First published July 2005 in Void Magazine
A Guide to Birdwatching
There are many kinds of birds and most bird meat tastes good on the grill. If you cannot get a good sleep in the morning because of those screeching song birds in the trees take the shotgun and shoot it straight up at a passing cloud, as Whitman would've done. The birds will know your mettle, and you will sleep soundly til the midafternoon beer calls your name.
You could do worse than thinking of poor old Job stricken with boils. Sit yourself down and throw dirt upon your head.
2. If we look at a duck we see that it has webbed feet and a flat beak. Why?
Most ducks have served time in prison and their hearts have been hardened. In the end, it is society (all of us, that is) who will suffer. Seneca the ancient Roman said: "Kill the duck and eat him or smash the egg before it makes the duck. It is the middling policy that yolks us most vexingly." (my translation)
3. What about a bird with a thick short beak?
This bird rides the rails and sings folk songs. From the hills of Tennessee to the Montana plains you can follow him by the trail of cracked nuts, whiskey bottles, and the sad memories of bitter accusations in cheap motels. He loses his plumage in the spring.
4. Why do most birds have four toes, three that face forward and one rearward?
Forever living in the past is weakness. However, one oar dragging silently behind, lingering briefly in your wake, chopping the lacy jags into little vortices of individual desires, this, you see, on the other hand, might be healthy. Only a fool moves forward blind of the past, but the majority of power must be fore, not aft. Sensitivity acute to the point of uselessness is not as useful as it was a century ago.
5. Birds with long thin wings?
Envy, most likely.
6. Birds with small, thin legs that perch in trees or bushes?
These are the birds whose hearts are forever breaking with the pain and sadness of a forgotten mother. Civilization, their child, has turned serenity on its ear and filled the other ear with rubbish, with old car tires, with the chatter of a million useless cell phone calls, with gray plastic bags caught on razor wire snapping in a cold wind. These birds will soon take the trees and bushes with them to another place, and civilization (their child) will not even notice.
7. Birds that have two toes facing forward and two toes facing rearward usually hang onto the sides of trees.
These birds have given up. To take the long dense cylinder of meaningful life, to stand it on its end, to then split it down the middle, to then stand in the middle holding one half in each arm like a helpless babe, to do that, you see, is to give up. Equal parts fore and aft is the same as equal parts left and right -- this is a frozen vortex. Like the statue of Leeuwenhoek (discoverer of bacteria) that stands in the park, they have forgotten the free-living and parasitic microscopic bits, the sperm cells, blood cells, the microscopic nematodes and the rotifers that seethe under rush hour overcoats, invisibly multiplying their numbers in the sticky humidity of crowded commuter trains. These birds have forgotten to sing. Though the tree be consumed in flames, the tip of the limb may be safe for singing for a while longer.
8. Are your binoculars heavy enough to be difficult to hold steady? Does the magnified view of the world before you tremble and blur?
The fit is proper if you are short of breath and feel the need to sit alone somewhere and weep.
9. The speculum of the upperwing as identifier in the male?
The end of the journey is drawing near.
10. Are your birding ethics sound?
Avoid harassment. Do not handle eggs or young or stare overlong at the private moments of intimacy within the fragile woven world of the nest, nor tarry overlong at the base or lower limbs of the mighty oak or pine (what have you), for you are only passing through here and could not stay forever, though the sparrows might nest in your beard and ravens hide gold coins in your oily hair.