Just before seven this morning, the sky was the color of steel and it was pouring rain. The Wowpup and I were snuggled pretty tightly together on account of the ambient room temperature being something like 54 degrees, and THIS is because we sleep with the windows open.
As the light grew and the rain let up, in through the window came a carol of birdsong, the unmistakable call of the winter wren, liquid and joyful. The Wowpup slept on, but, charmed, I went looking for the little singer. He or she was long gone, of course, but the lone bird was like a talisman for the 27th of December.
And how fitting that it was a wren, even a day late. Yesterday, the 26th, in addition to being Boxing Day is the feast of St. Stephen. If you have ever sung the carol “Good King Wenceslas” and wondered what that was all about, it’s got a lot to do with toting goodies to the poor on the day after Christmas, and the first Christian martyr. I don’t quite see the connection myself, unless it was that Stephen oversaw the distribution of food to poor widows. Anyway, the day also has at least something to do with wrens.
Tradition has it that Stephen, hiding from the people who wanted to kill him, was betrayed by the call of a wren. In Merriest Olde Englande, children used to catch wrens on St. Stephen’s day and parade them around town in exchange for treats, proving that the commercial spirit was alive and well even then, and further, that no holiday is too weird not to be celebrated by brutality to birds.
In even older legend, the wren symbolized the dying of the year. People like to blame this on the Druids, who supposedly held the wren to be sacred. I don’t know how a tiny brown bird, weighing something like a ounce, got such a weighty job, but the winter solstice has never been a good time to be a wren. The old year’s symbol had to be sacrificed.
Apparently our wren buzzed off into the hemlock after letting out that burst of wonderful sound. I like to think it was a noise of triumph and relief.
“Whee, you missed me! The days are getting longer again, St. Stephen is still dead, and I going to go find some suet.”
I didn’t say the wren was deep.
If you want to hear what we heard, or close enough, try this: wren song