bike: 25 minutes
run: 1.5 miles

2 or 3 inches of snow + wind + 3 5k runs in a row + wanting to watch more of Dickinson while I biked = basement workout. Finished the first episode of Dickinson then started the second one while I biked. It’s growing on me, but I am still not sold on it. I don’t really like this version of Dickinson as quirky, eccentrically cool, selfish, and bratty. I keep intending to write more about what I don’t like, but get stuck. Maybe I can figure it out by the end of the 3rd episode? Or maybe by then I’ll be fine with not having to figure it out. Then I ran while listening to a spotify playlist: Justin Bieber’s “Beauty and the Beat”, Harry Style’s “Canyon Moon”, and Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around.” Nice.

After I was done, I took my shoes off and when I stood up I could feel my right kneecap slip out of the groove. No big deal; I pushed it back in place. It’s fine and I am used to it (mostly), but it is still unsettling and almost always unexpected. No warning. No particular movement that causes it. To be safe, I iced my knee for 15 minutes after I was done. Oh, the body. I have put in a lot of physical and mental work these last five years learning to adjust to a body very slowly falling apart. Some of this adjustment involves resignation, but more of it involves admiration as my body continues to work, despite its limits. After writing this last paragraph, I paused to recite (still from memory) Rita Dove’s wonderful poem, Ode to My Right Knee: O, obstreperous one!

Earlier today as I did the dishes, I listened to the latest On Being: an interview with ornithologist Drew Lanham. So wonderful! I was particularly struck by this part of the conversation:

The birds know who they are. They don’t need you to tell them…“ Yes!

[Orinthologist Drew Lanham responding to Krista Tippet’s confession that she doesn’t know the names of birds and is ashamed of not knowing] 

Well, it’s not a problem. There’s no shame in not knowing the name of a bird. If it’s a redbird to you, it’s a redbird to you. At some point, as a scientist, it’s important for me to be able to identify birds by accepted common names and Latin names and those things. But then I revert frequently to what my grandmother taught me, because, I say, the birds know who they are. They don’t need you to tell them that.

But over time, when we relax into a thing and maybe just being with a bird, then your brain kind of relaxes, it loosens, and things soak in. And I think that’s the key with a lot of learning. But not getting the name right immediately does not in any way diminish their ability to appreciate “the pretty,” as Aldo Leopold talks about. And so seeing that bird and saying, “Oh my God, what is that? Look at it,” and you’re looking at it, and you can see all of these hues, and you can watch its behavior, and you may hear it sing — well, in that moment, it’s a beautiful thing, no matter what its name is.

Sometimes, what I try to get people to do is to disconnect for a moment from that absolute need to list and name, and just see the bird. Just see that bird. And you begin to absorb it, in a way, in a part of your brain that I don’t know the name of, but I think it’s a part of your brain that’s also got some heart in it. And then, guess what? The name, when you do learn it, it sticks in a different way.

take a moment to not know and just see the bird, be with the bird. I love this idea and I think I’d like to turn it into an assignment. I agree with Lanham about a lot here. Right now, I’m thinking about the idea of relaxing and not trying to immediately know the bird but slowly let it sink in through a new form of knowing that involves a “a part of your brain that’s also got some heart in it.” To me, this shifts away from the drive to know (to conquer, to possess) and towards a desire to feel and connect. Knowing is not about mastering, but becoming acquainted with, getting to know.

Continuing this discussion, Lanham discusses the power and violence of naming and classifying:

…thinking about who gets to tell the story and the names — and so I’m intensely interested in language and what different people call things, and these names and what names mean. So that Indigenous and First Nations people, who have all of these languages, and who a raven is to one nation versus who the raven is to another nation or people within that nation. So all of that is important, I think, for us to pay attention to, and all of those are different ornithologies.

In Western science, we boil down to Latin binomial and to genotype and phenotype; and all of that is critical, and it’s important in what we do as scientists. But I think, again, broadening the scope of vision so that we see the big picture — we need to understand who birds are to others, what land is to others; that if my ancestors were forced into nature and hung from trees, I might not have the same interest in going out into the forest and naming the trees.

Wow. Such an important discussion and reminder when thinking about what harm knowing and naming can do. Speaking of naming, here is a map of Minneapolis-St. Paul in Dakota and Ojibwe

a moment of sound

On the back deck, as the wind picks up and the cold moves in. Some people talking in the alley, the scare rods spinning, a few cars rushing by.

feb 4, 2021