Sunny with a Chance of Starlings

So, we’re driving along a local stretch of highway and I see clouds gathering in the wide blue stretch of the sky. But as we get closer, the clouds move oddly; they ebb and flow like rivers, collect tightly into spotty black pools, move around in magnetically collected groups from one hayfield to another, and expand again into writhing, twisting masses that make accordion-like progress from the highway shoulder to the grassy median. Birds. Masses of starlings having a communal day-trip in search of dinner.
Photo montage: Sunny with a Chance of Grackles

I know that they do this because of instinct and hunger and, perhaps, seasonal urges. I’ve read a little about the scientific studies indicating that a murmuration of birds flying and flocking this way has something to do with an only partially understood sensory operation or mechanism that allows the movement of one bird to affect up to six or seven concentric layers of proximal birds, and the resultant ripple effect to make the wonderfully flexible yet ultimately collective movement of such groups possible without the birds’ all exploding from the general formation into random isolation. All of this, indeed, is based on consistent and controlled observation by far more educated ornithological experts than I will ever be.

But it has a certain charm, for me, to simply keep imagining the birds peppering the sky as clouds, as mobile lakes, as little pieces of sky-high impossibility. Delight finds me, even on the highway under billowing masses of winged wonder. I’m quite happy to imagine that the whole purpose of such behavior on the starlings’ part is to amuse and please and amaze me, just me, specifically. Until a scientist can prove to my satisfaction that the truth is otherwise, I’ll stick to that. No need to spoil such a good thing with too much reality.

Who’s the Wisest?

I give myself credit for being smarter than I am. I suspect, given what I see around me in this wild and woolly world, that I am far from alone in the practice. Even owls, a favorite symbol of wisdom, are not likely as perfectly ingenious as we imagine them, but they might still be more intelligent than the half of us.
Digital illustration: The Owl King

The Search Continues

Parsing paragraphs to find

The author’s complete state of mind

Is no more useful than to ask

A Word how it performs its task,

If we assume we’ve read aright

What’s only there in black and white.

 

The Long and the Short of It

How quickly pass the hours and days

and weeks and months and years,

And yet, how slowly pass our worries,

paranoiac fears;

This is the great conundrum that

presents in mortal time,

And quite enough of food for thought

in one quick, measly rhyme.

They were Just Talking

Digital illustration from a photo: They were Just TalkingI listen to the mourning doves that coo and call in the shadows nearby and think that they do indeed sound ineffably sorrowful. The low, guttural sounds they make seem to my ear quite melancholy and, no matter how musical, to convey a kind of tragic news that makes me wonder just what it is that they say to one another. In my mind, they are exchanging the saddest of sad information, a litany of lachrymose lugubriousness.

In addition, I fear that I don’t give them enormous credit for wit and intellect, so if you’ll pardon the expression, I suspect that what conversation they do have is probably akin to what we American human-types sometimes call pidgin English—any actual content of worth being marred by the lack of intelligible vocabulary and syntax. But, to paraphrase what someone wiser than I has also said, if pigeons are the arbiters of intelligence in the same way that we humans are when we assume ourselves to be the wisest and brightest beings in creation, then all other creatures will by default be found wanting. No wonder the pigeons deign to unload their critiques on the heads of our celebrated effigies in the park.

The truth, I imagine, is that mourning-dove conversation is no less and no more wise and scintillating than our own, at least in the context of pigeon society. Heaven knows that anyone who translated my quotidian chitchat into ‘pigeon English’ would probably be violating the Columbiformian (I just made that up from their Latin name, thank-you-very-much) Geneva Conventions by boring them to death with my inanity and my extreme dull-wittedness when it comes to where to find the best yucky trash to eat, how to maintain the pecking order in the flock, or why one must always look for the shiniest surface on an automobile for proper deposition of one’s automotive excretions. So no matter how tragic the tone of the mourning-doves’ vocalizing sounds to a mere humanoid like me, it could be that they were just discussing their plans for world domination and the swell soirée with which they intend to celebrate it.Digital illustration from a photo: They were Just Talking 2

Hey, Lookit What I Found!

Crows are a great source of pleasure to me. I admire their bold, graphic good looks: wiry legs and strong beak, shining eyes, and smooth feathers accented with iridescent shine. I enjoy listening to their noisy announcements and conversations, knowing that whether one is broadcasting his name in braggadocio or informing the rest of the neighborhood of what she’s discovered, there is often more brainy expression and interaction going than in many a text-messaging flurry from a pack of attention-deficient humans.

Crows can be aggressive and mean-spirited like humans, too, as I well know from working many years on a heavily treed campus where nesting season was Open Season on certain passersby whom the crows chose to bully. But for the most part, when they’re not busy trying to defend their territory they devote a goodly amount of time and energy to exploring and problem-solving and even humorous play, that is also surprisingly easy to see through an anthropomorphic lens. If I see a crow taking a particular interest in anything, chances are pretty good that I’ll find it interesting myself, should I follow its lead.
Digital artwork from photographs: Curious Crows

Shore Enough

I am too smart for you by half; you think you’re bright? Don’t make me laugh!

