may 9/RUN

2.1 miles
river road trail, south/42nd st, west/44th ave, north
63 degrees

A short run in the afternoon with STA. Lots of bikes, not too many runners or walkers. Talked about being useless and doing useless things as forms of resistance to capitalism (me) and as clever instagram descriptions (STA). Also, I complained about Mother’s Day and how much I dislike “special days” like it or birthdays–partly because my mom is dead, partly because they create unrealistic expectations about what it means to celebrate and be celebrated.

Here’s one of the first poems I read from J. Drew Lanham’s Sparrow Envy last week:

Octoroon Warbler/ J. Drew Lanham

As a taxonomic committee of one,
I alone have decided
that the past transgressions of long ago dead and rotted
bird watchers must be amended.
That it is my sole responsibility—and pleasure—
to right the wrongs
of racist slave-holding artist ornithologists.
of genocidal complicit naturalists.
of grave-robbing skull-fondling phrenologists.
of the lot of white-supremacist men with the
self-serving penchant
for naming things after themselves.
I hereby declare my solo vote singularly unanimous.
Everything I decide here and now—
passes.
So shall it be written. Let it be done.
Word is bond.
My opinions good as any other treaty
signed in the shifting sand of time.
I do hereby exchange, alter or replace
the names of the birds that follow.
Their former identities by patriarchal rule to be expunged.
That they should have new identities
by my demand.
Bachman’s sparrow, denizen of long-leaf pine savannah;
of wiregrass, of fire-kissed sandy ground
shall be once again be
“pine woods.”
A true great again recovery worthy of celebration!
And whilst I’m releasing species from bondage,
consider the likely forever gone warbler
of the same Charleston preacher’s
human-chattel-possessing label,
can we not do better?
Yes.
“Swamp Cane warbler,”
appropriately by design of damp dank place
it so chose when still in existence, escaping notice.
I would have suggested “Tubman’s warbler,”
but then why make it any easier to erase blackness
when extinction has already done the job?
LeConte’s Sparrow will hence forward be
“orange-faced.”
The brown-backed secretive skulker
of wet weedy rank with tangled overgrown fields,
hider in thickety traces, deserves better fate than linkage
to a Confederate armorer working
to put in place a permanent apartheid nation.
Townsend’s Solitaire,
thrush-esque thing of western slope migration
is now “Up-and-Down Solitaire.”
Mobile altitudinal propensity
taken into full account.
The lemon yellow-headed black and white
western jewel of a warbler
tagged by that same Indian grave-robbing man,
shall now be a “Doug Fir” specifically,
knowing for its tied to evergreen boughs.
No disarticulated Native heads required.
To correct an oversight
of Manifest Destiny,
(and opening the western door to indigenous genocide
not accepted),
behold Clarke’s Nutcracker,
the capacious resourceful intelligent corvid,
given title by the fire-haired Captain of the Corps!
Henceforth shall be York’s Crow.
Designated the first bird so named for a man of color
About damn time the brother got credit
for saving the Corps of Discovery’s always imperiled bacon.
Even as property his contributions went largely
without merit.
To even the score a bit more
redact the other leader Lewis
from the northern Rockies woodpecker.
He of Trail of Tears Cherokee removal infamy.
Christen the gorgeous picid Sacagawea’s Woodpeecker
instead.
As for John James Audobon,
“JJ,” if I might?
He of the posed painted birds,
of ego larger than life to go along
with his Baby Elephant folio.

What does a slave-owning,
man-passing for white might deserve?
What might the demigod of birdome merit
after all these years?
Let his name now be struck.
For malfeasance to humanity.
For being prickish and a generally abhorrent man,
Audubon’s orioles shall be Rio Grande.
The sea-going petrel with the artist’s moniker shall now be
“Warm-Sea Wanderer.”
An identity worthy of its tropic-trotting status.
And last but not least, for review
the yellow-rumped warbler of occidental “race,”
occurring beyond the Mississippi to points beyond that.
Since Johnny couldn’t bear the very thought
of interracial miscegenation,
let’s call the butter-butted bird what it is
in hindsight of his own mixed-raced denial.
The Octoroon Warbler.
Thus, I proclaim on this very day,
whenever this ruling shall be read on whatever future date,
that we remember the identity of the birds for what they are,
and never forget the signs of past imperfections too,
to not repeat the hubris of taking good for granted.
But letting creatures have their own names.
No interference from haters required.

