This weekend, I sympathized with my dear friend who writes an amazingly tender and delicious food blog, www.themooninmykitchen.blogspot.com, that like art, meditation, and any endeavor necessitating commitment, writing these entries can be a mundane practice. There are days when the flow is not there to deliver rivers of insightful revelation, clever words flipping off the tongue, or sparks of delightful references and analogies. But one starts about anyway, hoping the force of pushing through it doesn’t also run right over the grace of creativity, leaving a corpse of tired, ever-embarrassing, revealing remnants of a self that cannot transcend self.
The same weekend, for a friend’s 70th birthday, a group of us went birdwatching in some of the most beautiful land in the Bay Area. There on the same, short jaunt, one can easily traverse through lemon-green meadows, water-logged swales, arid oak chaparral, and fern-laden woodlands with sentinel sequoias.
Our stout and serious group leader, a veritable General of birdwatchers, started the walk with what amounts to a Holy proclamation of a birder’s Grail: In the same territory she had just spotted Lazuli Buntings on their migratory way through the area. I knew by the reaction of oohs and ahs that none of us seasoned birders had that bird on our life list.
So it was with this exotic expectation burning lazuli blue in my mind that a frustration began to foment as the General took us around every inch of perimeter of a concrete parking lot, bordered by cyclone fence. She would call out, “Junco at one-o-clock!” as if we should align our bayonets. “Straight ahead is a Robin.” I pretended to take a picture so as to not appear bird-snobby about these usual, tedious suspects. But at one point I couldn’t cork a chuckle as she declared militantly the presence of a dawdling mourning dove ducking into the weeds.
The walk finally ventured away from cars and concrete and chain-link barriers, though we never left a paved trail and the evidence of man’s obtuse intrusions on nature. It was clear that our General was carrying out a warfare not concerned with an immersion in wilderness, but the sniper-like calculation of species of birds sighted — however mundane the species, however bleak the context. My friend even whispered to me (so as to not get chastised again by the General for distracting her from bird calls) that she sees more birds in her frontyard.
With only a few minutes left on the hike, I resigned to an unremarkable, albeit lovely day robbed of solitude (as we were in a bustling group), void of an escape into nature (cite the parking lot above), deplete of silence (hear the General’s commands?) and amiss of a rare and exotic bird sighting (the buntings are undoubtedly in Canada by now).
I was returning to the car when a Pacific Slope Flycatcher overcame its usual shyness to flit from a tree, snatch a meal of unsuspecting moth, and bravely perch a few feet in front of me. We both took pause in the time that Celan calls a breath-turn. A beady black eye gazed unabashedly into mine – and we greeted each other knowingly.
This tiny Flycatcher has made perilous trips from Mexico to its breeding grounds somewhere in Canada, while I am sheltered in my disdain of the predictable. Perhaps the Flycather has crossed paths with the Lazuli Buntings I might never meet, who knows.
And so it seems fitting that along this trip I learned the pair of eagles who began a nest along my hometown reservoir has abandoned their purpose. They disappeared on Earth Day, which leaves a note of irony hanging in the air, along with the humility I imagine their watchers leave behind as they fold up their scopes and head home. I hear George Steiner describe this unfolding of events:
“As if the music played… could turn on its composer and ask: Why did you make me?”
Surely, something beyond us is needed when we question the meaning of coming to be and passing away. At the end of such vigils, whether of writing or birding, one can only surrender a respectful adieu. À dieu.
Today’s Advice: And so put, we must acknowledge an answer to it with which life is inescapably haunted, namely, some kind of parting.” Henry Bugbee