Posted by: ktzefr | August 23, 2017

10 Things to Think About

One characteristic that is uniquely human is the propensity to complain.  If we don’t have big things to complain about, we come up with a litany of little stuff.  We complain about heat and cold, rain and snow, and every measure of the weather in between.  Everything is more expensive these days and doesn’t last as long.  Nothing tastes like it used to taste.  There are too few hours in the day to get things done (even when we’ve spent the ones we have doing nothing substantial).  We want to be there instead of here; and when we’re there, we want to be here.  My mom used to say, “what would we do if we didn’t have something to complain about?”  I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.

What if you were tail-less…

Bunz, the tailless squirrel; Photo:KFawcett

Or lived in the plastic leg of a plant stand…

Or was absolutely stunning…but only for a day.

Moonflower; Photo:KFawcett

Humans have dreams.  Daydreams.  Daily expectations.  Life doesn’t always live up to our wishes. This is not new thinking, but it got me to imagining the dreams of all things not human, entities or nonentities, if you will, that don’t complain.   How much could “their” dreams be like our own? 

Perhaps…

1) The robin dreams only of a dry nest to raise its nestlings.

2) The apple tree dreams of its boughs hanging full of fruit with no pesky bugs to bite.

3) The moon dreams of fullness and clear nights so its beauty can be appreciated.

4) The rain dreams of filling rivers and lakes and flower pots, bringing nourishment.

5) The marigolds dream of sunshine on their faces.

6) The owl dreams of field mice and just-mowed grass and good vision.

7) The lavender dreams of life outside the pot, of a life lived large in great fields of color.

8) The mockingbird dreams of finding a new song to sing.

9) The wind dreams of more power, of new places, and changes to leave in its wake.

10)The hummingbird dreams of finding enough food to make it to Mexico every autumn so it can spend its time finding enough food to make it back here in the spring.  

Wouldn’t it be great if we could spend our time dreaming instead of complaining.  Today, for example, I’ve been dreaming of all the quiet places.  Silence.  Maybe air filled with sweet scents, a little birdsong, the tinkle of wind chimes. 

Meanwhile, a helicopter roars overhead.  I hate helicopters!  But I don’t want to complain. 

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Posted by: ktzefr | August 15, 2017

Rain and Bees and Flowers and Lists

It’s just me and a bumble bee out here in the rain.  I’m sitting on a bench beneath the porch overhang.  The bee is on the lavender blooms.  We’re both staying dry.

This time of year they get slower — the bees.  They don’t seem to mind my presence — reading, drinking my tea — while they feast on the flowers.  I’ve seen photos of the great lavender fields of Provence.  I have only two plants.  I wonder if France’s lavender fields are full of bees or if the plants are sprayed with some poison to keep them away.  One question leads to another and I duck inside to look up answers and discover this: no pesticides.  So beekeepers bring their hives to the fields of lavender in Provence when the flowers bloom.  But there is a mounting problem with mini cicadas, it seems, and no insecticide to put in the ground to kill the larvae. 

Altar, Dia de los Muertos, San Miguel de Allende; Photo:KFawcett

They seem to avoid my marigolds — the bees do.  Perhaps the scent repels them.  In Mexico in autumn for the Day of the Dead we must have seen a million marigolds decorating doorways and altars and shop windows. We saw bees, too, but they seemed attracted to other, sweeter, things.  I have only two marigold plants on my front porch.  Two marigold plants with their heads in the rain. 

Sometimes, when we can’t have a million of something, a few will do.  Or, as my mother used to say, “a little goes a long way.” A splash of orange among the red petunias…

A little rain goes a long way, too.  An emergency bulletin came on the television this morning warning of flash flooding in the area.  So far, we’ve just had gentle showers interspersed with a few sudden bursts, downpours.  Every now and then the birds take cover beneath the holly bushes and in the thick foliage of the snowball tree until it stops…and then they come out singing. 