An important history of naming that I didn’t know. I looked up Townsend and his warbler and found an article about his grave-robbing: Stealing from the Dead: Scientists, Settlers, and Indian Burial Sites in 19th Century Oregon Also found this: Townsend, John Kirk | Bird Names for Birds. And, found this more general article: A Bird Named for a Confederate General Sparks Calls for Change

may 8/RUN

3 miles
austin, mn
50 degrees

Windy and cool. Ran in Austin with STA. Less than a week away from being fully vaccinated.

Vanishing/ Brittney Corrigan

Nearly one-third of the wild birds in the United States
and Canada have vanished since 1970, a staggering
loss that suggests the very fabric of North America’s
ecosystem is unraveling.
–The New York Times (September 19, 2019)

As the world’s cities teem
with children—flooding
our concrete terrains with shouts
and signs—as the younglings balance
scribbled Earths above their heads,
stand in unseasonal rain
or blistering sun,

the birds quietly lessen
themselves among the grasslands.
No longer a chorus but a lonely,
indicating trill: Eastern meadowlark,
wood thrush, indigo bunting—
their voices ghosts in the
chemical landscape of crops.

Red-winged blackbirds veer
beyond the veil. Orioles
and swallows, the horned lark
and the jay. Color drains from
our common home so gradually,
we convince ourselves
it has always been gray.

Little hollow-boned dinosaurs,
you who survived the last extinction,
whose variety has obsessed
scientific minds, whose bodies
in the air compel our own bodies
to spread and yearn—
how we have failed you.

The grackles are right to scold us,
as they feast on our garbage
and genetically-modified corn.
Our children flock into the streets
with voices raised, their anger
a grim substitute
for song.

may 7/RUN

3.25 miles
43rd ave, north/tunnel of trees/welcoming oaks/oak savanna/edmund, north/7 Oaks
49 degrees

Hooray for wonderful runs! Sunny, warm enough for shorts, clear trails, welcoming oaks, robins who sound like they’re singing “hurry up hurry up hurry up.” Ran on the trail but don’t remember looking at the river; too busy looking out for other people. After reading an article about “The Warbler Wave” at 7 Oaks, decided to end my run there and listen. According to local bird expert Dave Zumeta (I have his Birds of the Mississippi Guide pdf), mid-May is a great time to see/hear warblers as they migrate south, and 7 Oaks is the best place to do it:

Warblers are Zumeta’s favorite birds, bar none. He not only knows the subtleties of their markings, but can also recognize their songs. His favorite place to watch for warblers isn’t Costa Rica or the Greater Antilles Islands. It’s a sinkhole on 34th St. and 47th Ave. just a stone’s throw from his house. He said, “Seven Oaks Park is the reason we moved where we did. I think it’s one of the best places to bird watch anywhere – and it’s a warbler magnet.”

Wow, I love where I live! Here’s the recording I took as I stood on the edge of the sinkhole:

May 7th, birds at 7 Oaks

I have loved Marie Howe ever since I read one of her amazing poem from What the Living Do and listened to her On Being interview. Such beautiful words! Here’s one that features a bird:

From Nowhere/ Marie Howe

I think the sea is a useless teacher, pitching and falling
no matter the weather, when our lives are rather lakes

unlocking in a constant and bewildering spring. Listen,
a day comes, when you say what all winter

I’ve been meaning to ask, and a crack booms and echoes
where ice had seemed solid, scattering ducks

and scaring us half to death. In Vermont, you dreamed
from the crown of a hill and across a ravine

you saw lights so familiar they might have been ours
shining back from the future.

