Saturday, January 8, 2011

One for the Ladies, Two for the Critters

I received for Christmas one of my Dad's slightly used digital SLR Nikon's, though in some senses it was not in fact a Christmas present, but rather, an invitation to spend a portion of my free time sharing something they have a passion for: photography.  Typical of the thinking of a person my age and generation, I more or less told my father I didn't have the time for photography.  Well, at some point I somehow figured out that: A. Photography can be learned over the course of years.  and B.  This camera and all the endeavors it would seem to represent, is not merely about photography.  Big surprise.  Especially given that old chestnut, "it's the thought that counts."  And, as usual, their thinking, about me, is somewhat better than my own about the same.

Apparently the only way to avoid a parents wisdom is to avoid the parent.

The other reason it seemed prudent to celebrate rather than think about photography in a time management (and obligatory) frame of reference is that my parents live in New Mexico, where they have, in Albuquerque, a relatively easy jaunt just a few hours away from one of the most spectacular winged migrations on planet earth, at the Bosque del Apache.  It's within one of the Rocky Mountain flyways of the Sandhill Crane (among many, many other birds.)  Apparently the Western Hemisphere's greatest collection of cranes, period.  Possibly the worlds.  For some reason I sort of doubt the latter.

Of course, I live in a flyway of the Sandhill Crane, as well.  Here in Indiana, we are on a backwater flyway of cranes, sort of backwash from the great Mississippi flyway... the miracle mile of birds that follow a river, that perhaps due to its muddy nature, has never managed to overwhelm the negative reputation of the American State named after it.  Oh, well, everyone gets a little jolt of Huck Finn fun, just thinking about, much less, seeing, the Big Muddy.

The birds agree.  Perhaps less due to Mark Twain, then the thirty-thousand years of sixty mile wide floods that were business as usual until Americans placed even such a leviathon as our greatest river, into our manifest as destined to be tamed.  And tame her we did, with concrete, and dam, and dredge, and worst of all: the intimation of utility and value in her service to us.

The birds wouldn't have guessed Eli Whitney's smoky brethren puffing the paddles of  boats would have much to do with their future fishing on the floodplains and watershed of the Mississippi.  Just as the Wright Brothers weren't exactly singing "Fly Me To The Moon" at Kitty Hawk.  It's one thing at a time... of course.

Eventually,  the paddle boats and pumps, and other instruments in the civil liberties of beasts of burden out flooded Mother Nature, and everyone was driving their Chevy's to the levy.  The path that drained most of the Louisiana Purchase had been channeled, tamed, and taken to pasture and stable alike.  So now, on a great swath of America, when it rained, it would rarely flood anymore.

Turns out that birds like water for a number of reasons.  The most obvious being that water is where the life is, and a bird, being larger by far than the vast majority of lifeforms (even a Robin, or relatively small songbird.... most lifeforms, by absurd and nearly unthinkable magnitudes, are tiny, and vastly populous) needs a great deal of life during one stage or another of its existence, to support its bones, and flesh.  Water carries a great deal, and attracts even more life.  So, water necessarily plays a huge role in birds lives, from a basic needs standpoint.

Furthermore..... I learned from my parents, who have had to study a bit of bird psychology, so as to capture them on film in as revealing and yet, discreet a manner as possible.... birds prefer to roost in safety, away from predators.  Water birds (when, I am assuming, not sitting on a brood) "roost" in, where else? Water!  Apparently, unlike big cats, and crazy humans----coyotes, and other predators, don't find water to their advantage.  But birds do.  Hence the enduring appeal to millions of birds, of the Mississippi flyway.

An Ornithologist, just having received his Doctorate, told me a few years back, to my disbelief, that the woods surrounding Bloomington (a huge swath of green on the map... mostly state forest and parkland.... as well the the Deam wilderness... the only "wilderness," whatever that is, really, in the Hoosier state.) is home to the largest songbird population in the country.  But why?

