The Mast-Head: Of Birds and Muxes

Paying attention to the wildlife in this early spring

   The girls were sick this week with one of those things that were going around, and so I got to spend a fair amount of time at home. With one child throwing up and another confined to bed, I stayed close, but that did not keep me from paying attention to the wildlife in this early spring.
    It would have been difficult not to. A pair of wrens decided early Monday to start nest-building in our stove exhaust, thumping and clunking in the sheet metal. As sorry as I was to have to shoo them away, I cleared out the grass and skeletal oak leaves, shut the vent properly, and hung a birdhouse in a tree nearby.
    The pair, one mate far larger than the other, hung around for a while, then moved on. As I watched from a kitchen window, a chickadee inspected the birdhouse.
    An osprey arrived a while later, soaring a couple of hundred feet up and whistling shrilly. A cardinal sang from the top branch of a tree. Red-wing blackbirds uncoiled their metallic, spring-like voices in the swamp.

    On an unrelated note, Stuart Vorpahl phoned Friday to say that an old Bonac word, “muxing,” had been changed in his letter in The Star on March 29 to “mixing” somewhere along the way. Muxing, he said, came from mux, a Colonial-era term for a drill that was traded to Long Island’s native residents for making wampum.
    In my grandmother Jeannette Edwards Rattray’s “East Hampton History and Genealogies,” she wrote, “ ‘Mux’ is an old Long Island word meaning to putter, to do odd jobs. . . . Anyone familiar with this neighborhood has heard that.” Stuart more or less made the same point.
    Prominent in the 1648 deal that the English colonists made for much of what is now present-day East Hampton Town was the payment of 00 muxes in an arrangement with Wyandanch, the Montaukett chief.
    Reading Stuart’s letter as it was readied for print a week ago Monday, I paused at the phrase — “On this day we were mixing around with Harvey and Jonathan in the chicken coops” — but did not take the time to find his handwritten original to check.