Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Construction of a Dream

This morning, over coffee, I watch the House Sparrows hop, flit, and puff on the branches and roofs in the neighborhood. My condo is on the second story, and the Ginkgo trees' branches reach toward  my porch giving it a Swiss Family Robinson feel. For the past week, the Starlings and House Sparrows have been ducking in and out of the gutters and tiles of my next door neighbor's roof. They gather bits of string, clumps of leaves, patches of dog fur tumbling across grass like a scene from a Wild West movie--my downtown street has lots of pet owners.

Tis the season for nest making once again. Over the weekend, I asked some family members to list the signs of spring.  That's right, I'm not just a bird nerd but also a total dork.  I track spring like a beagle, my eyes on every new petal, every migratory bird, each new shoot and leaf and flowering plant. Some of their answers: daylight savings time, derby day, graduation, April showers brought May flowers? Yes, I said. All of these are signs of spring.  In my mind, one of my most cherished ritual of spring is watching birds build their nests. It is a time of year where anyone can spot a bird at any time of day. They hustle frantically carrying twigs four times their size. Unwieldy bunches of dead leaves fray at the edges of their beaks as they try to manage the load from ground to branch to nesting location.  Natural and synthetic material are flown in bulk for days until little bumps form rising out of a gutter or a hanging basket. They do it every year. The air becomes electrified with their energetic chirps. I imagine they are chanting some sort of working tune, "whistle while you work."

Humans do the same things. Maybe without all the lovely song. We twine around us not thread or twig, but stone and brick, and sometimes vinyl siding depending on our budget.  What is it in our human nature, our American nature, that dreams of houses to possess. When did owning a construct come to signify success? The accomplishment of a dream? We, too, are part and parcel of the animal kingdom. Yet we are not so comfortable with the loss, destruction, or movement from our constructed homes. Not that we should be. Not that we don't love what we build and love the meaning we assign to those buildings as symbols of our freedom, our success, our power, our domination over every other species on the earth. However, like the tornadoes that barreled through Alabama, our houses are constructions. They are not guarantees to security. The feeling of an unmovable home gives us a sense of security . . . for a time. When our houses are blown to bits like the thin woven fibers of a bird's nest, I ask, is it all a sham? A momentary dream? When we lose what we love and try to remember it before the storms, are we nostalgic for an imaginary construction which was never stable to begin with?

So I watch the little sparrow watch me. He cocks his head to the side and ruffles his feathers as if to say watch and learn burdened human. My nest will be built, it will hold a few eggs, they will hatch, the fledglings will be fed, they will grow, they will fly away, and then, we will too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The songs of spring

I haven't been out birding in quite sometime. Currently my job keeps me confined to a pretty urban setting. I don't like driving, and it's difficult to find more than robins, cardinals and house sparrows hopping around the city streets. However, the bird world has been renewed for me of late. There has been a lot of rain this week, and there is a park near my house. These two factors plus the spring months equal loads of birds.

On Easter Sunday, I meandered with my binoculars around the park. A thousand songs shot through the air. I'm not sure I can describe the melodic, symphonic, operatic chorus of song bursting from every thicket, branch and perch better or different than the many writers before me, but a chord in my soul was struck. I had forgotten how religious birding can be. It's not just a hobby or a life-list-gathering for the naturalist. It's spiritual. The songs of birds in a clearing after many days of rain is as beautiful as the largest most glorious organ in the cathedrals of Europe.

Maybe I'm a pagan to make this comparison. Maybe I'm a hybrid Romantic-Transcendentalist for feeling saved and reborn while taking in the beauty of color and song. My husband, my sister-in-law and I were perched on a wooden bench underneath a copse of trees deep in conversation when my husband interrupted with shouts and points: "Look! Look! The top of that tree to the right on the highest branch! Do you see that red? It's SO RED!"

Brighter than the cardinal, a neon organgy-red flame lit the tip of the highest branch. Like the flame of faith, seeing the Scarlet Tanager for the first time was like seeing a miracle being performed, like tears rolling down the cheeks of a wood carved virgin Mary. My soul leaped forward to meet my kindred spirit. On Easter, as is the Christian tradition of taking communion, followers of Christ take the bread and the wine. I was in the midst of my own kind of communion---communing with the tiny spirits of song and air. In place of bread, I fed on the green of leaves, the smell of damp earth, the verdure of spring. In place of wine, I drank the color of bird wings painted in red and yellow.

Monday, May 9, 2011

I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven--Or, what this blog is all about.

What is this blog about? It will be an exploration of life in the tangled undergrowth. It will be a place where I muse about birds and about life. Why do I like birds? Because they are little, cute, puffy, hoppy, tender and sweet. In this vast, sprawling world, the tiny birds that I love manage to survive.