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

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.
9:02 PM :: ::
  • I read this and I thought, how funny, I would love to see a cardinal again. To you they are just ordinary birds but to me they are almost exotic :-) Context is everything, I suppose. I remember seeing them when I was a young girl, and my family lived for two years in Indiana. The cardinal was probably the only bird I could identify then, because it was SO red.

    By Blogger Eva, at 10:34 PM  
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