Sorry, You’re Not Exactly My Type

I’m strolling by an old oak, and as I approach am hearing a fantastic avian aria. I expect that, as usual, that little singer will fall suddenly silent when he senses my approach. Bet when I walk up to the low branch where he sits, on he goes.

There sits a feathered dandy, a handsome and hale male of the mockingbird persuasion, and as I stop to admire his good looks and impressive vocal repertoire, he looks me right in the eye and goes on singing. I whistle and chirrup and warble in as close an imitation of his excellence as I can manage, because it seems only polite to respond in kind, yet I feel not only inferior in my birdcalls but just a little sorry I’m not ‘available,’ let alone the right species for him. Ah, the biological imperative!

I can only assume that such a fine specimen of mockingbird-kind will find no shortage of applicants for the position of his tweet-heart. A creature so elegant, tuneful, and confident could never remain unnoticed by any ladies of his kind, and surely only a true birdbrain would mock his efforts.

All I know is that I couldn’t help whistling as I walked on, myself.Digital illo: Mr. Mockingbird

All Aflutter

Photo: Sneaky Bird

Photobombed by some kind of small heron (I think), I didn’t even see this beauty until I enlarged the photo and found it in the very bottom corner of what was already a pretty woodland scene by the beach in Puerto Rico. Sneaky little fella.

Birdwatching was one of those pursuits that mystified me when I was much younger. Ignorant youth! I always appreciated that birds looked pretty in a general way, or were exotic, or sang wonderfully or had intriguing nesting and feeding habits, but I suppose I rarely went beyond that in my appreciation of the creatures.

I can’t even quite say when that shallow attitude deepened. While I’m still far from a skilled or knowledgeable birder, let alone an ornithologist, I think I can claim to have gotten smarter somewhere along the way, to the degree that even in places I visit constantly and expect nothing new, I am almost always on hopeful watch for birds of any kind.

Never mind that I can still misidentify a female Cardinal as a Cedar Waxwing at remarkably close quarters and be endlessly fooled by Mockingbirds‘ varied calls and songs as being other birds’ entirely. I have fallen in love with birds and observation of them much more as I age. Their unique beauties set my heart beating a little bit faster. Opening a window to hear an avian chorus in full and tuneful counterpoint opens my soul as well as my ears. Seeing the characteristic wing shape of a gleaming vulture against the singed blue of the summer sky or the forked feathers on a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher lifts my spirits as though I could launch upward into the heavens as they all do. Now that I’ve ousted my childish casualness toward birds, I don’t want them to leave me behind.

Photo: Shore Bird

Another bodacious birdie from near the Puerto Rican shore.

Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . *

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. . . Think I’m Gonna Go Eat Worms! [Note: no actual worms were harmed in the making of this photograph.]

Yes, it may be true that no man is an island–we all depend on others far more than we even recognize or comprehend–but conversely, every one of us is his or her own unique and seemingly isolated version of Three Mile Island at times when it comes to having personal meltdowns. It starts right at birth, when most of us scream and complain at having been removed from that ever-so-pleasant resort and spa, Mom’s innards, and ejected unwittingly and unwillingly into the cold, cruel world, and it continues, however sporadically, throughout our lives. We are such fragile creatures.

The majority of humans, happily, are not subject to this dark reality for too large a percentage of our lives, but it’s more common than is commonly discussed that we have trials, tribulations and the varying degrees of inability to cope with them that make us question, if not our sanity, then certainly our ability to rise above what’s bad, get a grasp on the good, and move forward regardless of feeling worthy or curable. Depression truly sucks–not just in the vernacular, but in the sense of pulling one down into a bottomless abyss like an evil and irresistible vortex.

I’m not referring, of course, to ordinary grief or sadness. We all get hit by those monsters at times. We flounder, we suffer, we recover. It may be deep and painful and take a long time to rebound from sorrows of even the most normal sort, but we do, eventually, learn how to go on living and being and take part in the doings of the world. Generally, that sort of difficulty or tragedy even tends to gradually heighten the sense and appreciation of what is good and joyful once we’ve experienced and survived the dark and can see the shining contrast of even a modest pleasure with what appeared insurmountably grim from its midst. True clinical, chemical, physiological depression, well, that’s a different thing.

It resists the most persuasive and intelligent logic. It batters self-worth and love in the most brilliant, gifted and accomplished sufferers. It tears at relationships of any sort with other people or with action, with one’s wit and will to survive. If it doesn’t make one outright, actively suicidal, it can simply kill through atrophy and attrition: sufferers have described the state of longing intensely to kill themselves but having no strength or energy to do so.

