Tag Archives: birds

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Amazing Things about Birds

birdsI thought this morning about birds, as I heard them chirping outside of my window. I have always preferred spring to fall because of the chirping of birds, I think. And so boldly did they emit their shrill song this morning that they made me think of spring, even think it was spring as I heard the birds speaking to me from their nests in the backyard’s treetops.

The notion that birds speak to me personally is something not unusual, at least not unusual to me, for when I was a small lad, my mother, Elaine possessed a myna bird t9781480814738_COVER.inddhat could talk. Curiously, Elaine named that bird Cookie after a cat that my grandfather had owned when she was a child, and it could be argued that it was Cookie (the bird) who taught me to speak. She (Cookie, that is) had a particularly saucy vocabulary which she acquired from I am not entirely sure what source and some of the words she said even got me into trouble at school from time to time—that story is recorded in the Curious Autobiography (117f.)—but I won’t mention that bird here, for I am opening my discussion about the amazing quality of birds rather vis-à-vis the Platonic form of bird than my personal experience of bluejayone individually pedagogic feathered animal. And with regard to that Platonic form, it was neither Axel Munthe, nor my Uncle Ed, nor John Keats, nor even Elaine Jakes—a bird aficionado in her own right—who taught me to love birds, particularly birds of the wild. Rather, it was the birds themselves. Their soulful warbling, their strident cries, their playful banter, even their occasional inter-avian argumentativeness or the unique cock of their head that sometimes seems to connote an otherworldly understanding—all these taught me to admire them, even to love them. And so did my sempiternal amazement at their migratory patterns and practices.

To wit, though I have no particular level of expertise when it comes to penguins and therefore rarely participate in water-cooler conversations about them, I was nonetheless surprised to read the story of a Magellanic penguin by the name of Dindim that a caring scientist, Pereira de Souza once saved from an oil spill. The poor animal was certain to die and could not extricate himself—(Dindim has been confirmed to be male)—from the mire until Mr. de Souza fished him out, bathing and feeding the tiny animal until he was sufficiently well to be set free in the wild. Already this story is an amazing one, for the notion of a rescued penguin in Brazil might, at first blush, seem unlikely. It did to me, as I had no idea that any penguin at all would have been anywhere near Brazil. More unlikely, however, is the fact that there is an important tag to this touching story. Dindim returns each year to the home of Mr. de Souza; he does so faithfully, as if he recognizes and owes a debt of loyalty to the one who saved him.

Stranger yet is the fact that the rescue took place over four years ago but nonetheless the penguin has returned each year in late June, staying right through the fall until February. It is possible that the penguin travels to the well-known penguin love-nest Patagonia for breeding and then returns to Brazil. That is not known; it is also possible that he just goes somewhere else to chill out (a fitting expression for a penguin) and then, after a season, returns. But the important thing is not where he goes or how far he travels; that, I suppose, is Dindim’s own business and will eventually be the business of those who study and track him. Rather, the remarkable thing is, of course, that he returns to the one who saved him, the one who rescued him.

Now I am not going to map too tightly onto the habits of the average churchgoer the penguin’s practice, though perhaps it is a good example for us all. And in a teleological sense, perhaps it will prove to be as true for any one of us as it is for the Magellan penguin in question. But I leave that aside to think of the signal quality of that penguin: Dindim’s most striking feature is his loyalty to Mr. de Souza, how he spends his time when he is with his savior. Indeed, the degree of affection that he shows when they are together is remarkable. The penguin treats that human being as if he were his best friend, and thus understands what perhaps few people understand: faithfulness and loyalty, qualities whether innate or cultivated that are too often lacking nowadays.

So this week I have decided to draw for myself a lesson or two from the birds; I’d like to sing every morning—at least in my heart if not the shower—about the joy and blessing of waking up to a new day. And I would like to see clearly in the bird with the obfuscating name of Dindim a shining example of the qualities of loyalty, faithfulness and even steadfastness that we might learn from that particular bird. (I do not mention Cookie here, the myna bird that taught me English). But were Cookie alive today, I am quite certain that she would say, “Learn from the bird, learn from the bird!” And she would be right.

Magellanic penguins

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Greek-like Grackles, Clairvoyant Orangutans and Other Paradoxes

Some things have struck me funny lately. These have turned out chiefly to concern the animal kingdom. As in the case of all incongruences or paradoxes, there is an element of inherent humor in them. In this blog, I thought I would consider a slender swath of them, offering a few of my own trifling thoughts in a rolling commentary.