You think me infantile and boisterous, but cannot crack an oyster

With no knife? Ha! Silly chums: no fingers, no opposing thumbs,

And yet, I’ve dined on oysters thrice before you’ve opened one. How nice

That you consider yourselves wise to have your thoughts and synthesize

Them into action, yet still fail to see that mine makes yours seem pale,

When you consider that you’ve got advantages that I have not,

And still I’m able, while you strive and strain to merely keep alive,

To caw this jeering little poem at you from this, my beachfront home.

Water Babies Athirst

There was a whopper of a rainstorm in Dallas recently. We were at our friends’ home, enjoying a little birthday party, and heard a few low growls of thunder in pauses between the chatting and laughter but had no great confidence rain would follow. It’s been overcast or cloudy often enough lately without granting so much of the hoped-for watering as it seems to promise, so we never take it as a given that we’ll be watered nicely. Not, in this instance at least, until the front door smashed open under the force of sideways gales and blasts of firehose rain. Bashed open once, and closed; then, a second time. And latched tight; the neighborhood was pelted well and truly until just a little before we left for home.
Photo: Drinking-Fountain Fountain

At home, it appears, no rain had come at all. Our gardens and spirits remained thirsty. I’m quite certain that a coastal-born person of my Washington upbringing and Scandinavian roots is a little more water-conscious, if not obsessed, than average. But the hints of rain that do arrive here, whether in sky-splitting gouts that last but an afternoon or in a steady series of lightly sprinkling days as we are sometimes blessed to see, are a fairly universally admired gift. And I find that north Texas is hardly alone in this.
Photo: Swan Like

The traveling we did this summer in Europe had very few rainy days among the many sun-soaked ones, and while we neither regretted the warmth and light of the sunshine nor bemoaned the drizzling times, we saw plenty of people in Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Stockholm, Port Angeles and Seattle who relished their rain-baths and their waterfront or fountain-side relaxation every bit as much as we did. Even the swans, geese, ducks and waterfowl seemed all the more pleased with their daily peregrinations on the days of and after the rains.
Digital illustration from a photo: Falling, Falling

I think that there might be in all of us a certain kind of thirst that mere water only reinforces and reminds us is different from the sense of desire and hope that can fill our spirits. River or fountain, a strong and cleansing rain, ocean or streaming tears of joy, the only water that can quite slake our longing for wholeness and growth and hope is the remembrance that we are primarily made of water ourselves, and as such, will always seek a way to the well or the shore that reassures us we belong.

Unexpected

To my beloved husband with great love and affection on our eighteenth anniversary: you continue to surprise me, all of these years after your initial unexpected appearance as the love of my life!

Digital illustration from a photo: The Base of the WallSnowing Amethysts

At evening, summertime holds breathless sway

When even crickets wait before they’ll sing,

And birds to roost go silent; everything

Takes pause because the lengthy heat of day

Has drawn a shawl of stillness down to lawn

And flowerbed and hedges, ’til a breath—

So shallow it could scarcely ward off death—

Is difficult to breathe ’til the break’s gone,

Until the night resumes its stealthy crawl,

Exhaling with a stirring wind that flies

Up, stirring blossoms upward to the skies,

Their petals dropping, ash-like, down the wall,

Crape-myrtle petals drifting down below

In waves of amethyst, a summer snow.Digital illustration from a photo: Amethyst Snow

If My Song could Last Forever

Photo: Well Seasoned 1Hours into Seasons

There’s a sweetness in the morning when the sun has yet to rise

And the blooms lie, still unopened, under sleeping butterflies;

When the stars still wink and glimmer, while the frogs yet softly sing—

There’s a sweetness in the morning that is like the breath of Spring.Photo: Well Seasoned 2

There’s a graciousness at midday when, amid the racing streams,

All arise and put in motion yesterday’s profoundest dreams;

When the past its chains has loosened on the race of all alive,

That in joyful forward motion we, like Summer, grow and thrive.Photo: Well Seasoned 3

There’s a calm amid the evening when the birds come to the trees’

Respite from the day of flying, echoed by our evening ease;

When the cares of noon have lessened as the dusk swept into place—

There’s a calm amid the evening, peaceful as the Autumn’s grace.Photo: Well Seasoned 4

There’s a beauty to the nighttime, glorious and peaceful bliss,

Treasured for the kind renewal of the souls that rest in this

Cradling darkness and this languor, in this place of mending rest

That, like Winter’s dormant healing, lets us wake refreshed and blessed.Photo: Well Seasoned 5

I would take these hours’ presents as my guide through seasons long,

Through a lifelong path that’s pleasant as a choir’s finest song;

I would be a seasoned traveler, happy above everything,

If my song could last forever,

Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring.Photo: Well Seasoned 6