Sunday, April 23, 2006

In Favor Of Birds

one must certainly welcome
their ability to sing
as if each new spring
were the millennium

Tom Gannon

I stepped outside today and found a dead hummingbird in my driveway. I stopped and stared at its tiny body so perfect in death that I half expected it to spring up into the air with one of those sharp liquid warbles that can almost break your heart on a clear sunny day. The tiny eyes were just clouded over, no signs of distress anywhere on the body, rubied throat and whispery-gray wing extended as if taking a final sip from some invisible bloom.

Like any good six year-old, I swallowed the lump in my throat and bravely volunteered to bury him in our backyard. S. said not to be too upset, these things happen all the time, gave me the old reasonable-man-consoles-almost-teary-wife number. I remarked that, "At least it wasn't as bad as the time the (one remaining) baby hummingbird took its first flight across my yard.... almost directly into the jaws of one of our cats.."; such is the level of my optimism.

When S. was eight years old, his mom came into the living room, sat him and his sister down gently down on the couch, and told them (how?) that their dad had passed away. (They found his semi-battered body, dead of an overdose at 32, in a hotel room.) He told me immediately grabbed the 70's version of this book from the bookshelf and began flipping through it. I've pictured his little mop-headed body on the couch, asked him what he was trying to find, felt my stomach shrink every time he talks about it. Yet what he most of his memories about his dad are so joyful; the lipstick-red Porche convertible he drove, going to the forum to watch the old Lakers, beginning falconry together, collecting Carl Barks' work.

I once walked out to my old office' parking lot to find a Great Horned Owl, sitting in a bush with those mesmerizing eyes. I felt like shrinking, running, thanked the heavens I'm not a mouse, but couldn't look away from those huge amber eyes. Years ago, I passed under a giant sycamore limb and met with the penetrating glare of a red-tailed hawk, a look I first felt, rather than observed. As a kid, I always looked forward to hearing the shrieks of the nightowl family as they passed by my window every night - moonlit nights showed them, white and small for such a sound. (Some words on eagles.)

Our mutual love for birds (especially birds of prey) was one of the many shared pleasures we discovered after we were married. We've marveled at Wedge-tailed Eagles in Australia, kayaked directly under a giant black hawk in the mangroves of Costa Rica, looked for (but not seen any) birds in Finland and Copenhagen, Idaho, New York, Oregon.... all over. We still look at the pretty little wood doves that live outside our house and wonder which one of them is the one I scooped off our Xterra and took to the bird rescue center.

Tonight on our evening constitutional, we watched two owls descend noiselessly onto the top of a steeple. They chirruped to each other in the semi-dark, craned their necks at us, and bobbed little bows out towards the empty air. Tribal peoples have long considered owls harbingers of death; I see only a superbly elegant means of pest control, winged silent death for the nasties that would plague us all if left unchecked. In this vein, I give you Charles Baudelaires' "The Owls"

The Owls
Within the shelter of black yews
The owls in ranks are ranged apart
Like foreign gods, whose eyeballs dart
Red fire. They meditate and muse.

Without a stir they will remain
Till, in its melancholy hour,
Thrusting the level sun from power,
The shade establishes its reign.

Their attitude instructs the sage,
Content with what is near at hand,
To shun all motion, strife, and rage.

Men, crazed with shadows that they chase,
Bear, as a punishment, the brand
Of having wished to change their place.

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