Bird Hauntings

Decorated initial The Northern Mockingbird who sings every morning just after dawn has, I think, found a mate. Yesterday his song changed dramatically, at least to my terrestrial ears. Before it had been hopeful, excited, lyrical, yearning. Yesterday and today it was nothing short of triumphant, a confident joy.

Two nights running I had a strong dream of me carrying a hawk in my arms. I’m not sure what kind of hawk it is; when I look down, it’s usually huddling in the crook of my left arm, as if it is a little cold or a little afraid. It relaxes when I stroke it.

Then on Facebook, a friend posted a photo of a man cradling a rooster a little too lovingly. Wanted to know if it was me. For several years now, some Internet pals have called me Chicken Boy because the first wedding at which I officiated, I was photographed (in full ministerial garb) standing next to a giant wooden cut-out of a hen in a field. Somehow they leapt from a whimsical wedding on a Vermont mountaintop to a decidedly venal projection of zoophilic desires.

This morning I was walking with some friends at a nature enclave and saw this screech owl, dozing at the door of an owl house.

During this afternoon’s nap I have the hawk dream again.

One of the animals in my shamanic pantheon is Golden Eagle. Of all the helping spirits, he’s the one I haven’t gotten to know very well. Then yesterday, viewing an audio slideshow of an astoundingly beautiful upcoming documentary series, I saw a few photos of men in the Tungus region of Siberia using golden eagles as hunting birds. And suddenly I remembered that the word shaman originated with these very people.

Honestly, I blame Indigo Bunting and her husband for all this. I was relatively blasé about birds until I met them and caught a touch of their birding fever. I’m really not a birder. But I now adore them, especially here in Florida, where on any given day I can see Sandhill Cranes, peacocks, ibises, egrets and herons galore, an anhinga or two, plus all the regular birds spread over a large portion of the eastern US.

And no, I don’t have any idea what this means. Speak to me, birds. I’ll listen to whatever you have to say.

Categories: Birds, Shamanism | 12 Comments

Wings of Desire

April may be the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain, as Mr. Eliot put it. But surely May is sadder still, at least in southern Brevard County, Florida, where each day dozens of star-crossed lovers, tiny, tragic Romeos and Juliets, fling themselves to their deaths on my car’s windshield. It’s lovebug season.

I have no idea whether the Ais and the Timucuans who lived here before the Europeans moved in named their months as other native peoples did, but “Planting Moon” or “Full Flower Moon” or “Moon When the Horses Get Fat” just doesn’t cut it down here. So I named last night’s full moon the Lovebug Moon in honor of our doomed flying libertines, locked forever in coital embrace. I hope their loving petits morts will coincide with the Big Death being dealt them by my mammoth of glass and steel. That way I catch them coming and going.

Categories: Life in Florida, Nature | 5 Comments

Cuckoos in Florida

This morning I was awakened from one of the most comfortable sleeps I have had in recent memory to the sound of a cuckoo clock. Problem is, the cuckoo clock in my house ran down weeks ago and I stopped bothering to rewind it. And with the windows shut tight, I can’t hear anything from the neighbors unless they’re standing in their yard screaming; I certainly couldn’t hear a clock from inside their houses.

21290778.thmIt was so faint, I thought I might have been dreaming, so I struggled to full wakefulness. Nope, still there. Then I thought that since it seemed to coincide with the tail end of my exhalings, I might be hearing a wheeze from my lungs or something. So I held my breath. Nope, still heard the cuckoo. Could it be the ceiling fan, a ball bearing that is grating on something internal? No, it’s clearly outside the window somewhere.

A real cuckooing cuckoo? In Florida?? Impossible. By the time I was upright, the sound had stopped. A quick Internet search was instructive, though not conclusive: Continue reading

Categories: Birds, Life in Florida | 5 Comments

The India Blue

Somewhere around 1986, when Mom was considering the move to Florida, she and I came down to look for a house. The real estate agent took us to a home painted a chocolate brown—not the prettiest shade compared to its pastel Floridian neighbors. Once inside, we found it had very low ceilings, again rather usual after the cathedral ceilings we had been touring. But the owner, an older gent, a widower, had the windows and doors open, and a lovely breeze was blowing gauzy curtains around rather romantically.

We walked out to the small deck, and were startled to hear the high-pitched and very distinctive call of a peacock. We looked up, and saw one perched in the tree overhanging the yard.