And waking, you walked there, to the real place,
and when you saw only trees, come back bleak

with a foreknowledge we have both come to believe in.
But this morning, a kind day has descended, from nowhere,

and making coffee in the usual way, measuring grounds
with the wooden spoon, I remembered,

this is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture
after gesture, what else can we know of safety

or of fruitfulness? We walk with mincing steps within
a thaw as slow as February, wading through currents

that surprise us with their sudden warmth. Remember,
last week you woke still whistling for a bird

that had miraculously escaped its cage, and look, today,
a swallow has come to settle behind this rented rain gutter,

gripping a twig twice his size in his beak, staggering
under its weight, so delicately, so precariously it seems

from here, holding all he knows of hope in his mouth.

I love the idea of our lives as thawing lakes in a bewildering spring, and the kind day descending and things happening cup by cup, gesture by gesture, and the surprise of sudden warmth, and the delicate, staggering bird. The line about the bird reminds me of Ada Limón’s interview on VS:

Ada Limón: Yeah. I think, for me, there are a couple of new poems I’ve been working on. One of them, just recently, where I saw a beautiful kestrel that was on a really small branch. And I kept sort of loving this image of a heavier bird being held up by a small branch, right. And I kept thinking, I’ve got to do something with this, I’ve got to do something with this. And then, really, towards the end of the poem, I realized, like, I want this image to somehow tell me that as the branch, I can bear more, and I can bear a lot. And as the bird, I can balance on barely, you know, on something that’s barely there. And yet, in the poem, I recognize that it’s not telling me that, right. That that’s actually—all it is is a bird doing its thing, landing where it needs to land. And, you know, I want to look at those lessons. But I also need to pull back and think, okay, maybe it’s just a noticing, and that’s what my job was. And not always turning it into a … fable, you know. (LAUGHS) Or an idea that will somehow rescue the speaker. And in this case, you know, the speaker being me.

Franny Choi: Yeah, that helps me totally see what you mean when you say, allow the animal to be an animal alongside us as animals. Like To just like, be with them in an environment together, rather than being a colonizer like, be like, th, like, how is this tree useful for me? How is this bird useful? What can I -what can I make it for?

It’s interesting how these images of birds are opposites: Limón’s is too big for the branch, Howe’s is too small for the twig, but both are about the too-muchness of life—the world’s weight, too much for our small branched bodies, and hope’s sudden and unexpected appearance, almost too much to bear.

May 6/WALK

A break from running today. Took Delia on 2 walks instead, one just me, the other with STA and RJP. One down by the ravine, the other in the grass between the river road and Edmund.

Starlings/ Maggie Smith from Goldenrod

The starlings choose one piece of sky above the river
and pour themselves in. Like a thousand arrows
pointing in unison one way, then another. That bit of blue
doesn’t belong to them, and they don’t belong to the sky,
or to the earth. Isn’t that what you’ve been taught–nothing is ours?
Haven’t you learned to keep the loosest possible hold?
The small portion of sky boils with birds.
Near the river’s edge, one birch has a knot so much
like an eye, you think it sees you. But of course it doesn’t.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen starlings in person. I checked my bird list and they do live in the Mississippi Gorge. Maybe someday I’ll see them? Anyway, I picked this poem because it uses two interesting bits of information that I’ve wanted to use in a poem ever since I found out about them: 1. a boil of birds and 2. the tree with eyes.

a boil of birds

On March 9th, 2020, one day before I got my first of many sinus infections and just days before the pandemic became real in Minnesota, I went for a walk and noticed a big bird circling in the sky. Wondering why it circled, I looked it up and found out about thermals and boils of birds. Here’s what I wrote:

Thermals are updrafts of warm air that rise from the ground into the sky. By flying a spiraling circular path within these columns of rising air, birds are able to “ride” the air currents and climb to higher altitudes while expending very little energy in the process. Solitary birds like eagles and hawks often take advantage of thermals to extend their flight time as they search for food. Social birds that fly in large flocks also use thermals to gain altitude and extend their range during migration. The sight of dozens or hundreds of birds riding a thermal has been said to resemble the water boiling in a kettle, so the terms kettle or boil are sometimes used as a nickname for a flock of birds circling in a thermal updraft. The benefits of thermals are not limited to the animal world either as glider pilots often take advantage of them to gain altitude as well.

