“When the cuckoo’s song is first heard among the oak leaves
to the delight of mortals throughout the wide earth.”
Hesiod, Works and Days

What brings delight to people, or not, can show much about those people. Here Hesiod writes of what in his experience brings delight to people throughout the whole earth.

It is hard to say what is more delightful this time of year: the birds singing among the oak leaves, or the oak leaves themselves. The more we come to recognize such things, in their kinds and their differences from other kinds, the more delightful they are.

Here in the Shenandoah Valley the various oak leaves are formed now, and so are recognizable and distinguishable from each other and from other species of trees. (See video above!) The woods have come alive, as is evidenced in the distinctly beautiful canopies of the trees and the songs of the birds therein.

Cuckoos—most subspecies of which are not extinct—are not common where I am, though I know we have the yellow-billed cuckoo. The bird whose song I especially await among the oak leaves is the Baltimore Oriole. Mr. Oriole sings and sings. He seems happy to tell the world which trees he himself delights in; and in my yard, it’s always the oak trees.

As my love for birds took root watching my father delight in them, certain birds especially bring him to mind. Mr. Oriole—more recognizable than his retiring mate in his brighter color and more persistent singing—is a particularly welcome reminder to me. Indeed, once a few years ago one male oriole perched in a very low branch of a fruit tree (they often are up higher in larger trees) and patiently waited while I gathered the whole family to come look at him. We all stood close and simply enjoyed his presence; he was completely comfortable with us and even seemed to welcome us. When eventually he went on his way, we all carried with us a special memory and a special bond that transcended present time and space.

We can cultivate a delight in trees and in birds. Deeper and more refined apprehension of such simple yet noble things brings about greater enjoyment and rest in them. This spring and summer we can become more like the mortals of whom Hesiod speaks, by spending some time attending to the trees and the birds.

Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead.

Image: Our favorite red oak in the backyard,’Oakie,’ by Juliana Cuddeback

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