Delighted, we asked if it was his pet. He looked like he wanted to spit. “Damn nuisances,” he growled. “They’re all over this neighborhood. They crap in your yards and make the most godawful racket. I’d like to shoot ’em, but my neighbors would have my head.” As we talked, the bird flew down into his yard, and immediately put up his tail in a grand display. The man cursed again and went inside.

Mom and I were thrilled. The house was not particularly suited to our needs, but the peacock was a definite draw. As we left, we saw several others in the neighborhood, both peacocks and peahens, walking in the streets, nestled under trees, perched on rooftops. Continue reading

Categories: Birds, Life in Florida | 9 Comments

A Note to the Red-bellied Woodpecker Out Back

Let’s set aside, for the moment, the absurdity of your name. It’s your head that’s red; your belly only has a slight tinge of color, and it’s down low and very hard to see. Even Wikipedia calls your name “somewhat misleading.”

But that’s not your fault. This, however, is:

No matter how hard or how long you hammer at the downspout outside my bedroom window, it will never yield up the tasty insects you’re looking for.

Your drilling is giving me a headache. Move on, please.

Categories: Birds, Life in Florida | 9 Comments


This morning, four white ibises, digging with great vigor into a sward of grass next to the road, taking their breakfast al fresco. A little further on, perched on a mound of grasses in the middle of a canal, an anhinga, wings outstretched, gazing off into the distance, the picture of peace. This afternoon, another complex, exquisite mockingbird concert outside my window.

And now, a sudden late-evening downpour. The birds are all settled in for the night. I think of them, imperfectly sheltered from the rain, with no helpful sunshine following the shower to help dry their feathers.

Categories: Birds, Nature | 1 Comment

Sex Unashamed

This morning on my windshield I found the first lovebug of the season: Plecia nearctica, a member of the family of march flies. It is also known as the honeymoon fly, telephonebug, kissybug, or double-headedbug.

This was a lone male, one of the few times I have seen a lovebug without its partner. Usually they are seen locked in connubial bliss, flying lazily through the air or being splattered on one’s car.

Lovebug flights can number in the hundreds of thousands. The slow, drifting movement of the insects is almost reminiscent of snowfall. Two major flights occur each year, first in late spring, then again in late summer. The spring flight occurs during late April and May, the summer during late August and September. This year, their flight was delayed by the long drought. Flights extend over periods of four to five weeks.

Mating takes place almost immediately after emergence of the females. Adult females live only three to four days, poor things.

I’ve written before about squirrels copulating on the screen enclosure of my back porch. I’ve seen two Southern Black Racers, the oh-so-appropriately named Coluber constrictor priapus, coiled in writhing embrace.

Tonight, while at a stop light, I noticed two Green Anoles—the gentle little chameleonlike lizards who so valiantly tackle the insect population around our homes—mating by the side of the road, their skin now brown, trying hard to blend in with the branch on they were perched. They didn’t seem to care that I was staring at their public canoodling.

Of course, it’s likely they don’t notice us. We are unimportant unless we are threatening them or pushing them out of our way. We are environmental noise, worthy of no special attention, just as humans coupling out of doors would generally ignore the birds or other creatures who might catch sight of them.

On the other hand, I like to believe that Nature thinks sex—whether it be the product of love and affection, or instinctual urge, or conscious choice—is good and blessed and worthy of celebration, or is at the very least nothing deserving shame or judgment. It would be nice if humans could, at least once in a while, embrace Nature’s perspective on such matters.

Postscript: Adam just sent me this photo he took last year at Castaway Point Park of some manatees caught in flagrante delicto. Lovely!


Categories: Animals, Sex and Sexuality | 3 Comments

Return of the Storks

The change of seasons brings a number of different birds to Florida. My favorite of these seasonal visitors is the Mycteria americana, the still-endangered Wood Stork. They live year-round in South America, and come to central Florida to breed. Winter is our dry season, and its prey (fish and frogs and crabs and such) become concentrated in the shrinking pools.

It catches them in a unique way: by feel. They wade patiently through muddy water with its beak submerged and partially open, and when they feel a fish touch their bill, they instantly snap it shut and the poor creature is history. The closing of a Wood Stork’s beak is supposedly one of the swiftest moves in the animal world.

