Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Birds in my dreams

More and more, I feel that birding has begun to punctuate my life. It began as a hobby, slowly morphed into an obsession (partly because I love to make lists, and birding and listing go together better than peanut butter and chocolate), and is now becoming part of who I am. I am always aware of the birds around me, and even the dreariest day is spangled with birding moments.

The walk around the pond before work, and I don't even need to raise my binoculars to recognize most of my old favorites: the white "V" on the tails of dark-eyed juncos, flying away from me; the difference in the shapes of coots and pied-billed grebes from a distance, as they dive; a quick glimpse of a brown creeper in profile, scuttling up a tree-trunk. I can recognize the sounds of the robins, cardinals, cowbirds, song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds. It's not exciting because these are the Usual Suspects, but they have grown familiar and comforting.

Perhaps I will step outside a couple times during the day, to look for the unexpected or just hear the sounds of a goose's wings, flying low towards the water.

After work, there may be another walk, around a different pond; and always my mind is filled with anticipation for the weekend's birding adventures, whether it's a trip several counties away or a really thorough prowl of the urban landscape. Somewhere along the way, my motto became "Bird to Live -- Live to Bird." And I have no regrets. Despite all the jokes I've made about my mental state, I do believe that birds are good for me.

I suppose it should be no surprise that, since I think about birds all day, they also show up at night. In other words, I've started birding in my dreams. Sometimes this is just a pleasant dream about seeing nice birds (sadly, I don't think dream birds count on the Life List), but the most common dream motif is the Bird I Can't Identify.

Usually, this dream entails visiting a foreign country, usually with my old birding buddy Sunwiggy, and seeing all these fantastic, technicolor, almost surreally beautiful birds...and having no guidebook. I guess this is what happens when birders have nightmares. In one of these dreams, I was in Morocco, and ran from bookstore to bookstore seeking a field guide in French, since if I could at least get the French name of the bird, I could later translate it. But no luck. Finally I was sent to an antiquarian shop that only carried books in Arabic, and was told that the names of birds were in a particular book, but when I opened it, there were no pictures, only Arabic.

I sense some ontological issues here. I think that these dreams are telling me that, despite the compulsion that we listers have to name birds for our list, there is something deeper at stake. Naming is important: putting the world in order, learning how to truly see. Humans have an in-born need for nomenclature. Without names, my dream-birds are just images that I will forget upon waking. Without names, I don't know what I saw.

Recently, I had an even stranger dream, in which Sunwiggy and I were on a birding tour in Hawaii, and the guide stopped to point out a gull. Despite the ocean being all around, gulls are rarities in Hawaii (I hadn't known that before Greenturtle and I went there for our ten year anniversary a few years back -- I saw mynas, wandering tattlers, ruddy turnstones, Hawaiian coots and stilts, a whole range of lovely endemics, and a good many introduced species--but nary a gull.) It's just too far for them to fly.

In the dream, the guide picked up the exhausted bird, explaining that it was not only rare for the islands but a very rare species in general. As we watched, the gull exhaled a dark cloud, and went limp in the guide's hands. I woke up and understood the dream at once--my mind translating my continual awareness, sometimes a stabbing pain and sometimes a mere dull ache of distant thought, that what is rare and precious in our world is dying...expiring in a toxic black cloud.

So now, with me, it's birds morning, noon and night. At least I'm not fascinated by spiders! While I sleep, my mind uses birds as symbols for my subconscious mind...but while I'm awake, the birds are perfect just as they are, needing to represent nothing greater than their own feathered selves.

Have you ever dreamed of birds? Or has any other waking obsession found its way into your dreams?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a very thoughtful post! I've yet to dream about birds. Sometimes I dream about books; seeing the most beautiful, wonderful book in the world, and waking up before I can read it. The gull makes me think of the heartache you get when you start to love and care about any part of nature. Mom