Monday, December 8, 2008

Missing the juncos

The Dude returneth. He was back in his corner of the lake yesterday--alone, as usual. Actually, not entirely alone, because a flock of dark-eyed juncos were hiding in the tall grass along the bank. They took flight as I walked toward them, buzzing the Dude’s head like low-flying aircraft. He didn’t seem to mind at all. Apparently, he’s fine with avian companions as long as they are not his own kind.

The juncos were so pretty they made me sigh. I’m too lazy to go looking for the post, but I know I’ve blogged at BitterGrace Notes about how the juncos abandoned my feeders a few winters ago, never to return. I still miss them.

I’ve never been a scorekeeping sort of birdwatcher. You know, the type who keeps a careful record of exactly how many species she’s seen, and always has a hit list of birds she hopes to add to the tally. I do get excited about seeing a rare bird, and I’m sure at some point I’ve gone through my Peterson’s guide to see who I’ve missed, but I never feel any sense of accomplishment or failure. My birdwatching is pretty much a goal-free activity. I do it solely because it gives me joy to look at birds, to know they’re alive. That’s the reason I feed them, too. I might make noises about promoting their survival or whatever, but really, I haul those bags of seed home for purely selfish reasons. If I put out food, more birds will come and entertain me.

What is so enthralling about these creatures, especially the little ordinary feeder birds like the juncos? Isn’t it amazing that human beings all over the world, if they have the resources to spare, will feed birds just for the pleasure of watching them eat? Let’s face it, birds, taken objectively, are not especially appealing. They fight constantly, they prey on each other’s young, they carry any number of human diseases; and yet, most people are completely charmed by the sight of them.

Not everyone, of course. My brother lived for a while with a young woman who seemed sort of vacuous but basically harmless. The first (and I think only) time she came to my house, she saw my bird feeders in the back yard.

“I hate birds,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say in reply. It’s funny now, but at the time it actually shocked me a little. What sort of person hates birds? I felt a sudden, visceral dislike for her, as if she’d insulted my religion--which, in a way, she had. My encounters with the birds are sacred to me. They are, pompous as it sounds, moments of mystery and higher consciousness. I look at those delicate beings and see myself in what is not myself. It’s a kind of ecstasy.

Video of dark-eyed junco uploaded by Midhue at Youtube.

1 comment:

Julie H. Rose said...

I've abandoned two new friendships on account of the comment, "What's the big deal? It's just a bird."

Two pileated woodpeckers within feet of my kitchen window demanded a pause in conversation.

A male bald eagle hunting for food in the river demanded a short stop on the way to a coffee shop.