I recall the first Phoebe I saw. It was in a June garden in Northern
Virginia. Straightaway I recognized the bird as a flycatcher and I
was charmed by her, because she contained within her movements and within her
call memories of distant time.
'Phoebe', I understood, came from an Ancient Greek name, meaning 'Bright'.
'Bright', may occasionally be applied by the English language to
personality, but so far as I know it is not applied as a given name.
And if it were to be applied as a given name, I would think it better
suited to male than to female. I do so because "Bright
Smith" strikes me mostly as a male person. Possibly there are
minds which would think of "Bright Smith" as a female
person. And too often there may be disagreement in these things
because of qualities within the word 'Bright'.
Lore suggests that Phoebes got their name because the word echoes their
call, rather than a reference to her "brightness" or otherwise. And I
was always glad that when I saw this pretty creature I did not have to offend her by
giving her a name that had a duality of meaning. I can simply think
of her as Phoebe, without the interjection of "bright" or
However, in our early relationship I was
constantly surprised by Phoebe stubbornness in the fall of the year.
She was so apparently meek that I considered it a given that as soon as
frost came she should up and leave for gentler weather. Not in the
least. On she would cling to favorite places, and in so doing would
cause me to regularly worry incase she had a sickness that left her unaware
of the migratory pattern her being required for adequate sustenance.
Then, in the accidental way, I discovered that
Phoebe are amongst those who take nests from swallows. When I learned
this, I looked at the Phoebe in different light, and briefly thought her
lazy and spiteful, until I again heard her call and saw her flight, and I
again fell to an acceptance of the tooth and the claw.
More recently I discovered that a northern
limit to a Phoebe's winter range is no more than a short trip south of
us. Which means that my many years of worry and concern for Phoebe seasonal
wellbeing has been quite wasted.
Now, I have no doubt that in the matter
of deceiving me the Phoebe is brilliant.