Rufous-Sided Towhee

“Eastern and Spotted Towhee have each been restored to full species status; formerly considered one species, Rufous-sided Towhee. The two interbreed along rivers in the Great Plains, particularly the Platte and its tributaries.” ~ National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 3rd edition

Chub chub zee, the bird says, while I dig grass out of garden mornings. Chub chub zee.  I know at once I once knew the bird’s name. I wait days for it to come. Too far gone. Google offers only sex slang and a rapper’s name. Finally, I text my boys’ father who taught me its song twenty years ago when we were in love. What bird says Chub chub zee? Spotted Towhee, he texts back, Remember them in Escalante? I do not. They have a red eye! And later, when Grace stops by to help me identify a weed, she explains the bird used to be called Rufous-Sided Towhee. Yes, that’s it! The bell rings. “It’s too bad,” she ponders, “it was more fun to say.”  A sadness flies inside. Like tiny Pluto of my lost youth, someone decides to reclassify a planet, a species, and the world accepts a new truth. Publishers update field guides, birders comply, but Spotted Towhee will never ring in me. “Drink your tea,” Grace says the bird sings, or simply, “Drink tea,” but it isn’t her voice. It is his, drawing out and trilling “tea,” and our boys’ high-pitched throats in mimicry, giggling. Memory opens like morning sky. I mourn the Rufous-Sided Towhee.


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