Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Secret Lives of Birds


A bird dives down from the Great Beyond, which is to say beyond the view from my window, and rattles the last red flower blowing on my red Lobelia on his way down. Was he aiming for it? The bloom shakes back and forth, then settles, pointed skyward on a doughty stem. (Good for another day? Still a target?)
The bird has disappeared from view. Was he aiming for the dense fluffery of the garden geranium? Does he have an appointment out of sight in the bowels of my crowded plant scape? What’s going on? Whatever it is, or isn’t, it’s utterly unintelligible to me, supposedly the only intelligent life form in this picture. Hmmm, could that be a matter of perspective?
What governs the sudden motions of birds?
What are they saying?
A rustle in the leaves and a slight, but distinct tapping somewhere on the other side of our screen door. I stare into the sunshine of a Saturday morning and spy the quick movements of the bird in the young Chinese elm tree between the sidewalk and the street. He hops and pecks again. The white pattern on his dark back feathers looks like the backbone and ribs design on a skeleton costume. He perches on the tree trunk right side up, medium sized, some reddish tint around the head. Once I realize it’s a woodpecker, I hope he’s not finding good eating in the Chinese elm, which the city planted a few years back in the sidewalk strip because we had put our name on the list for the tree planting program.
Shade trees along the street define a livable city. No single element in any urban, suburban or small town neighborhood says “nice place to live,” “cheerful,” “peaceful,” “good neighbors,” and “cool place to be in the summer heat” than shade trees along the roadway.
Why do the same residential blocks look harder, starker, colder, and less alive in the winter? Because the trees are no longer in leaf.
A few second later the woodpecker, sensing me watching, maybe, flies off from the elm tree into the big maple tangled up with power lines nearby. And from there, quickly, disappears from sight. Didn’t mean to scare him off.
Birds sing, and poets sing.
When human beings imagine divine beings, these superhuman beings fly. Birds fly.
We talk about contact with the “aliens.” Some kinds of aliens are here already.
But, of course, I will be told, once again, we mean contact with “intelligent life.” Perhaps we do not yet fully appreciate the intelligence of other creatures.
I never really know what’s going on in bird land. But we share a world, a space-time continuum, a “habitat.” And we both need trees.