"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Woodcock Echo

What does it mean to receive a woodcock echo? I just got one and I'm still mulling it over.
Two years ago when we lived in a condo unit near some swampy marshland a couple of towns over I wrote a blog post about birdwatching out our back windows, inspired by my sighting of a woodcock. I hadn't seen one since my college ornithology class and was surprised and excited to catch a glimpse of the funny, plump bird shuffling through the leaves out back.
Yesterday the boys and I were on a foraging expedition in a leafy, forested sliver of property around the city block from us. Its kind of a forgotten, weedy little patch of land with a little-used trail winding through it, mostly a lot of overgrown brush under some big oak trees a place where the surrounding houses dump their garden clippings in big piles along the path. The boys and I were hoping to snoop out some wild witch hazel but came home instead with wild cherry bark, sassafras root, ribbed plantain leaves, heal-all stalks and white pine needles for various medicinal syrups and salves and recreational cups of tea. (Hooray!)

On the way into the woods scuffing through the leaves we almost stumbled on the small, fawn-bellied body of a dead woodcock. I imagine one of the neighborhood cats took him out in an evening stalking session and then was disillusioned after trying to drag the large prize home and left him there in a pile of maple leaves on the sidewalk.

Its interesting blogging one's life. There are small, odd things I notice, and sock away for writing "material." And small memories often stick in my mind more cleanly...like the last time I saw a woodcock walking along on a January evening off our back patio.

I am not a squeamish girl but dead animals make me catch my breath in my throat. I stood there calming my death-panic and my brain cycled all my related memories: my backyard sighting two years ago, my college class watching woodcock mating flights at dusk, my Papa bird hunting in the fall when I was little, the funny pictures of the round little bird in our over-sized bird book at home and John James Audobon's giant paintings of woodcocks in the big, quiet library at Yale...especially the one of a dead bird, posed so exactly like the still one at our feet.

Life echos are strange things.

The boys and I stood there quietly and then I told them everything I knew about woodcocks: how they were once thought to live part of the year on the moon, how they have eyes that can see almost 360 degrees around them, how they probe their beaks into worm holes and cleverly tweak even hidden food up to the surface for themselves, how they migrate in the cold, how shy they are, how they lay their nests on the ground and how the female raises the babies alone and all about the rocketing sky-show a male gives in the spring sky at dusk. They listened and admired the pretty shades of rust and chocolate on his feathers and his long, fine bill and the gentle tuft of his small, fluffy tail. We talked about animals dying and the circling pattern of life and Nib bent down and wished for a doctor, concerned over what it meant for this pretty bird to have left his body empty, here on the sidewalk.  I squeezed their sad little hands and we scuffed off together through the echoing leaves.

At dinner over a pot of sassafras tea the boys told A all about our encounter and all the things I'd told them about the little bird. I didn't say much, mostly listened but I was interested to see how much they'd soaked in and wondered about what it meant for this bird to echo in my life this way. 

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