Rainsong's studio window looks out into her backyard bird sanctuary, which has been certified as a Backyard Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation and the Ohio Division of Wildlife. She and her partner, visual artist Wendy Partridge, participate in the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch each year. They have recorded 86 species of birds in their Cleveland Heights backyard. In addition to birds, both Rainsong and Partridge have become increasingly interested in insects and spiders and delight in studying them at home and in the field.

Any and all of the birds and insects they admire are likely to appear in Rainsong's music. Catbirds, katydids, white-throated sparrows, robins, mourning doves, and wood thrushes have all sung their songs in her works. An assortment of insects ranging from the West Virginia white butterfly to the predacious diving beetle have been represented as well.

Rainsong's interest in the relationships of all things in the natural world led her to enroll in the Naturalist Certificate Program at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. She is a regular participant in field trips to the Museum's Natural Areas, and one of the Museum's preserves - Grand River Terraces - was the subject of her recent four-movement suite for flute and piano.

About Grand River Terraces

In March, 2006 I enrolled in a new course of study: the Naturalist Certificate Program at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. It was here that I learned about the Museum's Natural Areas Program; a system of nature preserves that represents the remarkable biological diversity that was once widespread throughout the region. The Museum currently protects more than 3,600 acres, and each preserve harbors at least one unique natural community. These preserves include hardwood forest, Lake Erie island, fossil dune ridge, marsh, swamp, and glacial wetland. I have participated in many field trips with Museum naturalists to several of these preserves, including five trips to Grand River Terraces.

One of the most important aspects of Grand River Terraces - and all of the Museum's Natural Areas - is that the land is actively managed and protected to keep out invasive species of plants that would otherwise overrun the forests and meadows. Non-native invasive plants crowd out the native plants necessary to maintain the complex interrelationships between plants, insects, and animals that create an ecosystem. When that balance is disrupted, the original inhabitants may no longer be able to survive there.

Located in Ashtabula County, Grand River Terraces consists 745 acres of forest and meadow on land that descends in terraces down to the Grand River. Because the Museum consistently protects this land, there is a magnificent diversity of life. I have seen insects, amphibians, and plants that are completely new to me. I have learned about relationships that I did not know existed. The four movements of this suite describe my impressions of four scenes from Grand River Terraces.

The rare West Virginia White is a small white butterfly that can be found in the forest in April and May. It lays its pinhead-sized white eggs on the underside of leaves of a native spring wildflower called two-leaved toothwort. If the highly-invasive alien garlic mustard infiltrates a forest, however, the West Virginia White will lay her eggs on this plant instead. When the caterpillars hatch, they will be killed by oils in the garlic mustard when they try to feed. Garlic mustard has been removed from Grand River Terraces, and the caterpillars hatch onto leaves that can support them.

The West Virginia White is flying in the forest as songbirds that wintered in Central and South America migrate north. Because of the land stewardship practiced at Grand River Terraces, they, too, will find the habitat they need. Grand River Terraces supports nesting populations of six state-listed forest birds that require large, unbroken tracts of forest land in order to nest. These include the Magnolia Warbler, Winter Wren, Hermit Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and Cerulean Warbler. Hooded Warblers and Ovenbirds also nest in the rich forest understory. Musical elements in this movement suggest birdsong, the gentle, erratic rhythm of butterfly flight, and the majestic stillness of the forest itself.

The meadow at Grand River Terraces has a shallow pond that is almost hidden by the surrounding vegetation. I had no idea that this pond was teeming with predators and prey! The larval forms of familiar insects and amphibians such as mosquitoes, dragonflies, salamanders, and frogs live in the pond. Smaller predators become prey for larger predators, which include such frightening creatures as the predacious diving beetle and the giant water bug. Even frogs and salamanders are not safe! Pursuit, capture, and occasional escape are depicted as the piano musically pursues the flute.

I have always been impressed with large, beautiful rivers. Now, however, I find I am increasingly fascinated by the tiniest brooks that are formed by springs and seeps. With Museum naturalists, I explored such a brook on 50 additional acres of land recently acquired for the Terraces. The shallow, clear water supports more life than I would have imagined, and the tiny ripples over rocks create music that I find irresistible. The piano in its upper register suggests these ripples, and the peace of the forest provides its context.

The final movement of this suite, Heart-shaped Leaves, suggests two descriptive uses of the word "heart." Heart-shaped leaves, such as those of Basswood trees and fall-blooming white woodland asters, are shaped like our common image of a heart, rather than the anatomically accurate heart. We also know that the heart is not really the location of our emotions. However, art rather than science prevails in this image, as I recall my sense of joy in the forest of Grand River Terraces and my deep appreciation for Dr. Jim Bissell and the naturalists who have taught me so much about the land and its inhabitants.

More information about the Museum's Natural Areas and specific information about Grand River Terraces can be found at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s web site.