Friday, January 21, 2011

Knowledge of Very Small Places

It’s not really a fancy kind of knowledge or an impressive one, but I’ve taken a special joy in cultivating a knowledge of the local area. Sometimes that means something like knowing where to get the best cheese (Caseus) or the best house-roasted whole bean coffee (Common Grounds), and sometimes it means exploring the little-trod backways of a piece of town land.

And sometimes it means trying to learn the sounds and habits of my smaller neighbors. I’m not sure what’s so charming about a Chickadee who flies down to the suet when you’re quite close and gives a quick chide in your direction before he eats, but charming it is.

Look at a Common Grackle once, and you might mistake him for a Red-winged Blackbird or even a European Starling. Take your time, and you’ll learn about his striking yellow eye, and the rainbow he carries on his back, just at the edge of the human’s visible spectrum. He’s blue, green, bronze, red, and purple.

And he’s a bully at the feeder and one of a thousand squeaky barn doors when he and his friends spend the day in the trees above your house.

Take even more time, and you might notice a duller bird that’s harder to pick out from the background. Unlike the male, the female House Finch is dressed to hide out. She lacks the showiness of her partner, but there’s a subdued beauty in even the dullest bird.

The little brown birds blur if you don’t stop to drink them in, but they’re each patterned in their own unique and often striking way.

So some days I learn about big things and think about weighty topics like taxes and foreign policy, and some days I stand on the deck with a mug of tea and enjoy a somewhat one-sided conversation with a chatty Chickadee. Sometimes they know things we don’t.

“It is the ancient wisdom of birds that battles are best fought with song.”
Richard Nelson, The Island Within

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