Saturday, August 31, 2013

Birds as dark muses

by Audubon

It seems like it's been a while since I ran off for a morning or a day, binoculars around my neck and a life bird or two to chase. There was an impressive show of shorebirds at Chatauqua along the Illinois River Valley last weekend, and I was tempted. A piping plover had been seen--not only a potential life bird, but an endangered one which, judging from its photos, is extraordinarily cute.

Piping plover, image from National Wildlife Federation's blog

See what I mean? Shorebirds, as a whole, do not strike me as cute, but piping plovers are adorable. Still, I didn't go out to look for it. For me not to chase a good bird sighting is so out of character that Greenturtle asked me if I was OK.

I've done so many posts about chasing birds that maybe I'll do one a bit later about not chasing them. But the quick answer is that I just didn't feel like it. Yikes, maybe I am sick!

But we've been walloped with a late summer heat wave, I can't really afford extra gas right now, and...and...I just wasn't into it. I have stacks of books I want to read piled willy-nilly around my house, and drafts of essays for the book I've been meaning to write for years all over my laptop.

When I'm writing, I tend to chase ideas the way I would otherwise be chasing birds, dashing off with a journal in one hand for field notes and blind faith that if I am persistent enough and go far enough and wait long enough, I'll find it. Whatever it may be, I'll catch it and return with something I can work with: an intriguing photo, an evocative description, a specimen for future study.

My pursuit of birds is bloodless, but chasing ideas frequently ends with a death struggle. I'd rather bring them back alive, but it's a clumsy process, and I am heavy-handed. Far too often I bludgeon my concept to death, and then hope that if I pin it up nicely, in a lifelike pose, you won't notice the gaps in the ragged feathers. You did? Maybe if I apply some glitter....

And then every once in a while, right when I think I've got it displayed just so, my trophy winks at me and lunges. I step back, just in time to see it make a complete mess of my laboratory.

Or, to put it a way that doesn't make me sound quite so barmy, when I am working on a writing project, I tend to direct all my mental energy and enthusiasm to the process. If I don't, I lose the momentum. I forget what I meant to tell you, and end up watching bad horror movies on Netflix instead.

But that sounds so pedestrian. I'd rather think of my mind as a dense and mysterious jungle, myself an explorer--weary, awestruck, perhaps raving just a bit--and my topic as a rare and dangerous bird.

There's a long tradition of seeing birds as divine messengers and dark muses, after all.

Night Crow
By Theodore Roethke

When I saw that clumsy crow
Flap from a wasted tree,
A shape in the mind rose up:
Over the gulfs of dream
Flew a tremendous bird
Further and further away
Into a moonless night
Deep in the brain, far back.

1 comment:

  1. I love your description of your brain being "barmy", and glitter is always "just the thing". Although I don't like it when a trophy winks and lunges at me; I hate it when they do that! I, too, am somewhat in the bird doldrums. I suspect it's just a pause, before I can expect my late Fall guests from Canada. MOM