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

What's a Blog Carnival?

Friday, October 28, 2005
The Blog Carnival I and the Bird Issue 9 is out. I just learned about this-- a blog carnival is a sort of "best of" compilation of blog entries around a single theme. I and the Bird comes out every other Thursday--and they've linked to one of my posts, but the other writers are quite worthwhile reading--especially the dude who went birding in Western Australia!

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birding from the train

Wednesday, October 26, 2005
from the el this morning, in the vicinity of Lincoln Park, I saw a KESTREL perched gorgeously on a porch railing.

also lots and lots of AMERICAN CROWS.
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hope=the thing with feathers

Thursday, October 20, 2005
one of the loneliest moments of the past year for me was back in February or March, after S. shattered his leg, and I was taking care of him almost full-time and trying to finish grad school simultaneously. There weren't many discoveries to be made for me artistically then--i was just trying to survive and take a couple of pictures, you know? And I couldn't get out birding much at all. So I began collecting, archiving the observations of other birders--I joined the Illinois Birders' listserve, and started trying to think about what I could do with all these amazing texts. I noticed that someone had posted a sign in the graduate art studios for a crit session--on Saturdays, in his studio. So I went down there, took the train downtown on a Saturday hoping for---I don't really know, some kind of a group crit, maybe, or at least a beer.

Well it was just two guys. Fine with me. I plopped down in a chair, feeling out of place, and shared the birders' texts. I felt like these 2 painters were far, far away from me, but they listened politely, and one of them said, after reading through some of the texts, So this birdwatching, it's about hope, right? It's about these people's hope that they're gonna see something unusual, something they've not seen before. And you're just taking, and presenting that hope in another context? I felt it was an incomplete, a cursory assessment. I felt I had let my birders down, had let their motivations be glossed over and misrepresented. Surely there were more complex motives than the hope of a choice find behind all that effort and concentration!

Today I came out of the Norris campus center, blue as could be, what with S's continuing health problems and our boring, relentless financial woes, and looked up to see a pair of--what were they? They were cheeping down churlishly at the passersby from a branch, and with the diffuse but bright sun radiating from behind cloud cover , i couldn't get a good look. But they were red--or at least one was. BAh. Cardinals, most likely, i thought. But--could they be something else perhaps? i couldn't see, but the beaks looked like they might be thinner, and the long tails bobbing as they sat--could they be Vermilion Flycatchers? My mood brightened and I moved backward to extend my view and try for a serious ID. They bobbed their tails, had a dark spot up on the head, but I still couldn't make out the head shape, and then--they flew down toward me, lighting on a lower branch of a nearby tree. I peered past the foliage and saw--they were cardinals. My feelings and wishes and hopes aside, cardinals they were and cardinals they had always been.

I don't have a neat wrap-up for this story. I didn't notice how special cardinals were from seeing this pair. I grew up with cardinals, cardinals are just all right with me, cardinals are just all right, oh yeah. But I will say that one of the benefits of birding, for me, is revelation of just this sort--everything is just what it is, not what I might wish it to be. It takes me down a notch or two, consistently. And i did feel my burden lightened, only slightly, by seeing them.
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sunday buteo

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
So on Sunday morning, I am jogging in the park again (wearing my glasses for once so I can tell when the large forms looming before me are trees and when they are large middle-aged karate practicers who think they've met me before). It's a beautiful morning, and I see quite a few waterfowl there, including those dang COOTS, bunches of MALLARDS and several AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS. Jogging, jogging, jogging (a brief word about the way I particularly do this: it's more of a lope. You might say that I run the way McDonald's makes salad--we've both been at it a long time, but never gracefully, never skilfully, and always with great internal protest and self-doubt).
So there aren't many other birds about, and I jog across the road from the Lagoon to the path along the Prairie River, and my cellphone vibrates in my Velcro pocket. It's S, wanting to know where he should pull in to pick me up. I tell him to meet me at the Field House parking lot, and figure I can probably loop the River path in the time it'll take for him to get there. I sign off, put the phone in my pocket, and across my line of sight flies a raptor, most likely a buteo. I approach the tree it has lighted on, and yes, it's a buteo, and it's twelve feet away from me. About the size of a large crow. Really beautiful, turning its head 180 degrees to search for food. These birds are absolutely fearless, it's awesome.
I've since identified the bird as a BROAD-WINGED HAWK. And found a new psychological reason for birding: it gets you out to exercise!
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warblers galore-blers