I want to see hundreds of birds riding a thermal and looking like water boiling in a kettle! Mostly so I can see them doing it but also so I can write about the boil of birds I just saw.

a tree with eyes

On June 18th, 2020, walking with STA and Delia the dog, we noticed a tree that looked like it had eyes. Here’s what I wrote:

Every day, in the late afternoon around 5, Scott and I take Delia the dog on a long walk between Edmund Boulevard and the River Road. This week, while stopped near the upper campus of Minnehaha Academy–the one that was recently rebuilt after the old building exploded a few years ago, Scott noticed all the eyes on an aspen tree and took a picture of it. I remember remarking, “oh, I bet there’s a name for that. I’ll have to look it up.” I finally did just now. The most popular answer? Aspen eyes. According to several sites I found, these eyes are formed through self-grooming, when aspens shed their smallest branches.

walking and listening this morning

On my walk this morning with Delia the dog, I heard black-capped chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, cardinals, and the red-breasted nuthatch I just identified yesterday. Also might have heard the plink plink of a bobolink–is that possible?Standing at the rim of the giant sinkhole that’s been turned into a city park at 7 Oaks, I heard so many other birds, including one that I hear all the time but I can’t yet identify. I manage to record it (along with other birds). \

May 6th, a one-syllable bird call at 7 Oaks

Birding by ear is difficult and overwhelming at first. Too many different sounds that I can’t distinguish. So, I’m looking for tips, like these: Six tips for birding by ear. In it, they suggest some things to listen for.

Some things to listen for:
  • is it high
  • sweet
  • does it rise or fall in pitch
  • is it in groups of 2 or 4
  • is there a space between each bout?

may 5/RUN

3.25 miles
turkey hollow
54 degrees

An overcast, cooler day. Not quite gray but not blue either. Wore my new raspberry red shoes. I have wanted red shoes for a few years now. Felt faster, stronger. Tried to listen for more birds. Heard the usual (or uje as FWA and RJP like to say) singers: black-capped chickadees, cardinals, crows, pileated woodpeckers not drumming but calling out, sounding like a loon to me. Ran the final 1/2 mile with my spotify running playlist.

I heard a bird that I thought was a crow calling out and tried to figure out what word their call sounded like but I couldn’t. It was one syllable and shrill. I looked on the birdsong charts that I posted a few days ago for one syllable calls and found the red-breasted nuthatch. Listened to its call and it sounded like what I remember. Then, I looked it up on a birds of the mississippi river gorge guide that I found a few years ago. Yes! Red-breasted nuthatches are permanent residiences here. Nice! On the birdsong chart, the word used to describe the call is “ink” but I can’t hear that when I listen to it. Googling it, I found “ank ank” which sounds more like it to me. Here’s how all about birds describes them:

An intense bundle of energy at your feeder, Red-breasted Nuthatches are tiny, active birds of north woods and western mountains. These long-billed, short-tailed songbirds travel through tree canopies with chickadees, kinglets, and woodpeckers but stick to tree trunks and branches, where they search bark furrows for hidden insects. Their excitable yank-yank calls sound like tiny tin horns being honked in the treetops.

They like to hang out with chickadees and woodpeckers? That sounds right. I remember hearing “chick a dee dee dee” a lot too. I need to look up how to record/make not of a bird sound–what information do people usually include? Here’s a page with some helpful information that I’ll check out later. For now, I’ll write:

May 5, 10:25
At the corner of 44th and West River Parkway near Becketwood
Red-breasted nuthatch call—“ank ank ank”

In the description, kinglets are mentioned too. Looked it up and we have those in the gorge as well. I’m thinking it might be helpful to look up the birds I know and then find out what other birds they hang out with. Also, when hearing bird sounds, try to listen for where they’re coming from–high up in the trees? the grass? lower branches?–then look up habitats. I feel this birding my ear will be slow work; I’ll consider it a big accomplishment if I can identify 2 or 3 more birds this month.

One last thing: I never would have guessed that the irritating, loud call I was hearing came from such a small bird. And I never would have guessed that it wasn’t a crow or a raven or a rook.

