Listening: Sitting on a park bench on the Point of Rocks boardwalk just as darkness wanes, I hear a Bewick’s Wren sing his first song of the new day. It’s late March at Ash Meadows NWR, and to experience that subtle moment when the earth awakens is worth the effort of rising so early. On the days when I travel to Ash Meadows NWR, my alarm wakes me at “o-dark-thirty.” The goal is to have my recording equipment in place and set to record by 5:30 a.m., which means I’m waking up at 2 a.m., loading equipment in the truck and driving for a couple of hours. It’s just a number on the clock, right? The early hour is greeted with enthusiasm when the purpose is to travel to a quiet place and listen to birdsong and other aural elements of this world. I have enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities for as long as I can remember. A few years ago, I was introduced to the idea of hiking just for the sake of listening; simply go somewhere and listen. The idea has quite literally broadened my senses. I call this new activity hiking with my ears.
There is something exceptional about Point of Rocks at Ash Meadows NWR. This major spring of the refuge emits from King’s Pool, which lies below a large rock outcropping and hence the feature’s namesake. Point of Rocks is not considered one of the earth’s chakras or vortices by metaphysical-minded people, but the area draws a lot of attention. It was one of the first major restoration projects at the refuge, rehabilitating the damage left by previous development and agrarian activities. In centuries past, native inhabitants used the area for hunting and agriculture. Near the end of the boardwalk, members of the Southern Paiute tribe used a large slab of soft limestone to grind dried mesquite beans within bowl-like pockets carved in the stone. Think of it as an early-day mortise and pestle. To this day the rock is adorned with several grinding holes up to a foot deep. The meal (pinole) was later mixed with water and cooked as a flatbread.
I suppose I’m partial to the wren family of songbirds – Canyon Wren, Marsh Wren, Bewick’s Wren and several others. They’re such busy, charming little birds, and they sing a bright, cheery song. As indicated by the proper name, the Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii) was named by John Audubon in honor of his friend, famed British engraver Thomas Bewick. Good morning Mr. Bewick. It’s a bit early, but I’m glad to make your acquaintance.