Summer Tanagers

Midmorning on a hot summer day, two Summer Tanagers called back and forth as they moved through a patch of trees near the side of the road. There were so few other sounds of birds or even of insects that the calls sounded especially distinct and clear and crisp. Pik-a-tuk, pik-a-tuk, pik-a-tuk-tuk-tuk, tuk-tuk-tuk. And variations, sometimes the full call, often a shorter two or three tuks. The calls sound expressive, and intimate, intriguing. 

Summer Tanagers are among the most handsome of songbird pairs, the male rose-red all over, and the female a muted two-tone yellow, sometimes more dull, sometimes almost orange. Both with big, sturdy bills that work especially well for catching large flying insects like bees and wasps. This summer we’ve been lucky enough to see and hear a pair often around our yard. They stay mostly hidden in the trees, not on the ground or in bushes. But they aren’t too hard to find, not particularly shy, and they don’t flutter around quickly but move more deliberately from place to place. 

To stand on the edge of the woods on a hot summer morning and listen to the calls of a pair of Summer Tanagers would usually be a pure and simple pleasure. But now, in the middle of a dark and worsening pandemic, the joy of watching birds and spending time outside cannot help but contrast sharply with the increasingly grim and disturbing news of the pandemic. And the very dark political situation that has made it so much worse here in the U.S than it might have been. Our lives feel as if they are lived in stark contrast – between the light of all that makes life good – and the dark uncertainty that hangs over us.

Here in Georgia, the virus is spreading at alarming rates, as in many other states. Hospitals are nearing capacity. The situation is serious. And yet, many people seem to be throwing caution to the winds, too many refusing even to take the simple precautions of wearing a mask and observing social distance. Our governor refuses to make wearing a mask mandatory. The public schools in my own county are planning to open as normal, with children in classrooms, in only three weeks, early August. The sidewalks of nearby downtown Athens are sometimes filled with people not staying distanced, and very few wearing masks. Bars and restaurants are open, and stores and gyms and hair and nail salons, and parking lots are full. We so badly want to “get back to normal” that too many act as if they just pretend things are normal – that somehow, magically, they will be. 

It’s a very strange time. We do our best to stay safe, to make reasonable decisions, and to stay in touch with the real world. 

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