in which witness is borne: birds, politics, fiction and critical art theory

Thesis defense: Parents' Edition

Tuesday, May 31, 2005
This past weekend, in Calvert County, MD, I saw 1 EASTERN BLUEBIRD, 1 RED-TAILED HAWK, and several NORTHERN CARDINALS. Heard 2 RED-BELLIED WOODPECKERS, as well. I also saw, back in Silver Spring this morning, an EASTERN PHOEBE.
Memorable Memorial Day Moments: when my mother asked me to explain why I think my art deserves to be made...an interesting question i think we should ALL get from our mothers. sometimes, lately (and by "sometimes" i mean "constantly") she is in Spicy mode, engaging the tough issues we discuss by lobbing piquant (and by "piquant" i mean "explosive") rejoinders at me across the space between us. This was one such moment.
I survived it fairly well, i must say. Why does my art deserve to be made? Only because I believe in it. I believe my writing and art has a contribution to make to the whole of humanity. That's all, and hopefully, it is enough. I don't know. I told Mom something along the lines of what I wrote in my last posting, that none of us knows the value of anything we do at the time that we do it, we can only swing our hammers and hope to see some progress in our lifetimes. BUt often we don't. So any work that tries to give the world something new is an act of faith.
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on toward morning

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
when i see something, i rarely--almost never--know what i am actually seeing.

the reminders in my life range from the small and silly--mistaking a gull for a White Heron in downtown Chicago-- to the large and complicated, like walking past the same sketchy-seeming, cigar-smoking, sunglasses-wearing, grizzled, raspy-voiced alcoholic on the corner twice a day for two years, assuming he was the lookout for the crack dealership across the street, and then one morning he is there, the crackheads are gone, police are everywhere and a small signpost reads, NO LOITERING--DEA!

I am about to become an aunt, and i wonder this about the new child: will the child be less foolish than me when it comes to presuming that s/he knows something for certain? the certainty, the feeling of it, the weight of it once my brain takes it on, is what gets me into trouble, not the fact that i'm wrong or right. Is any of this making any sense? This is a lot of the reason why I watch birds: they insist on being themselves regardless of what I think they are. Perhaps i can get a good enough look to identify them, perhaps not; but the ambiguities are as interesting as the certainties, and sometimes more fruitful in terms of dialogue: the birders on the listserv will often debate a bird's identity for weeks on end!
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Caspian Tern

Sunday, May 22, 2005
Haha! I saw my first CASPIAN TERN on Friday. With me at the time were dear friends from very different cross-sections of my life, Libby and Vero, who had never met each other before...we were enjoying a strong warm summery wind off the aqua-blue lake, reclining somewhat uncomfortably on the concrete steps at the harbor in front of Buckingham Fountain, and observing seagulls doing dumb-ass things with each other. "Hey, look at that one. What is it doing? Trying to get the food out of the other's beak?" "Here's another one hovering near the pigeons. Does it think it's popular enough to hang out with them?"
Gazing at one gull flying high across our field of vision over the water, I saw a flash of orange triangular beak and black cap, and said, "That one is NOT a gull." I looked it up when we got home, and sure enough it was a Caspian.
I thought of NB, who is writing a book about the Arctic Tern--well, its kind of about other stuff too-- not quite the same bird at all, but still.
I've also been seeing lots of AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES, at long last.
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heroes of observation

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Witness Doug Stotz, my favorite ecologist of the moment, from the Field Museum of Natural History here in Chicago, birding in Grant Park, the urban oasis on Lake Michigan today:
"Out in Grant Park today, 17 May, it was not bad. The only migrant that
was really common was WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW with 260. The number two
migrant was LINCOLN'S SPARROW with 21. I had 20 species of warbler,
including my first BLACK-THROATED BLUE, WILSON'S and CANADA of the
spring. The most abundant warbler was AMERICAN REDSTART with 16. Other
birds of interest included a RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, NORTHERN

Yes, that's right: he saw 20 species of warbler. In the Olympics of birding, Dr. Stotz would totally win a medal.
And anyone who can spot a hummingbird in a tourist-filled urban park--we're talking highly, highly evolved birding sense. I am humbled and jealous.
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baby gooses

Sunday, May 15, 2005
Congratulations Tdog and J on getting engaged this weekend! May you enjoy some long afternoons together this summer, planning and dreaming your future.

This morning, a little late birding at Diversey and the CHicago River: three TREE SWALLOWS, a GRACKLE, four mating MALLARDS and four adult CANADA GEESE, two of whom are new parents of seven yellow fuzzies! afterward i observed to S. that maybe we see pigeons as being such a pestilence because we never get to see their babies. After all, Canada Geesse are pretty rough on the environment, tearing apart riverbanks and pushing out other species. But we put up with them because we see their whole families and feel that kinship.
So, you might be wondering, where ARE all the pigeon babies?? Stay tuned...
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Wednesday, May 11, 2005
The readings have been quite well-received so far. Audiences this past weekend varied from four to twenty, and included, among others, my parents (in from Maryland), sister (in from Asheville, NC), and Ernie and CJ (in from Athens, OH and Washington DC, respectively). I walked on air out of the gallery on Saturday--thanks to these loving presences and other Chicago friends present at the readings, everything felt just perfect.

And on Saturday morning, the 7th, R's dad (in from Omaha) drove out to Logan Square to pick me up. We went to Montrose Point--aka the Magic Hedge--where we birded happily for several hours. Neither of us was particularly sharp that morning--he's losing his eyesight, i had only the excuse of a lack of coffee and a rusted brain--but we managed to catch sight of a few gems:
The bittern had attracted lots of attention by the time we saw it. a few bold birders were sneaking up on it with cameras. this is a largish marsh bird, well camouflaged that day amid the tall brown grass, with yellow eyes and a long, curved sharp bill that points to the sky for hours at a time, a meditative posture that no one can explain, but which makes the bird appear vertical, as if it were some sort of conduit.
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may snowflakes

Tuesday, May 03, 2005
On May 1, we had a couple of snow flurries. maybe not so unusual for the Midwest, but S. was horrified enough to start looking for jobs back East.
I have missed out on most of the spring migration. Perhaps tomorrow I will venture out in the early morning to join the birders on their walk thru Lincoln Park. This has been a difficult time, finishing graduate school without progressing to the next thing quite yet...without knowing even what the next thing will be.
I think I will begin posting here some of the writing remixes from the birders' list serve. I have had one university professor down in Champaign ask where the work is published so she can use it in her class on nature writing! This was tremendously gratifying and I plan on mailing her some copies of the unpublished manusX....
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