Looking through my safari reading list, I found this letter from Emily Dickinson to her cousins. I saved it a few years ago, I think. Why? Oh, past Sara what was in here that you wanted to keep? I’m not sure, but I think it’s fitting for the month of birds and birdsong. I’ll need to read her lines many more times before I feel close to understanding them, but I’m glad to have them.

TO: Louise and Frances Norcross
FROM: ED

Sisters,

I hear robins a great way off, and wagons a great way off, and rivers a great way off, and all appear to be hurrying somewhere undisclosed to me. Remoteness is the founder of sweetness; could we see all we hope, or hear the whole we fear told tranquil, like another tale, there would be madness near. Each of us gives or takes heaven in corporeal person, for each of us has the skill of life. I am pleased by your sweet acquaintance. It is not recorded of any rose that it failed of its bee, though obtained in specific instances through scarlet experience. The career of flowers differs from ours only in inaudibleness. I feel more reverence as I grow for these mute creatures whose suspense or transport may surpass my own. Pussy remembered the judgment, and remained with Vinnie. Maggie preferred her home to “Miggles” and “Oakhurst,” so with a few spring touches, nature remains unchanged.

The most triumphant bird
I ever knew or met,
Embarked upon a twig to-day, –
And till dominion set
I perish to behold
So competent a sight –
And sang for nothing scrutable
But impudent delight.
Retired and resumed
His transitive estate;
To what delicious accident
Does finest glory fit!

What to do with the contrast between the mute rose and the bird who sings for “nothing scrutable/But impudent delight”?

may 4/RUN

3.5 miles
river road trail, south/under ford bridge turn-around/river road trail, north/Winchell Trail, north
48 degrees

Yes! I ran on the trail all the way today: headed south on the upper trail, turned around just past the ford bridge, then back home on the lower trail. Heading down to the lower (Winchell) trail, I admired the sparkling river again. I wish the lower trail was longer; I really enjoy being a little closer to the river and running under the trees and on the edge of the bluff. It was mostly sunny, but occasionally the sun would hide behind a cloud and the trail and the trees would turn from lime greens and dark browns to dull gray.

Ran past the 42nd street sewer pipe and I listened to the water, I figured out some words that fit between dripping and gushing (which was my problem from yesterday’s run): falling, flowing, (a gentle) flushing. As I tried to hold onto those words so I could remember them for this entry, I heard a sharp beeping or tweeting noise. At first I thought it was a bird, then I realized it was a truck backing up. Then I thought: when we hear the beeping of the truck, do we need to put the idea that it’s a truck backing up into words, or do we have a more immediate understanding of it? How intelligible/recognizable in language do these sounds need to be for us to know and respond to them? Thinking I might forget this thought, I decided to stop at the top of the short but steep hill near Folwell and record some notes.

May 4th/ notes mid run

I was inspired to think about sound and syllables and language because of my bird poem for the day. I became aware of it after two different bird articles (or books?) that I read yesterday used a bit of it for an epitaph. I think they both used this bit:

is it o-ka-lee
or con-ka-ree, is it really jug jug,
is it cuckoo for that matter?–
much less whether a bird’s call
means anything in
particular, or at all.

Syrinx/ Amy Clampitt – 1920-1993

Like the foghorn that’s all lung,
the wind chime that’s all percussion,
like the wind itself, that’s merely air
in a terrible fret, without so much
as a finger to articulate
what ails it, the aeolian
syrinx, that reed
in the throat of a bird,
when it comes to the shaping of
what we call consonants, is
too imprecise for consensus
about what it even seems to
be saying: is it o-ka-lee
or con-ka-ree, is it really jug jug,
is it cuckoo for that matter?–
much less whether a bird’s call
means anything in
particular, or at all.