Isn’t that the way to be?  Take cover when things are bad and then come out singing.

When the rain is hardest I stick my notebook behind the geranium plant by the door to stay dry.  I retrieve it again when the skies clear and discover a folded note in one of the pockets.  It’s an old “To Do” list.  Well, I’m curious.  What were my accomplishments?  How many of these projects did I complete? 

1) Change the VHS tapes to DVD (Nope).  2) Select old slides to have photos made (Nope).  3)  Hang new photos/paintings in the upstairs hallway (Hmmm…this must have been after getting the upstairs hallway painted.  Ten years ago?  Possibly.  Haven’t gotten around to it).  4)  Buy pots for plants (that could have been any year, every year in spring).  5) Clean closet in the study (really?).  6)  Decide what to do with living room bookshelves (no clue; they’re still there, still the same).  7)  Jump drive needs to have newest writing (what jump drive?).  8) Buy place mats and napkin rings (napkin rings?  That didn’t happen).

It’s Tuesday.  It’s raining, again.  And I’ve got an old song — “Who’ll Stop the Rain” — stuck in my head.  Oh!  I could make all sorts of connections…better stop writing now or who knows where this will lead.

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Posted by: ktzefr | August 7, 2017

What We See — random musings on a rainy Monday

“Not every reed is sugarcane.

Not every under has an over.

Not every eye can see.”

~Rumi

 

Guanajuato…

Sun-dappled walls, narrow cobblestone streets and alleys, blue and green and red houses, bougainvillea in waterfalls of color hanging from the rooftops…mangoes and zapotes and ripe melons stacked high inside the open doors to the Mercado…people eating ice cream in the plaza – avocado and corn-flavored and tequila-spiked on a cone — young people walking hand-in-hand, stopping to kiss on street corners.  Music everywhere.  When I think of Guanajuato now, I want to sit in the plaza all day and just look and listen. Though wildly different at its core, this mountain town in Mexico takes me back to my own hill town in eastern Kentucky in the 50s and 60s in a way that is more familiar and felt more intensely than my own home town today. 

Kathleen Norris: “…there is the past/and the future,/and between the two of them/you must be careful not to disappear.”

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Virgin Islands…

When we’re sailing into dock the mountain rises in the distance, the blue sky, white sand, green orchards.  Once on the mountain, and even while winding our way up, the mountain itself disappears beneath our feet and we can see everything else for miles and miles. 

They say you have to take a closer look to see clearly, but if you’re too close?  Sometimes you need to look at something from a distance, be it time or space, to see it in a new way.   Up close, the mountain becomes a trail of tree shadows, pebbles and leaf cutter ants, colorful birds and flowers in the bushes.   In the distance it’s awash in green — as if this is two entirely different places.

It’s all about perspective – distance, angle, comparisons.

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In “Nightfall” Leithauser tells how a pit viper swallows its prey to one and one-half its size, whole, the way nightfall swallows the forest, the land.

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In St. John’s clear waters a moving wall of fish, a flash of silver going this way and that in waves like a murmuration of starlings dancing across the sky.  Who decides to start the dance?  Which bird?  Which fish?  How is synchronicity taught in the sky?  In the sea?

I remember hot August days on the football field, practicing with the marching band.  Left, right, left. Skip when  you’re out of step.  Move as one, a line, a section, the whole band.  Synchronize.  Practice, practice, practice.  And still…someone always messed up.

Yet, the fish and the birds do not mess up.  Who is directing the dance?

Rumi: “Friend, there’s a sweetness to the moon’s/one pearl, but consider the ocean it/grew in; and the soul’s great turning/wheel.  Graffiti people on bathhouse walls/have intelligent origins, but think who/drew the mind!”

