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

Fall warblers have arrived

Friday, September 30, 2005
between 7:30 and 8:30am today at Humboldt Park, I had several species of woodpecker, including 8 FLICKERS, 2 DOWNYs and an incredible 4 BROWN CREEPERS (in the spring I think I saw one during the whole season, and it was at Montrose Beach, the most biodiverse spot in the state). I also noticed that the warblers have finally arrived--6 YELLOW-RUMPED and one BLACKPOLL (at least that's my best guess from checking my field guides). I also had 3 SWAINSON'S THRUSHES and 1 SWAMP SPARROW, and I think I may have seen a BROWN THRASHER but didn't include it on my posting to the birders' listserv.

I'd like to address the issue Abbyg raised, which others have also asked me about, which is: what is birding about, psychologically? Is it about the hope of seeing something rare, or about learning how to look at what has been around us all along (read the comment on my last post)?

Before I comment on this issue I would like to get some responses from readers...
6:58 AM :: 3 comments ::

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My 1st Hummer

Thursday, September 29, 2005
Today on the Northwestern U. campus, I had my first ever RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, 2 WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS and a RED-EYED VIREO. Man those hummers are fast! It zipped around the path, hovered for a split second in front of me, and zoomed off.

yay hooray!
7:26 AM :: 2 comments ::

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migrating humans

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
There's been so much upheaval lately, i feel compelled to swing my flashlight back around to the world of people and their movements. Birds still have something to do with it, though...
In Jacques Perrin's amazing movie, Winged Migration, the director/narrator observes toward the beginning that the true meaning of the word "migrate" is often lost when we think of it merely as a moving-away; the subtext of a true migration is always, with birds, the promise to return.
I think about that promise when I contemplate the abandonment of New Orleans, and (closer to my life albeit much less traumatic) the half-dozen or so friends who are in the process of leaving Chicago, perhaps for good. What does it mean for a place to be suddenly bereft of a presence, 12 presences, 450,000 presences? Does the place miss you? Does the place hope for your return?
Looking through my field glasses at the animals who pass through this place, such an expectation--that these birds will come back next year, and the next, and their offspring will find their own ways here in their time, and on and on--seems preposterous. Why should they come here? What is here for them, except some artificial ponds in a park, a fountain or two, some trees?
Disasters happen. I suppose there is a difference between those who have been blown or flooded from their homes by a hurricane and those whose stay in a place was only temporary to begin with.
My dad works for a national association of programs which provide education, housing, counseling and other services to migrant farmworkers all over the USA. I have learned a bit about the life lived by these folks who move around from crop to crop with the seasons, and their movements might more accurately be called migrations: they leave a place, a shelter, a piece of land, with a truck and a promise to come back next year, to pick the same crop again at harvest time. Tracing their movements on maps might show up as more of a line of flight than a recognizable pattern.
These are the absences people learn how to live with. The people of New Orleans are having to learn to live with a lot of absence. A lot of people will not be coming back. Then again, perhaps they will cycle back to that place somehow. It isn't settled yet, I don't think. Nothing seems reasonable to expect.
I'm struggling, too, to define my own expectations. People I've grown close to are leaving, and experience tells me I won't see some of them again. To Singapore, Barbados, China, San Francisco, Maine, New York, Texas, Seattle. The kind of return they make in my life might not be a geographical one.
But i have my memories, and my artwork. The totality of their absences might make another kind of presence, if I figure out the right response.
Does anyone have any books to recommend on this subject? I'll be reading the Great Fire of London by Jacques Ribaud, which is about life after the death of a spouse, and I love reading Louise Erdrich whose books are filled with people and ghosts appearing and disappearing again. Others?
7:52 AM :: 0 comments ::