Saturday, October 15, 2005
Due to the sweet chauffeuring of The Leg, I was able to get out to Montrose Point at last yesterday for the first time this fall. Warblers there included PALM and YELLOW-RUMPED, as well as a possible Cape May which S. saw. We also saw a variety of thrushes, including Gray-Cheeked and Swainson's thrush among the plentiful Robins. Then there was a pair of flycatchers which were tough to ID. I am fairly sure at this point that they were SAY'S PHOEBES--no eye ring and the bit of rusty yellow on the underbelly.

That location never ceases to amaze me--dozens of small lively things wheeling and diving and hovering in the yellow light and prairie grasses, without a care about the big ugly bipeds standing and gawking and drinking lattes out of big sippy cups. You can get close enough to these migrants to observe plumage colors without your field glasses.

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this week

Thursday, October 13, 2005
Evanston is a funny place--a university town, with the accompanying sense from people that they are smarter than you and that everything functions better because of this, which is often true, despite my best anarchistic wishful thinking. Even the birds are better than in the gritty city to the south: this week, I had an OVENBIRD, a RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER and a MERLIN on Northwestern's campus, signaling the onset of real migration season.
And, in Humble Humboldt Park, I had 7 AMERICAN COOTS. I was right about those things, dang it. And also, a brown duck looking for all the world like a FULVOUS WHISTLING DUCK, though I know that's unlikely, keeping alarmingly close company (!) with a Canada Goose!
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Monday, October 10, 2005
My heart and thoughts go out today--and all week--to the survivors of the devastating earthquake in Pakistan. May more lives continue to be saved in its aftermath.
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saturday in HP

just wanted to mention that on Saturday in the Park I had several WHITE CROWNED SPARROWS and lots of other common sparrows. It's hard to bird and jog at the same time!
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not much today

Friday, October 07, 2005
Didn't see much this morning--or rather, I did, but the birds were all flying way up high and feeding/bugcatching and I couldn't get a good view. Tantalizing glimpses of what I think may have been a FOX SPARROW and a VEERY, and the highlight toward the end of my walk was three AMERICAN COOTS. These birds actually run on top of the water and then swim a while. They are gregarious and silly-looking, with a blobular yellowish beak and sooty black body.
Does anyone have a recipe for apple pie they'd be willing to share?
After the week I've had, I just want to BAKE.
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Flickering again

Sunday, October 02, 2005
Between 8:30 and 9:45am at Humboldt park, i saw 2 AMERICAN KESTRELS, 13 FLICKERS, 25 WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, 2 WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS, 1 PHILADELPHIA VIREO, 5 RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, 9 AMERICAN CROWS, 1 VEERY, 1 BLUE JAY, and scads of RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and EUR. STARLINGS. No sign today of the Brown Creepers and warblers I had just 2 days ago.

I guess we can only speak for ourselves, so that's what I'll do--not to presume that all birders do it for the same reasons, or even similar ones.

I started birding to ward off depression. I was hooked the day I left the gym I belonged to in Dorchester, MA, at the mouth of the Neponset river, wiping tears away and shivering in the cold fall weather. A silent, enormous great blue heron dipped as it flew and passed directly in front of my face, from right to left, continuing on through a brick archway opening on to the river.

I guess at that time birds held romance for me. They were witnesses to everything we did to and for one another here on the ground. They revealed none of what they'd seen, making them the perfect companions for depressives like me and my roommate, who lent me her binoculars so I could bird.

When I started grad school, I began to see birds as a metaphor for myself. It's really embarrassing to admit this. What a heavy-handed artist I became, for a while! I thought their migrations and subsequent returns to their breeding grounds were like my family's itinerant scramblings for a foothold on happiness from Chicago to Tennessee to Maryland. And now I was back in sweet home Chicago. I made art about this. It was a convenient but way overblown comparison, and deep down I knew it, and thank heavens my advisors called me out on it before it was too late for me to look more closely at my motives.

I'll continue later with an explanation of the role birding plays in my current life... I'd like to hear comments so far...
8:09 AM :: 2 comments ::

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