♫ Sounds of Spring ♪ ♪

Spring has come and gone, bringing back sounds that only spring can bring.

At the very beginning of the spring season the sounds consist of uncoordinated snaps and pops being emitted from joints that haven’t seen much action during the cold winter months. As I totter about the yard making rusty, squeaking noises reminiscent of one of the cast from The Wizard of Oz, thoughts turn to what needs to be done to get the garden ship-shape for the summer.

The sounds of spring take on a more optimistic note with the clank of spade against garden fork as they become re-acquainted with each other on the trek from the garden shed where they’ve been snoozing away the winter months, dreaming of days when they were younger, shinier and sharper. (A bit like the owner).

Then comes the steady shiff … thop as the sods are turned in the vege patch, and the odd shriek as a hairy garden spider is disturbed from its slumber to stomp off across the gathering piles of nicely turned soil. Every so often there’s a steady shuff, shuff, shuff as a sticky old sod needs to be broken up with the blade of the spade.

The wakening wildlife join in too. Tui sit up in the rat’s tail tree singing away during the day, probably dishing out sage advice that I’m too dumb to understand. Thrushes start cracking the shells of tasty snails on the concrete path (more power to their wing) and bird call seems to pass through the garden in waves.

The moment my back’s turned, the blackbirds are in like rats up a drainpipe to nick disturbed worms from the freshly turned garden, and they hoon off shrieking like startled chickens when I heave back into view around the corner of the house, having completed some task or other. Within seconds they’re back, tentatively hopping ever closer, eyes wide in case I might attack them. After a few days of this game, they tend to ignore me completely until I move in an unexpected direction. They are the yobs of the bird world – useful for chomping on unwanted bugs, but they leave havoc in their wake as they pick through the garden turnings, tossing unwanted bits onto the paths and wallowing in any smooth patches of dusty soil.

The blackbirds are usually the ones responsible for turning the birdbath muddy too. I discovered a cure for this by accident very early this spring. A large drip bowl from a relocated planter had become filled with manky water and the blackbirds were gathering in teams and doing belly flops into it. I’ve left the bowl on the ground and kept it topped up, and they’ve continued diving into it like brats off a bridge right after they’ve had a dust bath. This seems to have gone down quite well with the more polite members of the avian community who look down on them from the clean waters of the real birdbath with what appears to be disdain. In fact I almost expect to see them shaking their heads in disgust at the shemozzle going on at the blackbird sideshow. The only exception seems to be the odd thrush who likes to join the queue of blackbirds lining up to become the Tawa Diving Champ. Takes all sorts, I guess.

Cupboard love epitomises the fantails from the get-go. In their world, humans exist for one thing, and one thing only – to disturb the environment and make it easier to snatch tasty grubs and beetles as they try to scuttle out of harm’s way. Their funny little eeek! eeek! calls as they flail about in the air trying to marshall their flouncy tail-feathers is another sound of spring.

My favourite spring sound comes after daylight saving commences, and I’m grumbling at the government for legislating the extra hour of sunlight that causes our curtains to fade faster. The lengthening evening hours awaken the Tawa Pipe Band from their hibernation inside their clubrooms at Redwood Station.

It must get noisy in there during the cold winter months, and I wonder whether the pipes wear mufflers to guard against over-zealous ackling of the bladders. While the wind rages outside, the lads and lasses have been talking of competitions won and lost as they polish their chanters and gnaw on the odd bit of haggis left over from the last hogmanay.

And then the big day comes. The doors are thrown open and the hairy cadge, which snuck in last autumn and has been wintering over in a dark corner of the store room, is chased out into the carpark to fend for itself.

And out they come, pipes a-skirlin’, kilts a-whirlin’, snares a-snappin’ and wee Tam ahint (behind) lookin’ like a pregnant busker as he keeps time on the big base drum. They march the length of the carpark in braw (perfect) timing and, row-by-row, execute a nice one-eighty and head back through the ranks as the on-lookers wince at the close spacing. Surely the sharp elbows of that drummer will puncture the airbag of that piper! But no, they get through and come to a smart halt with a stomped one-two and silence falls.

Not as rusty as we thought, eh lads?

It’s not often that I get down to watch them, but it’s always worthwhile when I do. Their evening practice time coincides with my daily prance about the backyard. Usually I’m lurking about in the shrubbery, chasing bugs, tweaking plants and the sight of a mud-spattered urchin at the band practice would take the shine off the event.

In any case, it does my heart fair good to be working in the garden as the skirl of the pipes waxes and wanes across the evening airs from the valley floor. An’ mah canny ancestors applaud me for appreciating the free concert.

More than anything else, the sounds of the local pipe band tuning up and practising tells me that spring is here, and summer’s on the way. From the first time I hear it, I look forward to the evening and Saturday morning sessions.

To all the members of the Tawa & Districts Highland Pipe Band

Lang may yer lum reek!

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