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Westward Ho!

I have always had a unique relationship with birds. As far back as I can remember, I have been entranced by, entertained by, fascinated by, and attacked by birds. For every time I arrive at my shit-splattered car, or am accosted by seagulls at the beach, and under my breath mutter how much I hate birds, there is another occasion in which I am mesmerized by the sight of a bird out my window or during a woodsy hike.

Naturally, there is a hierarchy for the tolerability of birds. I don't think there are many of us fighting causes in defense of those damn Canadian Geese, for example, who seemingly have more rights in America than you or I. When working at an old job, I ate lunch outside the office towers on most nice days. Surrounding a section of the building was a dirty man-made pond that was home to its own active community of the forsaken species.

Every hike out to our favorite lunch bench was a sure-footed exercise in avoiding mounds of goose crap. Worse yet was dodging the irate territorial creatures themselves, who hissed and charged at you with all the hate in the world swirling around in their beady black eyes. The trick, we quickly learned, was to walk briskly and without eye contact. Insolent beasts, they are. And if you hit one with a car, you get a ticket! Where are the squirrel activists on this one? Why do we protect this obnoxious clan of feathered rodents, and not milder, often cuter common roadkill candidates?

I'll never forget the satisfied look upon my detective friend's face during his retelling of how thousands of feathers exploded in every direction when one of those geese fatefully met his truck's grill on the way to the station one day. I don't think he wrote himself a ticket.

Then there are the ever-belligerent seagulls. I truly feel bad for seagulls because although they are dirty and annoying, it is humans who have ruined the seagull's rap. I cannot even convey the level of contempt I hold for all those fat-ass American families who sit on their beach blankets and for amusement (because reading or being civil are not an option for many Americans) throw food at the gathering hordes (not flocks) of seagulls, who jump on a tossed Cheetos Puff as though they are tempting starvation and need it to live another day.

I can see how this mild form of animal abuse can garner a laugh from some simple-minded folks, but this practice is just plain evil to the seagulls. Not only are humans feeding them processed crap that no living organism should eat, but they are shattering the species' reputation by distinguishing them as pesky beggars. This is why seagulls get fed Alka-Seltzer tablets on a regular basis.

But the reason I brought up birds in the first place is because I have been quite intimate with birds of all varieties since moving to Washington. Chicago's landscape provided less than desirable opportunities to appreciate birds. But somewhere between the natural environment and the slower pace of life here, I often find myself wishing I had a thorough encyclopedia of birds. I've known adults to have such things. And I suppose it is just a certain coming of age that many of us will go through. I have reached that age now, where a bird encyclopedia is topping my birthday wish list. Boring adulthood, here I come!

My house here sits upon a ravine in the backyard, and on the side of a large brush ideal for sheltering small animals. One of the very first occurrences that charmed me in Washington was the daily meet-and-greet with a California quail.

Last spring, the quail sang loudly from our brush. Like any brutally normal person, I enjoyed answering its calls with a simple response: "Hi, Quail!" And without fail, it called back. Sometimes I would start the conversation if the brush was silent upon my appearance. But the result always remained the same - a 10-minute exchange with the quail, who proved to be quite the chatterbox indeed.

About a month or so passed when suddenly one day, my quail stopped talking. I pointed a finger at my cat, who knew as well as I did, that my quail would make for a tasty afternoon treat. But alas, his paws were clean. Some more time passed without a peep, and no sooner than I had given up on it a dozen quails emerged marching from the brush - two adults leading the pack of teeny baby quails who hobbled behind on new sticks-for-legs.

My quail had not left after all, but was merely shacking up with its mate to have sexy-time and a litter of babies. To think! I was probably irritating the hell out of the quails, calling unremittingly in my piercing Chicago voice, especially since the whole purpose of my quail's initial dialogue was to catch itself some tang. It was most likely not even interacting with me after all.

You can imagine that this realization did nothing for my self-esteem in regards to friend-making. First my cat dies, and then my quail ditches me for some ass. However, I could not avoid being warmed to the cockles at the sight of the small quail soldiers, clumsy and new to the world. One afternoon after work, my eyes were caught by the entire lot of them, tight-roping atop a fence, making funny quail chatters as they went along.

Another new and exciting encounter I now have regularly is the observance of bald eagles and their kids. Out on the peninsula, eagles oversee all the action from their tree-top perches. They line along the coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and stalk fish in shallow waters. I love surveying the trees as we drive along, and watching the eagles dive-bomb and dominate their prey as it flaps helplessly underneath their giant talons. Makes me proud to be an American even more than being able to buy a gun at a local sporting store.

eagle2.jpg

All in all, my once-timid approach to birds - having been attacked by one at an early age and growing up with Lake Michigan's finest seagulls - has now given way to an appreciation and wonderment over the feathered species. I watch hawks soar over my house and Snohomish Valley completely in awe of their coordination and precision. Out on a hike, redheaded woodpeckers top the trees, busily banging away at the bark. Flashes of intense blue cross my bedroom window and my eyes trace the flash to the Steller's Jay perched in the nearest tree.

I walk outside to my car at five every morning to a choir of chirps and tweets and coos from all around me. And like any perfectly sane individual, I yell back from my car door: "Good morning, birds!"

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Previously:
* Part One: Departure
* Part Two: Rebuff
* Part Three: MySpace
* Part Four: Peninsula
* Part Five: Homeward



Permalink

Posted on April 29, 2008


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PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Don't Let Your Pet OD.


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