This afternoon the vulture couple sit stoically on the limbs of the long dead tree in the preserve.
The rain was torrential as we watched from the dry confines of our home, they stood soaked to the feathers with nowhere to hide, knowing they couldn’t out fly or out climb the purging clouds, so they set soaking wet and stared at us.
And then I knew, just looking at them, that while I felt sorry for them perched in a downpour they felt the same for us, we unable to know the joy of flight.
I am struggling to understand just who is the target market with a thirty piece at of rubber ducks for the bath that Amazon wants to sell me. I did have a rubber ducky for the bath when I was a child but he was singular, and when he partially cracked and drowned I buried him in the backyard and vowed never to own waterfowl again, rubber or real. And a 30 pack, I mean does Amazon assume that I have some disorder that would require 30 ducks in a tub, and do they all quack in Chinese and all at once, no doubt making taking a bath an unbearable task?
If birds could write, which bird would write like which author. The Osprey would clearly be Hemingway knowing the sea, but with no need for an old man. The common Gallinule might become Billy Collins, an easy laugh and always entertaining. The crows could be so many writers attending workshops, all still looking for a voice to express themselves without causing their audience to turn away. The great egret could well be Alice Munro creating beauty without need for intensity her audience content to watching her do little and the cattle egret would be David Sedaris mining that the detritus of the world for that short, ever pithy humorous twist. The Sandhill Crane, Murakami always with a strange tale, and as are all cranes, ever so Japanese.
From watching them in flight I know that great egrets fly with their hinge neck folded in while Sandhill cranes extend theirs.
By listening carefully, I know the cry of the male limpkin, his lower than his female partner, while the cry of the hawk only creates fear in those who might be its prey, and the male Cardinal shows infinite patience calling out for a mate who never arrives. I can see and hear all of these but I cannot begin to tell you why for when I asked the birds, all replied with a variation on “that’s just the way things are, but why do you want to know?”
He was the smallest, that is what drew you to him. Still, he had a certain bravado a serious strut to his walk. Perhaps it was because his father was there, a protector in part, in another part a challenge. He knew his mother was looking so it became a matter of pride. He could imagine himself a father one day, his own children trailing behind him threatening to break away, knowing full well they were not ready yet, needed him for protection from the always present predators. That was life in the wetland for most wading birds, the only life he knew or wanted.
It is that moment when the moon is a glaring crescent, slowly engulfed by the impending night— when the few clouds give out their fading glow in the jaundiced light of the sodium arc street lamp. It nestles the curb—at first a small bird— when touched, a twisted piece of root.
I want to walk into the weed-strewn aging cemetery, stand in the shadow of the expressway, peel the uncut grass from around her headstone. I remember her arthritic hands clutching mine, in her dark, morgueish apartment, smelling of vinyl camphor borsht. I saw her last in a hospital bed where they catalog and store those awaiting death, stared at the well-tubed skeleton barely indenting starched white sheets. She smiled wanly and whispershouted my name—I held my ground unable to cross the river of years unwilling to touch her outstretched hand. She had no face then, no face now, only an even fainter smell of age of camphor of lilac of must.
Next to the polished headstone lies a small, twisted root. I wish it were a bird I could place gently on the lowest branch of the old maple that oversees her slow departure.
Life ought be little more than arrhythmic motion, a path we only want to straighten, to smooth, its natural, necessary twists and bumps somehow, for we always see them as impediments not moments of joyous indecision where there are no wrong choices for each choice unfolds a new path never trodden, never imagined or foreseen.
A bird flies to where it needs to be, but for most that are not migrating, that place isn’t known until arrival and even then, save for nesting, it is the right place only for a day, a week, a month or perhaps only a moment, for a bird knows only this moment and this until there are no more moments.