Syntax comes last, there can be
no doubt of it: came last,
can be thought of (is
thought of by some) as a
higher form of expression:
is, in extremity, first to
be jettisoned: as the diva
onstage, all soaring
pectoral breathwork,
takes off, pure vowel
breaking free of the dry,
the merely fricative
husk of the particular, rises
past saying anything, any
more than the wind in
the trees, waves breaking,
or Homer’s gibbering
Thespesiae iache:

those last-chance vestiges
above the threshold, the all-
but dispossessed of breath.

aeolian (def):
(adj) giving forth or marked by a moaning or sighing sound or musical tone produced by or as if by the wind.
(adj) borne, deposited, produced, or eroded by the wind
god of the winds (greek)
aeolian mode: natural minor scale

iache (noun): any kind of inarticulate cry; most likely it is an onomatopoeia, an imitation of human sounds that are not language; most frequently used of the shouts that accompanied Greek religious ritual
thespesiae (adj): divine, especially in the sense of mysterious or inaccessible to human understanding
terms from Homer’s Odyssey, found in this helpful study guide for the poem

Click on this image to see how the syrinx works over at one of my favorite bird sites: All About Birds

Click here to go to site to animate the syrinx

Her line about the “pure vowel/breaking free” made me think of Robert Bly and his discussion of vowels in the documentary‘ STA and I watched the other day. He read this bit from his long poem, “As If Someone Else is With Me” from Morning Poems:

So it’s a bird-like thing then, this hiding
And warming of sounds. They are the little low
Heavens in the nest; now my chest feathers
Widen, now I’m an old hen, now I am satisfied.

And here’s some helpful advice for starting to think about birding by ear:

How to “Bird by Ear”: Getting Started

To speed up the learning process, don’t just listen passively: Focus and analyze what you’re hearing. Describe the sound to yourself, draw a diagram, or write it down. If it’s a complicated song, figure out how many notes it has. Do all the notes have the same tone and vibe? Does the tune rise or fall? Can you adapt the “syllables” into words and make a mnemonic? The Barred Owl, for instance, hoots Who cooks for you, and the Common Yellowthroat sings Wichity-wichity-wichity. But you don’t have to just settle for published mnemonics; listen carefully and then invent your own. Little memory hooks like these will make birding easier the next time around. And as always, repetition helps.

Birding by Ear, Part One/ Audubon Society

may 3/RUN

4 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd, east/river road trail, south/winchell trail, north
54 degrees

What a wonderful run! Not too fast, not too hard, not too windy. Before I went out for my run, I started thinking more about birds and what I might focus on this month. More how birds sound and less how they look—their coloring, eyes, feathers, etc. Maybe some research on bird biomechanics and migration and navigation and how their feathers and bones and brains work? Too much to tackle in one month. As I wrote this last sentence, I thought about Annie Lamott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, which I read many years ago and have now requested from the library in audiobook form. I could focus on one bird for each day of the month? I’ll think about it.

Anyway, at the start of my run I was thinking about birdsong and some sites I found with mnemonic devices for recognizing them, like this one: Memorizing bird songs made easy with mnemonics. This site has 2 great comics to help out:

I think I should look up the most common birds in the gorge and then try to learn the mnemonic devices for their sounds. At the beginning of my run, I thought I heard a bird song that started with a tweet tweet, but I don’t think it was a yellow warbler (see comic above). Last summer I wanted to learn more bird calls, but it was too overwhelming and I became distracted with other projects. Thinking about this more, at the end of my run, I remembered an idea I had earlier about not becoming overwhelmed by trying to learn too many things or feeling that there’s always too much that you don’t know. I want to learn just enough to make it interesting–not to become obsessed with knowing every bird song, or depressed by how much others already know. And by interesting, I mean: delightful, creating wonder and astonishment, enabling me to devote attention, provoking my curiosity, connecting me further to a place.

Here are some notes I took about my run shortly after I returned:

  • the sewer pipe in the ravine on the Winchell Trail by 44th was dripping/dribbling water, while the pipe by 42nd was—not gushing or rushing or pouring, but more than dripping…what’s the word for that? and why is there more water at 42nd?
  • running through the tunnel of trees and hearing at least 3 booms–what were they? transformers blowing or construction-related or a car back-firing?
  • so many glints, sparkling like jewels, on the river as I approached the overlook at the start of the Winchell Trail!
  • so many sounds of lawn mowers and leaf blowers and bird calls–not a wall of sound, but a veil
  • the steep slope up on the Winchell trail near folwell looking insurmountable from a distance

Look!