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Water…

Reflections; Photo:Dylan Fawcett

Reflection is not stone or metal or wood – a mountain, a house, an automobile.  It is; and it isn’t.  You cannot touch a reflection and feel it.  A reflection in water feels like water, tastes like water, has all the characteristics of water, and yet the reflection itself, alone, is not water.  How many other things seen so clearly in life are not at all what they seem?

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Tears…

Salt water.  Tears flow from sadness, from happiness, from getting sand in the eye.  Tears come all the time to keep the eye moist.  Why is it that people cry when they get upset or angry?  One is not simply sad but sad in many different ways.  Imagine a place where some other reaction happens instead of tears.  Say the human, or other being, has the shakes or makes loud noises or twitches his mouth or nose instead of crying.  I can’t think of any other physical reaction that would be as perfect as tears — the eyes being windows to the soul and all.

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Eyes…

Cat eyes; Photo:DFawcett

I once had a teacher who scolded me for turning in a blank paper.  I told her I could not see the blackboard clearly from my seat in the back of the room, so I could not work the math problems.  I didn’t realize at the time that I was nearsighted and needed glasses.  My eyes had never been checked.  In any case, she came back and stood beside me, staring at the front of the room.  “I can see it just fine,” she said.  I was ten.  I had no excuse.  She wore glasses that made her look old and ugly.  This made me exceedingly happy. 

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Some people should not be doing the job they’re doing…

“Yo sé de las historias viejas/del hombre y de sus rencillas;/y prefiero las abejas/volando en las campanillas.”

“I know the ancient histories/ of man and his struggles for power,/ but I prefer the buzzing bees/that hover round the bellflower.”  ~ José Martí

People always ask kids “what” they want to be when they grow up, never “who” they want to be, as if whatever job one does is the most important aspect of oneself.  And yet “who” we want to be and “who” we become is really all that matters in the end, isn’t it?

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes: “I want to drive a truck full of eggplants/down the smallest street./I want to be someone making music/with my coming.”

How cool is that?!

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Who we could be…

British researchers have found that a sheep can distinguish and recognize as many as 50 other sheep’s faces for up to two years.  

I read this and wondered what happened to the wooden Christ painting in the living room of our house when I was growing up.  The shepherd picture on wood, the Christ with a staff and long robe, was carrying one lamb as the others follow.  Christ who would take turns, I’m certain, carrying the lamb that most needed to be lifted up.  What if we, all of us, carried the lamb that most needed carrying?  What if we took turns and wore a smile while we did so?

Naomi Shihab Nye:  ”If people ate together they would be less likely to kill one another, especially if one were responsible for shopping and cooking and the other for serving and cleaning up, and you took turns.”

 

 

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Posted by: ktzefr | July 21, 2017

Poetry and Petunias

I read poetry and watch my petunias bloom.  One of the things I like most about poetry is the feeling of being close to the writer’s heart, even when separated by great distances in time and/or space.  I love the aha! moments in poetry.  It’s especially powerful when it appears that the poet is surprised, too.  I like to think of a poem walking through an almost impenetrable jungle, through tangles that must be cleared away one step at a time, to reach the soul, the essence of the host person.  Jorge Luis Borges said, “All poetry is the confession of an I, a personality, a human adventure.”

The Maya believed when someone died the soul slipped through a “window” — a diamond-shaped window that is a recurring theme even today in jewelry and fabrics made by Maya artisans.  Perhaps this is where good poetry comes from — it slips through this soul window while the poet is living and creates extraordinary moments of inspiration, bringing words that seem to appear from “nowhere.”

I’m reading Federico García Lorca and collecting words…”only metaphor, not merely sentiment, makes poetry last,” he said. 

from “Merry-go-round”

“Holidays/travel on wheels/the merry-go-round brings them/and takes them away.”

“Now hear this, Marco Polo/from this fabulous wheel/children see far-off places/nowhere in this world…”

(Every summer the carnival came to our Kentucky hill town for a week and it was a marvelous adventure to ride the merry-go-round at night in a swirl of bright lights and music and possibilities.) 

