonderful treat to sit and watch those amazing flashes of blue.

Next door, there were a pair of mallards hunkered down below my neighbor’s bird feeder. A flock of six turkeys have a regular route through our property and sometimes roost in the trees. The baby Eiders are almost grown and the Eiders are massing as they did in the spring. Stately groups of Canada Geese travel in flotillas up and down the cove.

This isn’t just a lazy day activity. Paying attention to the world around us gives us so much. Knowing about the flora and fauna can make our writing much more vivid and help our readers to feel located in a particular, rather than generic place. Spending time, as we authors do in summer, at book fairs and art and culture events gives us an ever-changing panoply of characters. How they look, how they walk, how they dress, the endless variety of colored hair and tattoos. Who makes eye contact and who looks away? How couple behave together. Who will be the first to declare: I don’t read.

Merlin can’t help with that, of course. There isn’t an app to ID people, but Merlin can remind us to pay attention. To collect images and sounds and scents for our writing or simply for our pleasure at being in the world.

A reminder about our Body Contest. Please share with your friends:

Yes, friends, it’s back: Our “Where Would You Put the Body?” contest

It’s Maine Crime Writers “Where Would You Put the Body?” contest – late summer/early fall edition. How do you enter? Send a photograph of your chosen spot to: with “Where Would You Put the Body?” in the subject line. There will be prizes for First, Second, and Third place–books of course and other Maine goodies. You may enter no more than three photographs, each one entered separately. They must be of Maine places and you must identify the place in your submission. Photos must be the submitter’s original work. Contest will run through the middle of October.



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8 Responses to The Bluebird of Happiness?

  1. John Clark says:

    Sounds like you’re channeling Mom.

  2. Joyce Lovelace says:

    I hadn’t heard about the Merlin app. Good to know as I can definitely hear more birds than I can see.

  3. kaitcarson says:

    Love Merlin and use it regularly. I also have iNaturalist. My best friend to take on hikes!

  4. maggierobinsonwriter says:

    I make myself leave the desk and sit outside in the garden every day, even if it’s only for 10 minutes. And just sit. No dead-heading, no skimming leaves from the pond, no brushing the dog. There’s a lot going on out there if you take the time to look. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Brenda M Buchanan says:

    Oh no! Not the shoes!

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