This post is a two-parter, to be finished (with pictures) tomorrow, and even so I’m afraid it’s going to be a long read. It’s technically just the proper answer to a question asked by a friend who may or may not even read this blog; but no matter, this is where it belongs either way.
It was a simple enough question, about why I’m so interested in birds. As the environment at the time was not at all ideal for a rambling Midwestern storytelling session (with illustrations!) by an absent-minded artist-poet, my answer was similarly brief — basically, “birds are everywhere.” Which is the truth, in a way, but not exactly in the way it sounds. It’s not strictly about ubiquity; squirrels are everywhere, and yet for a good portion of my life I thought they had cheek pouches (that’s chipmunks, by the way).
No, the first thing to note about birds (and flying insects for that matter; but that’s an obsession for another day) is that they’re here, but they’re not quite of our world. To a degree I can run, jump, chatter, and (sort of) climb a tree. I cannot fly off on a whim under my own power. I’m not at all equipped to sing a duet with myself. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to see ultraviolet light. I’m not sure I even have birds beat in dancing skills. This all is what lead to my earlier-blogged-about book idea essentially equating them to aliens (but aliens that even aliens find amazing and bewildering). I don’t think that’s really where my story begins, though.
Being mysterious isn’t quite enough either, you see. I feel no affinity with lichens, widespread and enigmatic though they may be. After all, they don’t seem particularly interested in me … not even enough to play coy. The mysteries that fuel lasting wonder, desire, passion, obsession — they fail to attract in the first place unless they first offer you some tantalizing glimpse of what you could know, if you only knew how and what to ask. And all the better if you feel (rightly or not) that such a glimpse has been offered specially to you. Secrets aren’t shared with just anyone.
After such an encounter, it seems rude (if not impossible) to continue regarding the subject with the impassive eye of a stranger. You have a connection now, your half of a bargain to fulfill. An answer for the price of infinite questions. Don’t worry, this is where the birds come in again. Just as a magical childhood memory of discovering a meteorite might help spark a quest for knowledge of the stars, creatures of the heavens who fall to the earth tend to catch the attention of even us oblivious humans. And heavens, I’ve caught more than my share of fallen stars.
I never said the secrets had to be nice ones.