Friday, April 19, 2013

Birds as Artful Inspiration

Scott Weidensaul, one of my favorite authors, wrote a magnificent article entitled “Beyond Measure” in the Mach-April issue of Audubon Magazine. In it he artfully and convincingly makes the  case for birds. I call it a “just because” plea. We should all love birds, “just because”.  Many of us can recall the exact location of a certain sighting, the way our hearts pounded with the first glimpse of the impossibly garish palette of colors that make a Painted Bunting such a brilliant thing. Perhaps it’s the disbelief at the power of a stooping peregrine streaking across a  cloud strewn skyscape like a feathered meteor. Maybe some bird is connected with a particular poignant memory--like the flock of rusty and red-winged blackbirds that descended into a copse of bare-boned trees that cold, winter day we buried my father-in-law after his brave bout with cancer. Their coming that sad day and "peppering" the drab scene will be something I always link with that species.  Whatever the place or people we're with, our hearts, minds-- and souls-- are better because of birds.

Charley Harper, the Ohio artist who painted nature, especially birds, in a unique minimalist geometrical style that left no doubt as to the species identity and also its “birdinality”, has inspired me just as Scott’s words have. One Harper Painting in particular, “Mystery of the Missing Migrants” sends my mind into wondering wandering fits!  Harper’s portrait of a night sky full of migrating birds has intrigued me since I first saw it in Dr. Sidney Gauthreaux’s office when I was a graduate student.  Sid, my adviser and the “Father” of radar ornithology helped us understand the plight of trans-gulf migration by many of our favorite species. This time of year, it is a miraculous thing to imagine the sky above us while we sleep, full of feathered things finding their way by star, being pulled my the North Pole across habitats both hospitable and hostile. 

"Mystery of the Missing Migrants" by Charley Harper

And so in honor of Scott Weidensaul’s wonderful writing and Charley Harper’s passionate painting. I offer my monthly musing.

While we sleep
Stumble in and out of earthbound dreams
Waves of winged things
Hitch hopes to star compasses
And ride the winds

I wake in wonder
My mind wandering with warblers
Visions of vireos voyaging
Thoughts of thrushes traveling

I am moved by the migrant's memories 
For river bottom and ridge top
Ponder at what pulls parulas and pewees to points north
Millions mysteriously plying  paths across a crescent moon
Pushing past predators and precipitation with breaking dawn
The wayfarers falling into new worlds where wetlands and woods
Sometimes sit under concrete and congestion

The miracle is that any of them make it at all---
to make more

Have Fun Birding Y'all!


  1. Lovely post. I really like the poetry and the geometric bird art.

  2. Love love, LOVE this! Love the thoughts, the artwork and the poetry! Well done, Oh! WELL DONE!