Turn And Look [on KS Friday]

Sometimes in the middle of the night the monsters come out and dance through my mind. Last night was one of those nights. I’ve learned not to take them seriously. I’ve learned that their visit is meant to inspire gratitude. Rather than fight, forgive. Rather than run, turn and look.

I’ve always felt deeply connected to birds of prey, especially hawks. Many years ago, during an “art as transformation” class, an elder came to teach us how to make medicine shields. We gathered and designed our symbols, bent willow, stretched hide. I was visited by a hawk as I walked the mountain so the sun side of my shield includes a hawk. I keep it in my studio.

There’s a hawk in our neighborhood. We know it’s around when the crows explode in alarm. To see the hawk, follow the crows’ relentless assault.

While planting pampas grass against the fence, Kerri gasped and whispered, “Turn around slowly.” Before I could reposition, the hawk disappeared. It had perched on the fence above our heads. A ghost. No crow alarm. Kerri and the hawk looked each other in the eye. “It was huge!” she said.

Moments later, the planting complete, the hawk flew through and landed in the neighbor’s tree. Squirrels froze in place. The crows, sleeping sentinels, awoke. The alarm went out. The hawk paid it no heed.

A visit. A monster in the dreams of squirrels and chipmunks, I felt nothing but awe. The hawk remained in the tree for a long time. We looked at it. It looked at us. Gratitude.

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read Kerri’s blogpost about THE HAWK

take flight/this part of the journey © 1998 kerri sherwood

Know Their Name [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As I let Dogga out each morning, I stand for a few moments and listen to the birdsong. Our particular spot on the earth is alive with birds: starlings, finches, sparrows, robins, hawks, crows, owls… The Mourning Doves always stop my motion. Their song is hypnotic.

The pandemic changed – and continues to change – many things. Our world became significantly smaller. The table in the sunroom. The backyard. Our trails. As someone with his head in the clouds I am a dedicated generalist. I have always appreciated bird song yet never, not once, thought of identifying the specific birds and their song. “Sparrow? Finch? Who cares! They are beautiful and that’s enough for me! I spend too much time in my left brain as it is! The last thing I want to do is categorize the birds!”

COVID changed that. Sitting on the back deck or at the COVID table staring out the window for hours on end, our relationship with the birds grew. From general appreciation to specific experience. From passive appreciation to personal connection. We began to see nuance. Pattern. We wanted – and want to know more about these beings that sing us awake each morning, that alert us to changes in the weather, that signal alarm in the neighborhood.

While visiting the Botanical Gardens, Kerri found a small book, coded by color, that identifies the birds in our region. In a flash we can open the book and identify the bird. “Hey! Look! That’s Paul!” I say.

“Stop!” Kerri scowls. “It’s Martha. Paul’s on the fence.”

Just kidding. House Sparrow. Carolina Wren. My favorite to pronounce is Grackle. Great-tailed Grackle to be exact. I’ve decided that, were I to somehow achieve tough-guy status and ride a Harley to breakfast, my motorcycle-dude name will be Grackle. “Hey, Grackle,” the waiter will say, as I come through the door en route to my usual stool. “Hey,” I respond. Motorcycle-dudes named Grackle are birds of few words.

Deb showed us an app. Merlin. It identifies birds by their song. Now, armed with our book from the Botanical Garden and our Merlin app, when I ask, “What’s that?” Kerri – who is always alarmingly way ahead of me – has the answer. “Eastern Towhee,” she says.

“You’re making that up!” I cry, knowing she can’t stand to be challenged so will immediately jump to prove to me that she is right (it’s my secret fast-track to knowledge).

“Look it up!” she insists, showing me both the book and the Merlin return.

“Wow,” I say. “Towhee. Who knew. Maybe my pen name should be Grackle Towhee!”

She yanks the book from my hands. “Oh, Look!” she exclaims. “Merlin has identified you: Midwest DoDo.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRDS!