February’s Birds

For this month, some summarizing, then an exercise:

It was cold. 10+ days of subzero temperatures.

Ran Outside: 8 days
Ran Inside: 19 days

Named the route I am always running outside: Edmund loop, heading north OR Edmund loop, heading south

Image (Feb 3, 2021): I also remember thinking, as I quickly looked down at the river through the trees from high up on the edmund hill, that when the river is completely iced over–and covered with snow–it does not shimmer or sparkle or reflect. It’s flat and matte. And, while it can still be blindingly white, it’s dull, not dazzling.

Mystery of the month: Is the smoke I’m smelling coming from a house on Edmund, or a campfire down in the gorge? Current answer: a house

Favorite Poem: What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade/ Brad Aaron Modlin

Show I Watched While Biking: Dickinson

New Definition of Poetry:

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?

Emily Dickinson, heard on Dickinson show

Favorite Song: Teenage Dirtbag/ Wheatus

Best Discoveries

  1. Louisa May Alcott was a runner!
  2. Emily Dickinson’s first editor wrote a book about eclipses, Total Eclipse of the Sun, and was her brother’s lover

Saved by Poetry People and their podcasts!

This could be habit forming

  • A good habit formed: a moment of sound
  • A bad habit broken/stopped from forming: needing to pee between biking and running

Poem memorized and used to banish bad thoughts: Let it be forgotten/ Sara Teasdale

Exercise: A Deck Do-Nothing

On a sunny day in early spring when the warmth is welcome, and the fresh air is too (having being trapped in the house for weeks), you sit on your deck in a chair. You sit there and do nothing–well, not exactly nothing. You listen to the birds, counting the number of sounds added to a bird’s trill each time it repeats its song. Six. Eight. Ten. Twelve. Comparing the different calls that mimic laughter, a frantic high-pitched giggle, a low-rumbling guffaw. Reflecting on why that screeching noise is so delightfully irritating. Wondering if that bzzzzzzz is a bird or a saw. Marveling at the magnificence of these birds. Sit. Stare. Do nothing for at least 20 minutes or until the shadow from the house chills the deck. Go inside. Write about these birds without turning them into metaphor or messengers or saviors. Craft a poem in which the birds get to do nothing.

Inspired by these ideas:

Be with the bird

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.

On Being episode with Drew Lanham

Being with the bird (or the tree or the river or whatever else is beside you) is another way of knowing that slowly sinks in and involves “a part of your brain that’s also got some heart in it.” It’s a shift away from the drive to know (to conquer, to possess) and towards a desire to feel and connect. Knowing not as mastering, but becoming acquainted with, getting to know.

Let the bird be

…to caretake with subject matter, to, what is it to say, okay, does this bird want to be in this poem today? Maybe it doesn’t. You know, we always want to turn the animal into something else, right. And sometimes I want to let the animal be. Of course animals are symbols, of course they turn into our metaphors. I mean, that happens. But I also think there are moments when you just think, okay, the birds aren’t going to save me.

They’re not a metaphor for me coming out of this. What I can do with them is to watch them and pay attention and bow down to their quietude, and their exactitude and smallness. But I can’t ask of them everything.

VS Podcast Interview with Ada Limón

Notice, admire, find delight in the bird without making them do the heavy work of your writing, without turning them into a metaphor.