Near the old stone steps, I heard a deep hollow drumming from a hidden woodpecker, then saw 2 older women standing at the edge of the bluff peering into the trees and trying to find the source of the sound. This reminded me of a passage from Margaret Renkl’s essay “Seeing” in Late Migrations:

One of the nicest things about the lake where I like to walk is that there is nearly always someone on the trail saying, “Look!” Thanks to that natural human urge to share something wonderful, even with a stranger, I have learned this lake’s terrain over the years and know where to look for the well-disguised secrets I would miss on an unfamiliar path. I know that a barred owl frequently perches in a dead tree near a particular bridge. I know that a great blue heron often stand as still as a photograph on a submerged log in one cove. I know the rise whee wild turkeys drag their wing feathers on the ground and blend in with the leaf litter, and I know the bank where beavers climb soundlessly out of the lake. One summer I knew where to look for a hummingbird’s nest because of a stranger with better eyes than mine.

“Seeing” from Late Migrations/ Margaret Renkl

When I read this passage a few days ago, I decided that I want to believe that the strangers on the trail that I encounter could be as generous as this, and I want to take the time to stop and to look or try to look or at least listen to their description of what they see. I want do this instead of assuming the strangers are irritating or clueless or selfish space hoggers. I want to be open to the world instead of closed to it.

Here is a bird poem I found while looking back through my safari reading list. Ted Kooser is wonderful.

A Heron/ Ted Kooser

Maybe twenty yards out from the shoreline
a great blue heron waiting, motionless,
upon a post that seemed to have no purpose
other than to stand there stained with rings
of history as the old lake, breathing sunlight,
rose and fell.

The heron was the color of the water
so that it seemed that I could see the water
through her, as if she were a creature blown
of glass, not smeared by anybody’s fingers,
still clean and delicate and waiting to be filled
with color

although I saw that she was filled already,
from the bulb of her body to the tip of her beak,
not with a color that anyone knew but with
a cloudy fluid that had been distilled
from summer light and now was being aged
and mellowed

though how much longer it might take was
anybody’s guess. But I had been imagining
too long, and she had felt it, too, that threat
of too much beauty being forced upon her,
and spread her glassy wings and lifted off
and flapped away across the water.

What a beautiful poem! I think I want to memorize it so I can have it forever.

may 2/RUN

4.5 miles
franklin loop
62 degrees

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.

may’s exercise?

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.
Evolutionary brillance.
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:

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

passerine (def):
(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

jan 31/BIKERUN

bike: 22 minutes
run: 1.8 miles
basement

Scott and I took Delia for a longer walk this morning, which was wonderful. Not too cold, hardly any wind, a few fluffy flakes falling from the sky. Lots of other people out too. So I decided to head to the basement again for my workout. While I biked, I continued watching Margaret Livingstone’s fascinating lecture about  vision and art. Then, after I finished biking, I listened to a playlist and tried to run faster, which I did but not necessarily because of the playlist. It’s time to make a new one, I think.

I’m enjoying Livingstone’s lecture. I’m not necessarily learning anything new, but it’s reinforcing thoughts I already had or ideas that I had encountered elsewhere. Maybe it’s the academic in me, but I like to have my ideas confirmed by others, especially by those who have devoted themselves to studying vision and the brain. After discussing how “your visual system has higher acuity in the center of gaze” (acuity = sharper, finer detail), she says:

But your peripheral vision isn’t bad, it’s just different. Your peripheral vision is designed to see big blurry things; your central vision is designed to see small detailed things and actually cannot see big blurry things as well as your peripheral vision. So there’s a trade-off.

It’s the forest from the trees again!

a moment of sound

jan 31, 2021

I stuck with it and recorded a moment of sound every day this month–31 moments. Nice. This final one is short and is from my walk with Scott and Delia. I can hear the chapel bells chiming from across the river at St. Thomas University in St. Paul; at least two birds–including a coo or trill or something at 15 seconds in; Delia huffing (at 22 seconds); traffic on the road; Scott and I discussing, mostly in whispers, what kind of bird we heard; snow crunching underfoot; Delia’s collar jangling; and the wind.

Slowly but surely, I am falling in love with birds. A few years ago I wrote a poem in response to Mary Oliver’s goldfinch poem “Invitation, in which I asked, “Anyway, who cares about the birds?” I do, now. I’m hoping to learn more of their calls in the upcoming months.

