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A song of winter

The weather has been getting progressively more beastly. It has been necessary for me to move from coats which can be put on with a single heave to ones requiring heaves, wriggles, pushes and wrenches. Long before this, I have given up resignation for cheerful bravery without which we dwellers in cold climates would never emerge smiling. There is hardly need to describe the above progression as it relates to headgear or footwear. You can visualize me, mummified in coats, hats, mufflers and gloves, sloshing, sliding or mounting upon whatever the city snow has settled into. When - of all things - I hear birdsong!

You may have too. At least, some of my friends confirm they have. It has happened throughout the years so regularly I now expect it, at the grayest, sloshiest moment, usually in late January. The magic of it would be lost if it came after the seasonal turn toward warmth. I hear it when most of the bitter cold lies before me, a grueling test of my endurance. No letup promised. Just more and more of the same.

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That birdsong! Maybe, from a professional point of view, one should call it birdtalk, since birds are not supposed to sing except when they mate in spring. But what I hear is definitely a sweet bird sound, however brief, however fragile , and it's loaded with promise. My heart, no matter how tweed-laden or wool-wrapped, leaps at the sound and listens for more. There's a momentary lifting of the winter gloom, a diminishing of the bite in the wind.

Spring is just around the corner? No! That's not what it says at all. Spring is here, right now! Not the whole loveliness of it, but the essence, certainly. And who's to say that June in January isn't sweeter than June itself, particularly if one glimpses that, with a bit of skill, one can always provide for oneself a bit of June in January, and this without the help of a titmouse, sparrow or chickadee.

Now, I could easily launch into a sermon on persistence, courage and the like , but if I got you into that mood, I doubt you'd be able to hear the birdsong or even believe in it. For, you see, you'd miss the surprise and the joy of it, and there'd be no song at all. Probably just a peep is all you'd hear; something pitiful instead of heart-lifting.

It could be that hearing birdsong in January is becoming a lost art. There seems to be a growing conviction that anything really demanding is unfair - at least totally unrelated to joy. Everybody seems to be fighting for top billing as a victim. Newscasters are producing sob stories by the gross. Someone faces a tough situation and the news busies itself prognosticating life-paralyzing traumas.

Sorry, boys, you've got to contend with birdsong in January, and don't fuss. Once more of us hear it, dismal prognostication may go out of style.

But even more than birdsong to cheer are the indominatable pigeons in January. They don't sing, but they cope with the ice and the falling snow, and they have tickled my heart more than once. Keep looking at them and you'll see something remarkably undefeated. Now and again you'll also see one that sports the most beautiful shades of mauve or soft gray. You'll see their invariable plumpness, their insouciance at having only part of a foot and almost invisible fare. As for derring-do, you can't beat them. If I had a message to send to Garcia, I'd entrust it to a Boston pigeon, believe me!

I was stalled in traffic the other day right next to a luscious crust of bread, a bit of pigeon-heaven. Three of them were busy pecking at it right in the flow of traffic. I say pecking at it. I don't mean any regular sort of pecking, the sort possible in any old chicken yard. They were competing not only with themselves but with traffic of the Boston variety! And with such aplomb. The cool skill with which they would take a peck or two and then yield to some uncomprehending driver was a delight to behold.

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Think of how delicious each crumb must have tasted given the hazards of retrieving it. You and I sit safely at our dinner tables stodgily stuffing in one huge bite after another. How placid, almost gluttonous. How piquant, how appetite-stimulating, to do it pigeon-style. It would be just like some TV team to do a sob story on pigeon life and miss the whole noble adventure of it.

To reverse this sniffling trend in newsmaking would not involve ''gunning'' for the trade, of course. It's more likely that, like the pigeons, we'd continue to go quietly about our business. The truth - that there can be joy right in the midst of difficulty and sadness - isn't something you can sell or prove to anybody else. It's a private discovery. And, of course, you have to have really endured something to make the discovery. Now, we don't, at least I don't, go out looking for difficulties or sadness. But, life being what it is, these sorts of experiences do seem to come our way. So, shall we assume the tragic pose, get all ready to be traumatized, canceled out? Well, that's all right for you. But me? I prefer to be out listening for birdsong in January or admiring intrepid pigeons in March.

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