I am not a native Texan, and thus I still find myself observing features of this state as if I were but a visitor here. It is not the case, of course, that my own state, which boasts to be the birthplace of America’s current vice president, doesn’t have a claim on various and sundry oddities. But still, I come from there—I was born less than twenty miles from Mr. Biden’s birthplace—so I leave aside Pennsylvania’s claim on nutty people or implausible things. Rather, I note here that birds in Texas, particularly those blackbirds known as grackles, congregate in intersections, perched high on wires or in a tree that is near the intersection or even upon the traffic signal. gracklesNowadays, a solitary grackle will even perch on the personal-space-invading camera that (I suppose) either records those impatient people who barge dangerously through red lights or controls the flow of traffic, or both.grackle on camera

But none of this is paradoxical per se. Rather, the incongruity, the strangeness of the event of the bird gathering, which is itself arguably weird, even bizarre, to a Pennsylvanian like me, lies in the fact that the birds seem always to be evenly spaced. My wife pointed out recently to me that they seem somehow automatically to know what the proper distance between them should be. And they are talkative. When one espies a grackle in one’s yard, one rarely hears the bird, for it is then normally busy about the task of finding a worm, or picking up some stray piece of straw or a dry weed to be used to build or strengthen its nest. But when the birds are in the intersection, they seem actively to be engaged in conversation, even lively debate. They remind me of men I used to see regularly in Greece drinking thick black coffee out of demitasse cups filled and refilled from shiny bronze ibriks.ibrik The birds are like those old men, gathered to talk, to share whatever comes into their minds, maybe even to gripe about the current political situation or the lack of promise that the next round of politicians holds. Like the Greeks, the grackles also like to sit and watch the passersby, of which, when I was in Greece, I was one and now find myself yet again, as I pass swiftly beneath the grackles perched overhead.

Greeks in plaka
Greeks in plaka

But Texan grackles are a lesser paradox—lesser, at least, I would surmise, than the wild parrots of Brooklyn. parrots in BrooklynApparently, in 1968 several parrots escaped from the Kennedy Airport; now what they were doing in the airport, e.g. if they were about to board a plane —which might be yet another paradox or a playful sort of mis-en-abime (sc. fliers within a flier)—or how they performed their daring escape or what their motive for escape even was, I leave aside, save to say that of course if just one parrot escaped from a cage, there would be no issue here, nothing to speak about, much less to write about. But a gaggle of them? How in the world? In any case, they would seem to have decided to imitate their forebears and to become wild parrots. Now that is odd, because parrots are normally not “wild.”woman with parrot They are highly domesticated, especially (at least before 1968), those that live in Brooklyn. Now one needn’t parse this too much. The fact that Brooklyn has wild parrots at all is amply paradoxical. Are they tougher than the nearby Bowrey parrots? Do they drive the parrots inside the Brooklyn brownstones batty?brownstones If they can talk, do they have thick, New York accents?

But the parrots have nothing on orangutans, for such primates are very intelligent, if easily entertained, creatures. Some of them are, it seems, also clairvoyant. orangutanTake for example, the orangutan who predicted this year’s Super Bowl winner. Apparently an orangutan by the name of Tuah destroyed a cardboard copy of the Carolina Panther’s logo and then, perhaps to show that he was not a complete Panther hater, kissed lovingly a replica of a Panthers’ helmet, but left untouched any of the paraphernalia appertaining to the Denver Broncos, thus suggesting to officials from Hogle Zoo that, the kiss of the helmet notwithstanding, the Denver Broncos would prevail in the Super Bowl.  If only they had won by a Tuah-point conversion.orangutan superbowl

But the orangutan has nothing on the swans. Swans, like termites, are creatures that mate with one another for life. Now since it is my wife’s birthday this very day, I think I shall end here, for she is graceful like a swan. She hasn’t a long neck like a swan—not that it is short, but it is not precisely swanlike—but she does do yoga and swans seem automatically to do something like yoga, as they are noticeably graceful. And she is that, and gracious, too, indeed, and she even, paradoxically, married me some thirty-five years ago, when she was but a lass, and I, a lad.

So I shall close with this thought—that it is a strange thing that some animals can get right something like mating, a thing that people often do not get right at all. I thank God that the swan of my life chose not to be a wild parrot or a talkative grackle but has been willing to put up with an orangutan-like husband, one who has but rarely picked Super Bowl winners and is rife with bad puns (to wit, “Tuah-point” conversion). In any case, Happy Birthday to you, mon amie. To you dear reader, I offer the perpetual wish for the right kind of paradoxes and other silly things, whether generated by your place of birth, circumstance of work, a trip to the zoo, a park in Brooklyn or a Texan intersection bedecked with nattering birds, to fill your life. Life is full of paradoxes. Enjoy!