Friday, July 1, 2011
A dearth of birds
It happens every year. The excitement of spring migration ends, the long stretch of Summertime begins, and instead of seeing fifteen "year birds" on a brief stroll around my Work Place Pond, I am lucky to see fifteen species total.
Case in point, this morning. Arriving early, as I usually do, I strolled to the edge of the pond, setting in motion a flotilla of Canada geese gliding away from me across the water. By this point in the season, it's really getting hard to tell which were this year's batch of goslings. As the expression goes, "They grow up so fast."
I could hear crows, cawing somewhere -- the juveniles are still hanging about, although their cries have grown more like an adult's -- and the humorous, mewling song of a catbird.
But mostly it was still. Stillness of motion and emotion, reflecting both a lack of activity and a certain sense of stasis. After a particularly rainy season, the profusion of greenery feels almost tropical -- and as the marvelously entertaining book The Lost City of Z by David Grann (not about birds but highly recommended!) points out, such tropical profusion can be oppressive. Explorers to the Amazon called it "the green hell."
This is Illinois, not the Amazon, and fervid fancies aside, the birdless expanse before me represented only summer's foliage. I stared a while, and caught some movement in the shrubs across the water. Binoculars revealed a gray catbird. A pair of chimney swifts flew overhead.
I strolled around a bit (no point going in the building early), peering into the greenery around me. Two summers ago there were house wrens here, but neither sight nor sound of them this year. I saw some robins.
Finally I stood in the shade, looking once more across the pond, and felt, despite the dearth of birds, a sense of peace. The patterns of light and shadow, the contrast of sunshine and shade, the scent of stagnant water and growing things, all were a balm to any troubled thoughts. And as a reward for this final glance, I saw the wood duck family on the far side of the pond.
Total species list for the morning: gray catbird, Canada goose, wood duck, American crow, chimney swift, American robin. Six species. Woo-hoo!
Don't get me wrong, there are still good birds to be seen at this time of year. By "good birds," I mean both new and unexpected sightings, and old favorites. (I saw a green heron on the pond earlier this week, for example. And I like catbirds. And wood ducks. Really, I do.) But mostly it is like this, a dearth of birds. And without birds, something is lacking in my days.
Later, after work, I ran errands, while the temperature dodged up into the nineties, the sort of sauna-like weather that makes me nauseous and short of breath, especially when I am driving from place to place with a desert of asphalt and a sandstorm of traffic about me.
I could not help but wonder, why must everything be so ugly, the antithesis of the natural order I started the day with? More and more, so much of modern life appears more like a form of cancer. It would be one thing if all of this madness really "worked," but I see only lonely, disconnected, insecure people, an economy in shambles, world news that depresses me, detailing all the myriad ways humans can harm each other and the planet.
Perhaps this desultory mood can be attributed to Work Place Change -- this month has brought the arrival of Hatchet Men (and Women) as the vanguard of the Outsourcers, and several of my co-workers have lost their jobs. But only to some extent: I get to stay, in fact, I have been offered a new opportunity, and though I dislike the Company to whom we are Outsourcing, and find them just as obnoxious to deal with as I would have guessed, I am still coming out on top. Perhaps this should inspire a sort of "survivor's guilt" in me, but as a cynical Gen Xer, I can't quite get into it.
Instead, for some reason today I was thinking of the BP Disaster of last year (remember that?)...of watching the Spill Cam showing that hideous black cloud billowing upwards from the ocean floor. Quite frankly, things haven't felt "right" for me ever since. Perhaps many people in these times could relate, with a tale of the moment they realized the gravity of what we are facing.
I do know that catbirds are an antidote, and that the time I spend surrounded by green spaces is the truest and 'realest' moments of my day. I know that the longer I spend in traffic or crowded stores, the worse I feel. I know that whether or not despair is warranted, there is still plenty of beauty all around us, and the most noble task I can think of is to be awake enough to see it.