I'm guessing that Indiana's Hickory, Oak, Beech temperate forests, are far enough North, and far enough South, to enjoy the benefits of both climates, and therefore enjoy a greater diversity, and perfusion of ecological niches.  I'm also guessing that when the Holy perfection of the sacred forest feels a little bare, the birds may endeavor to break the surly bonds of our cartographers, and munch on corn for a few afternoons.   You won't find this on a magazine cover any time soon, but it would be a surprise  to me in the extreme if Indiana's big, monocultural, much despised (though highly relied upon) farmland under production, didn't account for a great deal of poultry in the sky.  Besides, from what I have read it is legal for farmers to occasionally kill flocks of predatory "nuisance" song birds.  You've heard the recent alarmist headlines:  Even though blackbirds carpet Jack and Jill's walk to pre-school:  don't worry Mom! It's natural.  Fish gotta swim and birds gotta die.

So, songbirds, as I write this, are gorging on wild cherries fermenting since Autumn, due to the slow embrace of winter.  They've no need to fight with the Flamingo's (or whatever is down south.)  They like the quiet stillness that so bores the barflys of Bloomington, when some well meaning friend takes them on a "hike."  Most of the time, there are only a few earnest hikers.... the occasional hunter looking for male ungulates, and the great hilly forest for, as we Hoosiers would put it, "the critters, and the critters alone."  I tried once to remove a twig from McCormick's Creek; the first state forest created in Indiana.  It's about a twenty minute car ride from my door; and maybe a 1.5 hour bike ride.  The Forest Ranger, a wrinkled and smiling man, listened to me as I made my case for a twig IPO.

"This twig," I told the Ranger, holding it up to his inspection, beneath a tree containing perhaps a hundred thousand identical specimens, "says something special to me.  Beneath its skin of bark, and leafless lack of modesty, I can see a pride I could learn something from; whaddaya say?"

As Kris Kristofferson might have said:  "That kindly ranger looked at me/ All eaten up in sympathy/ Then poured himself another beer/ And came and whispered in my ear/ If [twigs] were just a dime a bundle/ Boy you couldn't buy one for yerself."  (a botched rewording of his not terribly popular song "Best of All Possible Worlds."  Name dropping Voltaire's "Candide" in country music is not a good idea... even for a Rhoades Scholar.)

The kindly Ranger looked at me, and said, instead, "Son, them's fer the critters."

Being a nice boy from the suburbs, I bent down to place the critters quarry upon the ground.  No toss about wastrel, me!  Well, mostly.

(McCorkmick's Creek is in Spencer.... which, as I said, is less than 30 minutes from my door.  People in Spencer have a way of talking that sends shivers down my spine.  I do believe, despite the old axiom, they've plum stopped progress.  As if the sheer beauty of their speaking voices weren't enough to send me into spasms of pointless blogging, there is also the matter of Townes Van Zandt's song, Tecumseh Valley, which, should I ever learn the truth, and the truth be something I wish it were not... would be very bad.  Some people don't operate like this.  But, you see, I've had a number of girlfriends give me shame for being too rational.  I tried to tell them that people who've known me a long time should get the last word on the subject... but being a man, I queried no one but the girls, and the girls by some force unspeakably wicked, powerful, and sublime, convinced me to sometimes quit thinking, when wistful, wishfulness + apocrypha could stand in, like Uncanny Valley Girl Mannequins. 
So, I choose to believe that Townes lovely song about a very unlucky whore from Spencer, is name checking the town I live near.... And don't forget that the fantastically interesting Tecumseh:  Native American mystic and strategist par excellence: is from Indiana!  So that's two strikes against getting too rational and actually researching the question; ha!  I guess I'm doing this one for the ladies.)

Some of you are thinking this time he's done it.  Despite the intensity of my boredom, I'll read this thing in its entirety, just to have at hand proof! That Andy has become completely entangled in the marginal, marginal, marginal, margarine margins of his mind!  As Billy Joel would say, You may be right.

I don't want you to quit reading, so I'll give this classical narrative piece a very steady hand on the joystick.... and a slow hand to my climax: which you and only you can decide if it's on topic, as opposed to a bad substitute for butta'.

