|I knew from the shape of the box that perhaps we had just received a new clock for our anniversary. My daughter had given us a similar shaped box for my last birthday. It was a special kind of clock, one she knew I would enjoy, a clock that chimes out a sound effect; the clock made the sound of a steam locomotive coming through a railroad crossing. It starts with the whistle, two long blasts and then the crossing bells start ringing dingaling-linging, then you hear cha-chug-cha-chug-cha-chug, the heavy sound old fashioned steam locomotives used to make, powering through the crossing. Ah, but that is not all, it then goes ka-klack ka-klack ka-klack ka-klack for more than enough time to get the idea. In all, the sound effects last for just over 30 seconds. It’s quite audible, not at all understated – I mean it seems like it is really right there! Every hour on the hour, it offered a novelty that, well, surprised us and entertained guests, but not without comments such as, “How long do you think you can stand it?” or “I’ll bet you crack before I do!” We have heard it every hour on the hour, waiting for the living room noon express to pass. Thirty seconds is a long time for a train to be in the living room, as our guests ask, “How long are you going to keep that thing on?”You have to love trains. I have always been a train fan, and my wife loves to sit and watch at crossings. When the children were small, we went out of our way to watch trains at crossings, expressing great delight, hence I guess is the reason for the train clock gift. They just knew we would enjoy it and it would probably only need one set of batteries. There is the responsibility to appreciate gifts given, no hurt feelings, show you like it by using it!That part must have worked because now on the table was a clock-shaped box, and just as we sat down to unwrap it, the one o’clock steam loco crossed the living room. They (my daughter and son in law) smiled knowingly. Sly little looks that confirmed my suspicions. I wondered what sort this might be? A clock with favorite explosions on the hour, or perhaps mating calls of gorillas in the rain forest, maybe sounds of a day at the drag races? Unwrapping it, I could see by just revealing the very corner of the box, sure clues that it was in fact a clock of some hourly surprise. This one was aimed more at my wife – it was a clock of bird calls. Sweet chirps and mellow chortles of songbirds. There on the clock face are pictures of twelve song birds, and a light sensor so the birds will sleep after dark (unlike the midnight train which runs on time, as does the one AM and two AM express).|
Batteries in, we had it hanging in no time. The first hour proved too much with the train drowning out the tiny chirps of the chickadee, and we all agreed – we have to set one clock just a little different than the other. We determined the train should be first so we could listen for the tiny, inoffensive new bird calls.
Every hour on the hour, after it is safe to cross the sound tracks, we begin jumping up and running over to see which bird makes which call, calling out, “That’s a Northern Cardinal,” or, “That was a Tufted Titmouse.” Oh, such a big help in recognizing all the wonderful calls we hear outside our northern Minnesota rural home, and soon we would be able to amaze our friends with our expertise in at least twelve exotic bird calls. I could just see myself, standing in the forest saying to a friend, “Shh, listen! Do you hear the White Throated Sparrow?” Looking so knowingly casual and a part of the whole earth. It comes to mind I do need a new red plaid flannel shirt, too.
Weeks passed, the batteries came out of the locomotive and we still would run to the bird clock many times a day, gaining steadily in our bird call knowledge. Except for that my wife pointed out the clock was a few minutes slow, the clock has been quite charming.
“I can reset it,” I said, and took it down, noticing for the first time a red button on the back from which you can depress and hear each call. “Ah,” I mumbled as I pressed it and heard the now familiar call of the American Robin. It was when I lifted my finger that I noticed the warning that if you press the button, the sequence is altered and you must completely reset the clock; a mere twenty minute process that proved difficult, in that the only call I was absolutely sure of was the Black-capped Chickadee (the bird on the eight o’clock spot, and as it was approaching 8 AM, I thought, “How lucky am I!”)
But at 8 o’clock, it was not the Black-capped Chickadee that sung to me, but the essence of Robin, or was that the House Wren??? It struck me that the only one I recognized for sure was not in the right spot, and whenever I had heard the little guy, I had not been watching the time. So, for several weeks, the birds may have been all jumbled!
I set my jaw and reset the clock; it would be eleven hours before I could be absolutely sure I got all the little birds back in the right order. “Guess we will have to set an alarm for about seven forty-five,” I remarked.
All day, I ignored one bird call after another. Every hour as I heard birds trying to call to me, “Come to the clock,” I couldn’t help hearing the now-silent train, still coming through my mind right on time. I had insisted the light near the clock be left on so the birds in the clock would “know” to come. At quarter till eight, I sat at the table sipping Red Rose tea, and waited in front of the clock with pencil and pad, just in case I needed to make notes.
Sure enough, at eight o’clock, the little song of the Black-capped Chickadee chirped-kadee kadee right on cue. We could relax and start learning all over.
I knew the rewards would be great; there would arise the opportunity for a payoff. It came sooner than I thought. As our daughter arrived the next morning for a visit, we greeted her as she got out of her car. Almost as if on cue, a familiar sound danced in from the forest. With no hesitation, I called out its name “Aha, the four o’clock bird.” My wife didn’t hesitate either to correct me and said, “No, that is the six o’clock bird.” My daughter’s head tilted in that “huh” type tilt that says, “What has happened to my parents?”
She looked at us bewildered! Then, right on cue, we heard, “Chirp-chirp-kakee-kadee-kadee.”We both shouted, “Black-capped Chickadee!” “Huh?,” and my wife and I said in perfect unison, “The eight o’clock bird,“ and laughed, so proud we now had a handle on it.
I strongly encourage everyone to find an effects clock of your choice and give it to a friend or family member as it will greatly expand your relationship into new territory.
I have learned that there is much more to telling time than just knowing which bird it is, or if it is a quarter past the House Finch, but I’m still expecting a new red flannel shirt for my birthday. I just hope none of the packages are ticking this time.
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