*****

from “New Heart”

“Like a snake, my heart/has shed its skin./I hold it here in my hand,/full of honey and wounds.”

*****

from “Trees”

“…your music springs from the soul of birds,/from the eyes of God,/from perfect passion.”

*****

from “Hour of Stars”

“A thousand butterfly skeletons/sleep within my walls.”

*****

from “The Sun Has Set”

“…and the houses will hear/love songs they’ve long known/by heart.”

(Imagine if an old house could reveal all of the songs it has heard, the different voices, different dreams.)

*****

from “Replica”

“Only a single bird/is singing/the air is cloning it. /We hear through mirrors.”

In another poem, Lorca calls the earth an “unsilvered mirror”

(Imagine coming up with that image!)

 

 

*****

Some things are lost in translation — not only the meaning, but also the sheer beauty of the words. They are sometimes prettier in one language than in another.

from “Hour of Stars”

“El silencio redondo de la noche/sobre el pentágrama/del infinito.”

“The round silence of night/one note on the stave/of the infinite.”

(I don’t like the translation to “stave” here…doesn’t seem quite what the poet meant.)

*****

When I was 22 years old and walking down the street in Copenhagen, Denmark one night a woman hurried past me with a little white dog on a leash.  She was speaking to the dog in Danish and the dog perked his ears, turned his head, listened.  It had never occurred to me that foreign dogs “spoke” a foreign language.  Nowadays, when I recall mornings in the Kentucky hills I remember the early “cockadoodledoos” of the roosters; in Mexico the roosters say kikirikí. 

*****

Have a good weekend.  I hope it’s cooler there than here!

 

A “hill of beans,” for those who don’t speak Appalachian, means one plant.  A “mess of beans,” on the other hand, means enough for supper.  And when someone is said to be “full of beans” it is not a reference to food at all but rather their proclivity to exaggerate.

When I was growing up in eastern Kentucky we could not plant green beans until “after the sun crossed the equator” — the spring equinox.  Some folks tested the soil with their feet.  Stand barefoot for a few minutes and if your feet don’t get cold, the soil is warm enough to plant.  We could not go barefoot, however, until the first day of May.  It could be 90 degrees in April and we had to wear shoes, but on May 1 they came off even if the temps had dropped to the fifties.  So much was determined by the sun and the moon and the way the fog clung to the hillsides on early spring mornings.

Dried, raw “shuck” beans; Photo:KFawcett

As a kid I helped plant beans, pick beans, snap and remove the ends and strings.  At the end of the season we used a big yarn needle strung with twine to thread the last of the green beans onto long strings to hang in the smokehouse to dry until winter.  Dried, shriveled, and brown by December, a “mess” of shuck beans was cooked all afternoon in a big pot with a ham hock or a chunk of salt bacon.

Kentucky Wonder pole beans and bush beans were favorites with most people.  Rattlesnake and Dragon Tongue bush beans, their round, green pods streaked with purple, were less common.  The variety we called “little half runners” went by other names — Mountaineer Half Runner, snap beans, Dutch beans.  They originated in Germany and were brought to the Carolinas by the Dutch.  So many varieties — round, flat, green, purple, yellow, mottled, broad and meaty, thin and delicate…

We liked our beans round and plump and if we picked beans before they were “full,” we were scolded.  This was considered a waste of good beans. Haricot verts?  Are you kidding?  Flat beans, skinny beans, split beans were…well, they weren’t real beans.

So I’m off to the market to buy a mess of beans.  They won’t be “just picked” and I’ll be able to tell the difference.  I don’t have a chunk of side bacon or ham bone to put in the pot.  Sea salt can’t replicate that taste.  I won’t have the “just picked” corn or tomatoes off the vine to go with them either.   But I also don’t have to string and snap or let the pot simmer all afternoon or go out to the bean patch on this 90+ degree day and pick them myself.  That’s something, I suppose.

