“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” Louisa May Alcott
One of the things I enjoy doing is sitting in the comfort of our home and watching the birds flit around outside our front window. I had never given much thought to birds. I grew up in Seattle and most of what they had there were gulls, pigeons, swallows and, come spring, robins. If there was anything else in the air, I didn’t notice.
Here in the Treasure State, of course, it is different. Our usual residents are the magpies, crows, and a variety of raptors, but with the advent of spring and warmer weather, in come all the migratory birds.
Heading down to the Madison Dam the other day with my sweetheart, we enjoyed watching bald eagles soar overhead, pelicans floating gently on the river, and muskrats swimming past. A fleet of Canada Geese crossed the road to the lake with their young ‘uns; an Osprey sat on a power pole surveying the land, and a flotilla of red-winged blackbirds played leap-frog with us as we drove along. It was magnificent!
Each morning we listen to the mourning doves land on our chimney’s tin cover, cooing and calling gently to one another to come visit or play. And now, we have some really beautiful birds – reddish heads, yellowish bibs, touches of white and brown – flying in and out of our evergreens in front. I called them Lone Rangers, for they had masks like the one Tonto’s friend wore in days of yore, but I wanted to know their true identity.
I snapped some pictures and sent them off to David Hoag, my good friend and go-to-guy for avian identification. I find he is much faster at identifying our feathered friends than I am (as I fumble my way through the Field Guide to North American Birds). He told me they were Cedar Waxwings, and the mystery was solved.
There is another bird that flies in and out so quickly I have NOT been able to snap a picture. He (or she) has a much deeper red head (more round and without a waxwing’s crest) and is covered with much brighter yellow over most of her body and wings. She is so quick and flighty that I haven’t really seen her well enough to compare her to the pictures in the field book, so that mystery shall continue.
Mysteries are OK. It is fun figuring out what things are, and today I often approach matters with the questions: Why, or How?
I don’t remember asking my parents “why” very often. I wasn’t inquisitive as a child. I mostly operated on the assumption that things simply “are.” When you flip a switch and the light comes on, I wouldn’t ask how it works or why; I simply noted that’s what happens when one flips a switch and that, as they say, would be that.
I suspect that one reason I lacked curiosity as a youngster is because I grew up feeling sort of dumb, and asking questions would simply confirm that impression so I wouldn’t ask anyone anything.
As I have gotten older, of course, I have discovered that being dumb isn’t permanent, especially when you learn to ask questions. Getting answers makes one less dumb, and that is a good thing. To be teachable – now THERE’s a concept I can embrace.
Over the years I have come to accept that I don’t know everything, and that’s OK. Birds don’t know everything either. In fact, being bird-brains I suspect they don’t know much, but what they DO know is enough for them. They know when to fly south and when to fly north; they know where to find food, drink, and mates. They know how to care for their young and how to protect them (for the most part) from predators and dangers.
What they do, they don’t do perfectly. One bird hit our front window and died instantly. My wife and I gave him a decent burial. I figured that’s the least we could do. Death, after all, is very much a part of life, and I have learned how to respect that, too.
Being dumb gets old, but learning to ask questions tends to keep us young in this, our valley, and that is a powerful truth.