Ran with STA this morning. Very nice. Noticed the river as we crossed Lake Street. It was brown and calm. No rowers this morning. Are we too early or too late to see them? Ran in reverse today and noticed many houses for the first time. Over-sized houses on over-sized lots. STA pointed out three benches in a half circle, facing the sun with no trees, sitting in a triangle of grass just off of Franklin near a bus stop. He said he hadn’t noticed them before. I don’t think I have either. They don’t look like much fun, sitting there facing the sun–except for maybe on bright, warm-ish days in the winter. Crossing the Franklin bridge we noticed how the sky north of us, over downtown, had an ominous purple tint, while the sky south of us, closer to the falls, was a placid blue. Stopped at STA’s favorite spot–a big tree above the river road–and noticed how much the leaves by the gorge have filled in. Goodbye view to the other side. I can’t remember when it happened during the run, but I remember a robin right in front of us on the path and STA jokingly calling out, “Get outta here, you Robin” and then as it scampered or scuttled? off, STA remarking, “I like how it couldn’t be bothered to fly.” As I remember it, the Robin kind of looked like someone crossing the street and doing that strange hurrying but not hurrying walk run.
A new month, which means a new monthly exercise. March was Emily Dickinson, April Mary Oliver. At first I was thinking Robert Bly for May because STA and I just watched this awesome documentary about him on the local PBS channel, but Bly seems more fitting for the winter. Tentatively I have decided not to focus on a single poet, but on a theme: birds. I’ve been reading a great collection of bird poems by the ornithologist J. Drew Lanham, and slowly watching/listening/reading a lecture from Marta Werner on her project, Dickinson’s Birds. Both ED and MO feature birds in many of their poems, and so do so many other poets. Will I want to read about birds for the entire month? Not sure yet.
GROUP THINK: NEW NAMES FOR PLURAL BIRDS/ J. Drew Lanham
A Hemorrhage of cardinals
red-staining the backyard
A Consideration, Council
or Congress of crows;
call them anything but murderers, please.
A Whir of hummingbirds
A Riff (or Mood) of any bird that’s blue
A Thicket of sparrows
A Mine of goldfinches
A Skulk of thrashers
A Cuddle of chickadees. (Cute is a definite field mark.)
A Thuggery of jaegers
A Piracy of skuas
A Crucifixion of shrikes
A Mattering of Black birds—
Lives ignored, hated and dissed.
How did darkness become so despised?
A Melody of thrushes
A Palette of painted buntings
An Audacity of wrens—
finding every crevice ever created
and signing loudest about that fact.
A Vomitus of vultures.
A Swarm of flycatchers—
Empidonax “spuh” be damned.
A Tide of shorebirds—
rising more than falling,
wishful thinking on past abundance;
knots, whimbrel, peeps, plovers, curlews
darkening salt marsh skies.
A Privilege of all birds white—
though it’s not their fault
for almost always being given the benefit of doubt or being
mostly respected; usually liked.
An Immigration of starlings,
loved to tears in distant murmuration
but deplored to legalized killing on the street.
Deprived of breath without penalty or cause.
A Herd of cowbirds. Given the gift of never parenting.
A Flurry of snowbirds;
juncos my grandmother claimed she pitied
and threw them handfuls of grits.
A Wandering of warblers
An Envy or swallow-tailed kites
A Front of waterfowl
—forecasting gray winter days to come.
A Cache of nuthatches
A Wheeze of gnatcatchers
A Throne of kinglets (or court if you please).
A Missing of Carolina parakeets,
too smart for their own good.
An Echo of passenger pigeons
—billions dwindled to none.
A Memory of ivory-bills
in praise of the Great Lord God
maybe not all gone.
An Inclusion of mixed migratory flocks,
hopefully integrated by choice
and not forced to co-mingle
in whatever gulfs they must cross.
Wondering what they would call themselves?
if there is disagreement over plumage color, wing bar width,
leg hue, call tone or habitat of origin?
How would they name us? Would the tables turn?
Am I a greater Southern Black-backed two-legged thing?
You perhaps a common White-fronted human being?
Someone else named after a passerine of respectable fame
or raptor of murderous infamy?
Here in gratitude of everyone there ever was—
Whatever the name.
A Love of birds. My collective label.
some terms I looked up after reading this poem:
a thuggery of jaegers/piracy of skuas:
Parasitic Jaegers, known as arctic skuas in Europe, are fast-flying relatives of gulls with a piratical lifestyle. They breed on the Arctic tundra, where they prey mainly on birds and their eggs. They spend the rest of the year on the open ocean, harrying other seabirds and sometimes attacking in groups, until they give up their catch. Jaegers come in several color morphs. Immatures can be extremely difficult to separate from other jaeger species.All About Birds
a crucifixion of shrikes:
The Loggerhead Shrike is a songbird with a raptor’s habits. A denizen of grasslands and other open habitats throughout much of North America, this masked black, white, and gray predator hunts from utility poles, fence posts and other conspicuous perches, preying on insects, birds, lizards, and small mammals. Lacking a raptor’s talons, Loggerhead Shrikes skewer their kills on thorns or barbed wire or wedge them into tight places for easy eating. Their numbers have dropped sharply in the last half-century.All About Birds
Empidonax “spuh” is twitcher’s jargon (committed birdwatchers who travel far distances to see a new species to add to their “life list”
Empid (US): any of the flycatchers of the genus Empidonax, infamous among North American birders for being difficult to identify in the field without the aid of vocalizations.
spuh: birds that are only identifiable to genus level
Juncos are neat, even flashy little sparrows that flit about forest floors of the western mountains and Canada, then flood the rest of North America for winter. They’re easy to recognize by their crisp (though extremely variable) markings and the bright white tail feathers they habitually flash in flight.All About Bird
(adj) relating to or denoting birds of a large order distinguished by feet that are adapted for perching, including all songbirds.
(noun) a perching bird
Thinking about collective nouns for animals and insects, partly because of this poem, partly because I love collective nouns, and partly because of the ending to this short essay, “Seeing” from Late Migrations that I read yesterday:
Farther down the trail, my beautiful niece, whose eyes see twenty-twenty even without glasses, paused before a fallen tree covered with shelf fungi. She pointed to a ladybug nearly hidden in the folds. “When I was hiking in Colorado, I saw a whole bunch of ladybugs, so I checked Google to see if there’s a name for a group that gathers in one place,” she said. “It’s called a ‘loveliness.'”“Seeing” from Late Migrations/ Margaret Renkl