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Posted by: ktzefr | July 5, 2017

Pelican Watching, St. John, USVI

 

Brown pelican, St. John, US Virgin Islands National Park; Photo:Dylan Fawcett

One day melts into another on St. John in the US Virgin Islands.  Sunny days, trade winds, sporadic showers, night rains.  Donkeys and deer, mongoose and mocking birds.  There is a comfortable sameness, a rhythm to it all.  Hiking trails through the national park never veer too far from a glimpse of the sea, and one cannot look at the sea without catching sight of the pelicans.  I’ve always been awed by the big bird’s skills, but a pelican’s patience is admirable, too.

Brown pelican, St. John, US Virgin Islands National Park; Photo:KFawcett

On a recent trip I spent a long time patiently watching the patience of pelicans.

Brown pelican, St. John, US Virgin Islands National Park; Photo:KFawcett

The birds are awesome in other ways too…

  1.  A pelican can fly high above the water and dive vertically into the ocean when they see a fish.
  2.  The birds have air sacs under the skin that serve as cushions to soften the impact with water.
  3.  Pelicans have existed for at least thirty million years.
  4.  If it looks like the bird is going to miss the fish, it can abort the dive a few millimeters above the water.
  5.  Many young pelicans die trying to master the dangerous skill of diving.
  6.  Pelicans can live for more than 20 years.
  7.  These birds may nest on the ground or in trees.  They usually lay three eggs and both parents      share the 30-day incubation period.
  8.  Adult brown pelicans are beautiful birds, but the first-hatched chicks are rather ugly with reddish brown or purple-black skin.
  9.  Baby pelicans eat by sticking their heads into the parents’ mouths as the big birds regurgitate food.

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Posted by: ktzefr | June 22, 2017

Donkey Poo: “Brown is the New Green”

Donkey, USVI National Park; Photo:KFawcett

 

I brought donkey poo back from the Caribbean…

Not the raw, stinky stuff.   I have the final end product – Poopoopaper.  The note on the back of the wrapping says that poopoopaper is “fun, memorable, and sustainable.  “Brown is the new green” it says.

I bought the little book with the donkey silhouette on the cover at the Friends of Virgin Islands National Park shop at Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay, St. John USVI.  The national park is home to many “wild” donkeys, so there is an abundance of donkey poo.  Donkeys eat a lot of grass and they poop a lot. I know this to be true as I had to be alert so as to avoid donkey poo on my morning walks last week.

Apparently, donkey digestive systems don’t really break down the grass all that well, so their poop has plenty of fiber.  Fiber, of course, is used in making pulp for paper.  So it follows that donkey poo would make great paper products.

A few years back I bought an elephant poo book.  I have filled it with passages from my favorite poetry.  It fits in my purse.  It’s there when I’m looking for a special verse or just need a moment of escape or inspiration.  One of the verses in the elephant book is from Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to the Book II” – “Book/beautiful/book,/miniscule forest,/leaf/after leaf.”

Most books are, indeed, miniscule forests.  But not these two.  Making paper from poop saves trees.  This passage from Federico Garcia Lorca’s “Trees” is written in my elephant poop book: “…your music springs from the soul of birds, from the eyes of God, from perfect passion.”  Lovely.

Donkeys by the sea, USVI National Park; Photo:KFawcett

So, I’ve got a new book.  What shall I do with the donkey poo book?  More special bits of poetry?  Remembered moments?  Donkey encounters?

This makes me think of another favorite passage in the back of the elephant book.  From Mary Oliver – “…what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  A big thought, indeed.

Heck, I don’t even know what to do with the donkey book.

A certain symbolism occurred to me.  I now have crap from both donkeys and elephants (democrats and republicans?), but I refuse to put even the tiniest bit of political crap in my poo books. 

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Posted by: ktzefr | June 15, 2017

Cowboy Values from Dad

Checking out the catch, Ocean City, mid-70s.

