Her name was Karen B. and, in the rarefied milieu of Kratzer Elementary School, circa 1965, she was a catch. More boisterous a brawler than the bulk of the boys—and louder than any two—she inspired a romantic longing among her playmates that literally defined the word “passion” in the kindergarten wing that year.
But she was mine.
And so I was unprepared, one bright spring day, to encounter a previously unseen side of the girl I thought I knew so well (had we not swapped fistfuls of Halloween loot, a rite almost nuptial, not so very long ago?). It happened like this:
The topic under discussion that morning, moderated by a matron with the beneficent smile of a painted saint, was the impending spring. She had gestured out the window at the birds on the lawn, pronouncing them the indisputable vanguard of the coming thaw (or perhaps she used slightly different words addressing an audience still lurching over the pronunciation of their own names). She then identified the birds, using the name they then went by in our Leave It to Beaver neck of the woods, as “robin redbreast.” At the mention of the word “breast,” Karen B., seated directly behind me, began giggling wickedly, trying to suppress what threatened to become an insane cackle.
Her efforts were for naught.
She was some time in being quieted, and it began to dawn on me that maybe girls knew some things that boys didn’t, and that maybe there was more to this “love” thing than letting each other win the vigorous battle of tag that was enacted daily during something dreadfully misnamed “recess.”
And so it was that the robin became the first species of bird to which I could put a name, albeit an already antiquated one. Almost 50 years down the line now, I know that the reputation of my spark bird as the inarguable harbinger of spring is largely undeserved where I live. Yet I continue inwardly greeting her as such each time she reappears in the warming and lengthening days, a token of a time when all is young again.
About the Author
Filmmaker and birder Jason Kessler's award-winning films, including "Opposable Chums: Guts & Glory at The World Series of Birding" have been seen on PBS and the BBC. He also sheepishly confesses to being responsible for the "Sh*t Birders Say" series of shorts as seen on The Youtubes, but hopes that you won't hold this against him.