Standing on a clients roof a few months ago, just as November was beginning to kick my ass, I felt the cold moving in on my bones weaken, and the sun came out from behind a cloud and just decided to stick around a bit longer, after all the ruccus of the summer and all.  I stood there, shivering and unaccustomed to what from January's perspective was very mild cold indeed.  It's fifteen degrees out, American style, and that's nippy for a Hoosier, amongst the entrails of his state.  Whilst, attempting to not have George Harrison singing in my head, but betraying just that wish by sighing like a baby girl, instead of working, I happened to space out for a minute or so, in pleasure.  Then, I heard a strangely familiar sound.  It's impossible to describe, but  I knew, for example, that it wasn't a cricket, and it didn't quack like a duck.  The strangest sensation came over me, and I began to realize that the sound I was hearing was a Sandhill Crane.  I scanned the sky behind me, thanked my lucky stars I wasn't being paid by the hour, and sure enough on the horizon a hundred or more cranes were flying my way.  They shifted around restlessly making cuneiform, calligraphy, hieroglyphics, or perhaps just a mockery of Thomas Pynchon.  I couldn't say, and they were defiantly democratic: just kept on deciding all the way across the sky.  I hungered, let me tell you, to be up there amongst that two or three tons of poultry.  They are freakishly beautiful creatures:  perhaps unique among the embodied beings on earth, in their liquid embrace of space, and shimmering, morphing, collapse and expanse.  Humans will never ply the entirety of their precious wells... long after we have destroyed every last hope we have, there will live the beauty of our terrible hubris.  Upon the scar of the earth, and the boiling remnants of our post coital solar systemic collapse, God will pad about this woodshed and having lost His religion for once, sigh, "here lived humans..." Mercy to the Angel who inquires toward that muttering.

But a crane...!  A crane will rarely hide behind figleafs from the erogenous abiding earth... a crane does not whisper like a race of Wicked Playbills.  It croaks as honestly as a pile of shit stinks.  And with as much embarrassment.  It knows the entirety of the universe (cleverly composed, unlike yours--- you poor, poor creature--- of its concerns: alone) is bidding its attention.  Across the sun, and through the moon, brushing featherprints into a rainbow, the crane alights... as unsteady as a drunk in his favorite bar.  You look upon its feathers and see planes of a thousand equations... rippling, engorged, bodily and masterful: a strange world of interface between the air, and a dinosaurs tattered genome.  Lordy, the six foot wings polish the air like the thick substance it would seem but for its ubiquity... and hands you a piece of the wind: billowing beneath it like a ghostly twin:  or a human's song to themself.  You watch this clockwork space filling, flesh puzzle sublimity... and recognize, briefly, the lie....  the Wild Duck lie, that undergirds the span of your life.  Identity, and ideas, and knowledge and understanding, step back, for a bow.  They step back, as pleasure enters the room, unencumbered by the modest stoop, she normally cultivates, so as not to bruise the peaches of your tender character.  The cultivated traits of culture and society step back for a bow.  For this born witness, hurtling with the wind, and turning upon the alignments of the planet and stars, the dignity conferred by our cultural expectations is no match for our noblest of states: belonging.  And only here, in the Basque Del Apache, with my parents and myself, clicking photo's of these embodiments of incensed sacrament, do I see the worry behind my ascension into all the corridors of human entitlement.

With these cranes I stand with my family to look upon the grace of our abiding, unknowable world.

Tecumseh Valley By Townes Van Zandt

The name she gave was Caroline
The daughter of a miner
And her ways were free and it seemed to me
The sunshine walked beside her
She come from Spencer 'coss the hill
She said her Pa had sent her
'Cause the coal was low and soon the snow
Would tuwn the skies to winter

Well she said she'd come to look for work
She was not seeking favors
For a dime a day and a place to stay
She'd turn those hands to labor

The times were hard Lord the jobs were few
All through Tecumseh Valley
But she asked around and a job she found
Tending bar for Gypsy Sally

She saved enough to get back home
When spring replaced the winter
But her dreams were denied her Pa had died
The word came down from Spencer

She turned to whorin' out on the streets
With all the lust inside her
It was many a man returned again
To lay himself beside her

Well they found her down beneath the stairs
That led to Gypsy Sally's
In her hand when she died
Was a note that cried
Fare thee well Tecumseh Valley

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