I watched westerns with my dad.  He loved all those old cowboy movies and television shows in the 50s and 60s.  Each one climaxed with a shoot-em-up and the good guys always won.  The endings were immensely satisfying.

That’s what happens in life, he’d say.  You can’t do wrong and get by. 

A lot of moral lessons could be taught by the way things turned out on Gunsmoke or Rawhide or The Virginian, lessons that could make a difference over time.

When the men of the Ponderosa got into some kind of trouble and the life of one or the other was hanging by a thread, I would be anxious with worry.  “They’ll be ok,” Dad would say.  “Stars of the show never die.”

The good guys always win and the stars never die — in the world of make believe.

I wanted to be a cowboy.  My parents’ bedpost was my horse.  I would saddle up with a pillow, use a belt for the reins, and I was Annie Oakley.  I wore a leather holster that had been well-worn by my brother over the years with an old  silver six shooter that would still hit about every third time on a roll of caps.  I rode off into the sunset, that slant of light from the west that fell through my parents’ bedroom window spotlighting my mother’s shelf of ceramic what-nots.

I built make-believe campfires on the floor with Pick-up Sticks and curled up on the rug, pretending I was sleeping in the desert or somewhere in the vast reaches of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

When I was alone in the house I could talk to myself, pretend to be anyone, anywhere in the world.  I always had a horse — the bedposts, the mop with its flying dirty mane, even a change of my gait would do.  A skip or two around the yard was enough to carry me away — back into cowboy days or off into an unknown future.

It would be a long time before I discovered that in real life the good guys don’t always win and all stars eventually die. 

If I could give one piece of advice to new dads on Father’s Day it would be this:  Reality sets in soon enough.  Let your kids be kids.  Childhood should occupy an awesome place in time, a place you can still visit on occasion.

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HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!!

Posted by: ktzefr | May 29, 2017

Night Lights in the Wild Kingdom

Squirrel; Photo:KFawcett

When God said “Let there be light” the sun came on. No flip of the switch to soft incandescent or to clear, bright flourescent; no hot halogen or the sharp glare of a halide lamp.  No neon.  The sun was perfect.  Is perfect.  These man-made inventions that turn night into day at any hour?  Not so much.

Our neighbor’s motion-detector security lights come on and flood our yard several times a night.  The other night when the yard lit up I looked out the window in time to catch a glimpse of a fox slithering off into the bushes.  The night critters, used to the seasonal darkness of the forest for a predictable number of hours each day, have had to adapt to an unpredictable world.  On the flip side, perhaps the floodlight saved the life of a bunny or chipmunk or a neighborhood cat.

Bunny; Photo:KFawcett

Researchers have known for some time that light at night affects animal behavior.  Here are some of the more common problems with night lights in the wild kingdom:

1) It upsets the opossums and badgers and rodents that forage in the dark; insects that swarm streetlights become instant food for bats.  In some cases, small bats have been pushed out of their habitat because larger bats have been attracted to the mega food supply the insects provide. 

2) In the South Atlantic the glow from a single fishing fleet can be seen from space.  Squid fishermen lure their prey with metal halide lamps.  They burn a light that shines brighter than the cities of Buenos Aires or Rio! 

3) When there’s a lot of artificial light, birds sing at unnatural hours.  These long “artificial” days cause early breeding behavior in some and alter migration schedules.  Sometimes migrating early can be deadly.  If birds arrive too soon for nesting conditions to be right, the whole cycle is affected.

4) Sea turtles like dark beaches where the brightest light is the moon reflecting on the sea.  Hatchlings naturally gravitate toward the sea horizon.  But they get confused when the artificial light of resort areas or towns lure them the wrong way and thousands are lost every year.

5) Frogs and toads that live in city spaces or along brightly lit roadways suffer as well.  I was reading the other day that the light from these sources can be as much as a million times brighter than a frog’s normal habitat.  It can throw every aspect of their behavior out of rhythm, including their nighttime breeding choruses.