Speaking of birds, I found this video on Brain Pickings:

july 2/RUN

2.5 miles
a figure 8 + extra*
77 degrees
humidity: 90%/ dew point: 75

*43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, south/33rd st, west/edmund, south/river road, south/38th st, west/edmund, north/river road, north/river road, south

Same temperature as yesterday but higher dew point and sun. Hot. Managed to recite all of the bird poems in my head as I ran. Pretty cool. Made sure to check out the aspen eyes as I ran by them. Was able to run in the shade for more than half of the run. Wanted to find a sprinkler to run under up on edmund, but the only one on wasn’t watering the street or the sidewalk today. Encountered a few other runners, walkers, 1–or was it 2?–roller skiers, bikers. Didn’t see the river. Felt strong and relaxed until around a mile and a half when I started feeling the heat. I remember hearing a black capped chickadee right before I left the house but not near the gorge. I am sure there were many birds chirping away as I ran but I don’t remember hearing them. Also don’t remember what I thought about.

black capped chickadee

This is my bird of the summer. I hear it all the time. Last night, sitting on the deck with Scott, I heard it call, “chickadeedeedeedee” right before it landed in the tree above my head. Usually, I struggle to see these small birds, but I was able to see this one. Nice!

The World Has Need of You/ Ellen Bass

everything here
seems to need us

Rainer Maria Rilke

I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
It’s a hard time to be human. We know too much
and too little. Does the breeze need us?
The cliffs? The gulls?
If you’ve managed to do one good thing,
the ocean doesn’t care.
But when Newton’s apple fell toward the earth,
the earth, ever so slightly, fell
toward the apple.

O, this poem from Bass’s collection Like a Beggar! I love how she describes walking as “the ancient/prayer of my arms swinging/in counterpoint to my feet” and being “suspended between the sidewalk and twilight.” Invisible tug is great too–another IT acronym. And, “we know too much/and too little” seems like a great theme for a set of poems to memorize.

The line, “If you’ve managed to do one good thing,/the ocean doesn’t care” reminds me of this Mary Oliver poem, which has a slightly different meaning but still speaks to the wonderful indifference of the water:

I Go Down To The Shore/ Mary Oliver

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall–
what should I do? And the seas says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

june 30/RUN

3 miles
42nd ave, north/32nd st, east/edmund, south/river, south/river road, north
75 degrees
humidity: 90%/ dew point: 74

Very hot and humid today. Overcast, thick and green. Didn’t notice many bugs or have any difficulty breathing. Heard a cardinal and a black-capped chickadee in the distance. No view of the river. Saw some roller skiers, a kid biking with an adult, several other kids biking together, a few other runners. Forgot to notice the aspen eyes by the school but I do remember wondering why there were so many cars parked in the lot.

Recited the last poems in my bird series: Turkey Vultures/Ted Kooser and Perhaps You Tire of Birds/Donika Kelly. Started with Donika Kelly’s beautiful poem, reciting it for the first half of my run, then switched to Kooser’s for the second half.

Perhaps You Tire of Birds/Donika Kelly

but the yellow-beaked night bird—

in the moonlight,
in the clover,
in the deep deep grass—

could hold me
always, in the swell
of her little eye.

O, my scouring eye
that scrubs clean

the sky and blossomed tree.

O, my heart that breaks
like a bone. O, my bones
full and flying.

What a gorgeous poem. I love the flow and the rhythm at the beginning–“in the moonlight/in the clover/in the deep deep grass”–especially the deep deep grass. As I recited it in my head, I couldn’t remember if the last line was flying and full or full and flying. I decided it was flying and full. I was wrong. Later after I was done running and after I recited the poem into my phone, I thought about the scouring eye–the eye that sees, scrutinizes, dissects with its sharp focus the things within it’s gaze. I don’t have a scouring eye because nothing is ever completely in focus for me. Images are soft and fuzzy and never sharp. What would I call my eye–the dirty eye? the gentle eye? the generous eye? Maybe I want to memorize some vision poems next?

Perhaps you Tire of Birds, June 30