"I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
Miss Maudie, an elderly neighbor of the Finches, later elaborated:
"Your father's right... Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
So I looked up the Spanish word for mockingbird and came up with "sinsonte" (what we used in Cuba) and "zentzontle" or "centzontle" (used in Mexico). For a sample of a mockingbird's virtuosic singing, and some background chatter in Spanish, click here.
|Nezahualcóyotl, a fearsome |
fighter and also a poet and
renowned architect in
Félix also shook his head in disgust as he mentioned how, thanks to the greed and ignorance of modern-day Mexicans, these neat little birds are becoming ever more rare.
Nezahualcóyotl was quite a guy indeed. Political leader, architect, prodigious lover—he is said to have fathered one hundred and ten children with a number of, I imagine, quite exhausted concubines.
More important he was regarded as a wise man, patron of the arts and accomplished poet. Mexico's one-hundred peso note not only features his fearsome visage, but also a lovely little five-line poem:
I love the song of the mockingbird,
Bird of four-hundred voices,
I love the color of the jadestone
And the intoxicating scent of flowers,
But more than all I love my brother, man.
|Art and commerce on the same page.|
But Félix knew all about the cenzontles and their beautiful singing that could mimic any sounds around. He also told me they are becoming ever rarer because of the cenzontles' habit of fiercely defending their brood, which some kids take a clue to destroy the nests.
|Renaissance man manqué.|
The scarcer they become, the higher the price, in a spiral that doesn't bode well for the local mockingbird population.
He said he'd seen a few around a bird bath station we've set up that includes bird seed and chunks of peanut butter mixed with seed. Félix also said we may have three nests on the lower side of our ranch, and tomorrow we'll investigate—from a distance, with binoculars.
After all this, I felt bad for the mockingbirds, which are indeed birds of four hundred voices put on this earth for no other reason but to delight us with their ever-changing singing.
I also felt sad about Félix, who is close to thirty years old. With his smarts and incisive curiosity: What would he be if his formal education had gone beyond a meager sixth grade in rural Mexico?