Tree frog; Photo:KFawcett

It has rained here off and on for several days.  I came out last night after the rain had stopped.  Night was falling naturally.  Rainwater still dripping from the trees.  Bushes and ivy, periwinkle and May apple, petunia blooms and marigold buds were all soaked.  And, in this wet world at the edge of dark, I was greeted by a full chorus of tree frogs from our yard and the neighbors’ yards and beyond.  I could close my eyes and slip away to the rain forest where the only light comes from the sun…

at least until some night critter decided to stroll beneath the neighbor’s motion detector.

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Posted by: ktzefr | May 17, 2017

A Mob By Any Other Name…is still just birds

Bluejays, by Betty Bruner

I was sitting on the back deck enjoying a quiet afternoon when a bunch of bluejays started squawking overhead in the maple and beech and tulip poplar trees.  Did they want peanuts, again?  Mornings for years I’ve been giving whole peanut treats to an ever-expanding “family” of bluejays.  But they eat and leave and are rarely around in the afternoon.  Still, I tossed fresh peanuts into the yard. 

The birds didn’t budge.  And they didn’t shut up.  Bluejays like to “talk” but they also like to eat, and they were staying hidden in the treetops for some reason.  Not one bird flew down to get a peanut. 

I searched the yard from my perch on the deck and finally spotted him — a big hawk sitting atop the fence separating our yard from the neighbor’s.  I slipped inside and donned my black winter cape — it allowed me to “flap my own wings,” giving the impression of a giant bird.  (Yes, I’m rather silly in that way.)  It worked!  The hawk was gone.

But so were the bluejays.  They didn’t lag behind to eat the peanuts.  Instead they followed the hawk, squawking at the top of their bird lungs until they were out of earshot. 

Later, I learned that this is known as mob behavior in the bird world.

The word “mob” has always been associated with negative gatherings — THE Mob/Mafia, the mobs that turn protest into riot, mobs that trample their members during times of crises or rock concerts.  Mobs form in the bird world to get rid of predators that threaten birds and their nests and nestlings.  One bird sees a hawk or owl or snake and calls to others.  The warning gets repeated across yards, fields, forests.  The more dangerous the enemy, the more serious (loud, intense, long) the call.  Different species recognize their particular worst enemies and adjust their calls accordingly.  The alarm call tells other birds about the predator, where it is, and how big a threat it poses.

If the predator isn’t frightened away by the commotion of a few birds, the bird calls change.  They organize a mob.  Mob calls can become deafening.  The birds may even attack the predator en masse in fly-by nips with their beaks and feet.  When the predator finally leaves, the birds will often pursue it for blocks until they know it is a safe distance away.  So, in the bird world, a mob is not necessarily a bad thing, except for the hawks and owls and snakes.

Many different terms have been used in the past to describe groups of specific birds — a bevy of quail, a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows.  A congress of crows and a band of crows were also common terms.  Did you know that a “chain” referred to a bunch of bobolinks or that groups of partridges were called coveys or that kingfishers came in concentrations?  Owls form a parliament and vultures form a wake.  And “murmuration” doesn’t seem to fit starlings at all.  Murmur makes me think of whispers; starlings are noisy.  But murmuration is something else, indeed. 

A flock of starlings in murmuration is a beautiful sight.  On a sunny day last fall I had just arrived in Mexico’s central mountains, came out of the airport to get a taxi, and was greeted by a huge flock of starlings — “dancing” across the blue sky.  I didn’t get a video or picture of that scene, but this is what it looks like. 

(This amazing video was filmed by wild life cameraman and travel journalist Dylan Winter)

 

Today, the various terms for bunches of birds — a herd of curlews or a siege of bitterns, for example — are rarely used anymore.   One has to remember only two words to describe a group of birds — a “flock” or a “mob” — depending on what the birds are up to in the sky.

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