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Thursday, September 15, 2005
good Lord. Nine hours at work and three hours on public transportation, and I come home to a nice dinner cooked by my unemployed layabout of a boyfriend.
Oh, he STARTED dinner. He started cooking the fish, reading the directions carefully off the wrapper, which said, "place fish on greased broiler pan and bake in 425 oven 14-19 minutes. For best results, brush with butter." He joyously rubbed some butter on the fish. He lovingly placed the fish in a piece of tinfoil, placed the tinfoil in the broiler, turned the oven on 425, and left the room to ask me if I wanted the fish broiled or baked. "What do the directions say?" I asked. He read them back to me.
"Dude, I think "bake in oven" means you're supposed to bake it in the oven," I said. We laughed. He opened the broiler. He grabbed the edges of the foil. I said, "Pick up the whole broiler pan and stick it in the oven." He said, "No, I'm just going to put the foil in the oven." I shrugged.
Two minutes later, smoke was pouring out of the oven.
Now my eyes are itching, both smoke alarms are going off, the cats are diving for cover, I'm swinging the porch door back and forth and coughing, and S. says, "Let's just let it burn in there."
WTF is THAT? Ancient Bahamian Kitchen Fire Secret?
That shit ALMOST worked on me, until I snapped awake (thanks to the alarm, maybe), gave him the finger and made violent, frantic arm movements signaling him to yank Fishy back out of the oven. "We're doing this MY way now," I shouted/coughed at him.
He peered into the oven and pointed to the puddle of grease on the bottom. "Is that the source of the smoke?" He asked. I just stared at him. He grabbed a wet, soapy sponge and dabbed at the stain. It released a fresh cloud of smoke and hissed. "Maybe we should use some sort of oven cleaner," he suggested.
We used the toaster oven for the fish. Many curse words and a few thrown punches later, we're about to sit down to dinner. I'll let you know how it is.
6:42 PM :: 0 comments ::

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The Humboldt Bird Restaurant

Sunday, September 11, 2005
I met another birder on the path today at Humboldt Park, where I dragged S. at 7:30am. This birder, a cheerful neighborly lady, lit up when I told her I was new to the area.
"Oh boy, oh boy, just wait!" she said. " You'll see what this place is like. It's like a festival, like a giant restaurant to these birds in the fall and spring. I used to see the red-tailed hawks fly over from the incinerator towers (she pronounced it 'incinyerary') and come back carrying, sadly, either a bird, or a fish, or whatnot. I bet they were just lookin' at Garfield Park and Humboldt saying to each other, Which restaurant shall we dine at today?"
She'd seen exactly what we saw, 12 KILLDEER and 3 SWAINSON'S THRUSHES, as well as some OVENBIRDS. We'd all spotted some warblers that were tough to ID, though I'm pretty sure I had a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, a MAGNOLIA and a BLACK-THROATED GREEN. The killdeer were pretty cool, I have to say. They didn't care a whit about the dogs carousing nearby.
8:30 AM :: 0 comments ::

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Friday, September 09, 2005
sorry for the gloominess of that last post.
this morning in the park I had 2 AMERICAN GOLDFINCHES and 8 FLICKERS, all in the same tree! That tree must have had some good bugs.
6:29 AM :: 1 comments ::

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bully kitty

Thursday, September 08, 2005
my cats are fighting each other again. it came up quickly today, hope it doesn't continue. Enough.

the past week has felt ponderously, leg-draggingly heavy to me. Plagued by nightmares every night, wrecks of airplanes leaving me helpless on the ground, fights between me and shapeless dark things, desperate feeling but powerless to do anything.

The days are better though. Feeling the distance from family more acutely now that so many refugees's faces are in the news, seems strange to have entered this familial diaspora by choice when so many have no choice. Feels liberated and lonesome all at once.

How can so much sorrow be absorbed? The man next to me on the train this morning cried the whole 35 minute ride. His breathing was heavy, and then he was just sobbing. I did not look at him, just out the window, letting the 7:30am sunlight filter past me, I hoped, toward him. Who knows what made him cry? It doesn't matter. I felt weirdly grateful as I made my way to work, thanking the trees and the silence for making enough room for all of us.
6:07 PM :: 1 comments ::

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data entry volunteers needed

Monday, September 05, 2005
This is one way anyone anywhere can help: a unified database is being constructed from the many smaller local databases for families of people missing in the states affected by Hurricane Katrina.

While data entry seems like a fairly un-dramatic way to help, I'm finding it easy (takes about 70 minutes to get through a batch of records) and it eases the mental stress of knowing that so many are in need of connecting with their loved ones. Ethan Zuckerman is the db manager, those with more IT experience may be able to volunteer to help on the back-end of this project.

The PeopleFinder Project

those with other suggestions for how to help, or seeking ways to help, click over to http://wheretosenddonationsforkatrina.blogspot.com and read on.

2:54 PM :: 0 comments ::

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