She burns frankincense
in a bowl
as a bluebird hops and flicks
-smoke mingling with sunlight
and the stunted dreams of the dead.
I sit under a cedar
and dream about ghosts
trapped in the shadows
Glasses were raised
and the men stood to sing
about homeland and love
-the faint sounds of silverware and music
now muffled beneath roots and earth.
As if names carved in stone
and traced by the fingers
of a stranger
could ever account
for their laughter.
Whistle on, sweet deepener
of dark loneliness
I’ve been birding.
Many, many hours worth over the past few days. Alone mostly, but with my mother and my wife on separate occasions.
I have been aware of birds for a long time, obviously, with fragments of names drifting in the back of my mind, scattered remnants of field biology classes in college.
But recently, there was an epiphany:
Little forest dwellers, canyon hermits, waterfall architects, purveyors of perches and lookouts and mud nests. Colorful, raucous, solitary, bold. Singers, squealers, scratchers, and composers, sentinels and hunters, greeters of the morning light.
I credit solo trips to my hermitage with this newfound appreciation, waking in the morning to a cacophony of sound, so much it’s almost impossible, at least for this amateur, to separate one creature from another. Initially it was not their looks but their songs that drew me in. I lay there in my sleeping bag, staring at the canopy of oak and bay trees in complete mystified silence at what creatures could produce such noise.
Sometimes you realize you’ve been hearing something yet have never really heard it. In this case, it might have taken me 40 years of being outside. With classical music, it took Philip Glass. This is not to say I haven’t been deeply moved in the past, but sometimes things hit you in an entirely new way, seemingly out of nowhere.
I suppose that at times we have to be ready, have to have lived and felt certain things before we are capable of understanding others.
Progression and evolution.
I also credit my mother, an avid birder, Audubon Society member, and Huntington Library desert garden tour leader. She’s taken me out birding in the past, bought me a gift membership to the Audubon Society a few years ago, as well as membership in our local chapter. And, of course, the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. I haven’t gone on outings with the clubs (yet), instead just regularly digesting their magazine and newsletters. I suppose all of this information has been slowly sinking in, helping to catalyze this recent change in interest.
I also realized this is a perfect activity to share with her. We walked in a canyon yesterday, both of us with binoculars in hand, talking and looking and passing the morning together. Doing something while doing nothing: the best way. Together. In a moment I clearly understood that I do not how much time we will have together and that birds seem like such a good thing to meet over, something that will form a solid foundation for future memories.
I could feel it. Standing by her side, watching a pair of red tailed hawks circling the hills: I will remember this.
Today my wife and I went to one of our favorite canyons, a timeless stretch of classic California, teeming with bird life. Cliff swallows everywhere, a kestrel perched at the tip of a dead trunk, horned larks singing from rocks in the grasslands on the approach.
A perfect day with my partner. Another foundation built.
I’ve been cataloguing my sightings, listing birds and dates and locations. Meeting new birds that were likely in front of me for years, reacquainting myself with those I already know. The desire to understand who is who, who says what, and who lives where has me approaching the wilderness in a fresh way.
It’s seeing through a child’s eyes again, even after 40 years. It’s an excellent practice in being mindful.
of a canyon wren
blend with water song
and golden oaks
Fuck off, I’m birding.