Why would I talk of such dire and dreary and horrid stuff, even think of it at all? Because I am reminded sometimes of when I used to be there. My worst bout of depression was perhaps aided and abetted by various situational and temporal aggravations, including the typical catalysts and intensifiers of real-world health and happiness threats: the onset of my spasmodic dysphonia, job problems, the murder of our good friend. These were of course widely different in intensity and timing, but to someone like me, their interaction with my evidently wonky endocrine system or whatever combined forces of chemical and biological imbalance were building in me meant that when I hit bottom, no amount of thoughtful and heartfelt reasoning with myself could ‘fix’ me or my situation.

I am one of the true Lucky Ones. I finally felt so brain-fogged, so unable to resist the pull of that deadly sucking, enervating, soul-destroying feeling of pointlessness and ugliness and being unlovable and incapable of doing anything meaningful or good–well, I got so needy that I actually let others help me. That was it. The only way out of the hole was to grip the hands reaching in toward me and let them do all of the work of pulling me out. Part of it was accepting these helpers’ assurances that they did indeed believe in me and in how I felt, that they loved me and knew that I had worth and potential. Part was letting others lead me around and taking their advice and simply letting go of what little shreds of ego I had left enough to say that I would do better in following an educated and experienced prescription for improvement than I’d been doing on my ever-weakening own two feet. And a part that was essential for me was loosening my grip on my insistence that taking prescribed treatment–both psychological and chemical–without trying to create or control it myself was a sign of weakness or failure. It took, in fact, all of my strength and intelligence to recognize that any strength and intelligence I had couldn’t save me.

The luck involved is clearly that together we (my caregivers–medical and personal–and I) did find the combination of therapeutic treatments, behavioral changes and chemical re-balancing medication that not only unlocked my present emergency state of depressive existence but ultimately proved to let me feel fully, wholly myself for the first time in my life. I know that this is not a cure but an ongoing process for as long as I live. And, having lived both ways, I am more than happy to take on that responsibility. It’s a privilege.

What’s most beautiful of all, for me, is that when it happens (as it has in this last couple of weeks) that several occurrences and situations conspire to remind me of this my past and how it shaped my present life and self, it also reawakens in me the profound gratitude for all of those complex minutiae that converged so miraculously well as to make this life possible. To make my continued existence at all possible, perhaps, but particularly such a happy me. What seemed like the most disastrous and irreparable of confluences instead conspired to make just the right blend at the right moment that finally offered me a rescue.

Turns out that eating worms is the very nourishment that makes some birds healthy enough to sing their hearts out with the pure delight of existing. Last week I was out walking and saw a ditch full of drowned worms, lured into and killed by stormy waters. This week I was walking the same route and the sky was filled with the most spectacular warbling, chirruping, musical bird songs I could hope to hear. Coincidence? Very possibly not.digital illustration from a photo

(* from the old campfire song Nobody Loves Me, Everybody Hates Me . . . )

 

Mocking, Ever So Gently

Summer teases us with her dramatic, exaggerated changes of mood and meaning, but if we know our own history well enough to remember it, we can be sure that her graces will always return when the time is right.

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A Mockingbird Appears

photoWhen ideas and inspiration have ceased, at least for the time being, to well up from the inside, it’s a mercy that the wide world contains so many and will hand them to me if I keep my senses ready enough. I often find myself too distracted by the busyness and pedestrian chores of the workaday world to see the magical other dimensions right within my reach, and need some helpful pricking from a sight or sound or scent as I pass through to remind me to open up the eye and ear and heart and take advantage of the universe’s generosity when it’s poured out so liberally right within my grasp.photoI walk in a haze of dully daily thought, lost to the world of rich and rare delights I’m walking in, when suddenly a mockingbird appears and turns its bright eye on me and seems to contemplate how absent I must be to almost pass it by when it’s quite nearly underfoot. In that shining eye a world reflects in which the other me is wrapped around with blooms, with drifting clouds sailing across a broad blue sky; with jasmine-scented breeze, with mist as the sprinklers spring to life, with happy shouts from a handful of little playing school kids passing me, looking for miracles of their own everywhere because they are yet too young to have forgotten them so foolishly as I have done. When the bird takes to its stripe-blazed wings and dives back into the air, my thoughts begin to follow and fly with it again: I am awake once more to flight and tune in to the rippling, rolling variations of its song as it rises to the trees, and soars above, and makes me remember that I am in a world full of wonder, if I will only let it fill me again.graphite drawing

Gleaming Afternoon

While I would soar, would gladly fly

Wide, in an arc across the sky

Whose dome of hotly burnished brass

Encompasses at every pass

The great wild height of atmosphere

That would engage to hold me here,

I can, eyes shut and spirit wide,

Pierce heaven to the great Outside.