The stork is one seriously Big Bird. Continue reading

Categories: Birds, Life in Florida | 6 Comments

The Edge of a Storm

I am not a particularly heavy sleeper. You could say I sleep like a dog, or a wolf; that is, with one ear nearly always awake, ready to pull the rest of me to alertness should the need arise. That came in handy, of course, during the years Mom was sick. We had a baby monitor in her room so I could hear her calls (or falls) in the night. But even before I became her caregiver, I would wake frequently in the night to turn over or occasionally pee (the curse of middle age), usually falling back to sleep quickly.

But this habit also means I tend to remember my dreams more easily than other people, because I, like others whose brains are similarly hardwired, go through life with a brain wave pattern significantly slower than most people (Alpha rather than the normal Beta); I’m closer to the dream state when I’m waking, and I slip into the trance or deeply meditative state (Theta) more easily. I assume that I sleep closer to Theta, whereas most people go from Delta (complete unconsciousness) to Beta (which is found in both normal REM sleep, when dreaming usually occurs, and states of extreme alertness) and back again, making dream recollection a bit more problematic.

Two nights ago I went through a rather bad patch. I encountered some familial stressors—something to do with Mom’s will and probate—and I was suddenly a young boy unable to cope. It was not so much the specter of death, or the anxiety and sadness over loss, but rather that all the months and years of exhaustion came rushing back. I found myself, once I had gotten off the phone, weeping uncontrollably, making animal noises and wailing like a professional mourner in the Middle East. When there were words, it was “Leave me ’lone!” and “Go ’way!” as if I were a battered child afraid of more abuse. It was the strangest bit of grieving I have ever experienced. I went to bed utterly spent, and woke up much saner.

Then last night, a very odd little dream. Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Brain, Death, Dreams, Family | 1 Comment

Poetry’s Power

I mentioned on Facebook that poetry saved my life. Adam and I were discussing Gerard Manley Hopkins (Adam had written a few lines of poetry that I thought played with language, particularly in describing Nature, the way Hopkins did, particularly in his famous “Pied Beauty“).

I was a somewhat moody child, but it wasn’t until college that I had my first major depressive episode. It’s the time schizophrenia starts manifesting in some people; I guess the brain goes through changes in chemistry at that point in life. At any rate, I had never experienced the sort of smothering bleakness which William Styron would later write about so articulately in his powerful memoir Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, and in the winter of my junior year, I had a full mental and emotional breakdown. Most days found me hiding from friends in my dorm room, crying in a fetal position on my bed, sneaking out only after dark to get some food. Continue reading

Categories: Brain, Depression, Great Quotes, Nature, Spirituality | 4 Comments

Change of Seasons

You know it’s fall when the Gala apples are better than sex and the cinnamon brooms are back in stock at the grocery store. Now, it’s important to have such cues here in Florida because we generally don’t get autumn temperatures until January, and then only for a month or so. Maybe the last week in December, but I can recall a number of Christmases spent around my brother’s pool, sweltering and unhappy.

Mom and I loved autumn best of the seasons. Perhaps it was because the cool, dry air felt so invigorating and freeing; perhaps it was because we were born less than a month apart at this time of year.

Today I told Tanya, the young woman who cuts my hair and used to cut Mom’s, that we had lost her. She began to cry. “I really loved her,” she said. Continue reading

Categories: Death, Great Quotes, Life in Florida, Nature | 4 Comments

Day Two

Yesterday was Day One in several significant ways. The Great Funeral Trip is done, and Mom is resting with Dad in Maryland. Now I have an empty house with all the chaos from the previous weeks still in evidence, and little time to make any sense of it since I have a bunch of work deadlines this week, not to mention Mom’s famous rum cake and my infamous CraigNog to make for the family Thanksgiving gathering.

I’m still at that stage where everything reminds me of Mom, or I say, “Mom would really love that,” or I turn to talk to her but see only a vacant chair or bed. I’m not sad or lonely, exactly, but I’m keenly feeling the lack of her physical presence.

At the same time, I feel a sudden push forward, the motivation and power to make some changes in my life that I have wished for or even attempted (and failed at) in the past. One, as I mentioned recently, is my trying to excise bread and other things made with flour from my diet. It ain’t easy. Wheat has opioids — opium-like substances that influence the brain’s endorphin receptors. These opioid peptides are physically addictive and cause asthma, obesity, and (as might be expected from a substance chemically similar to morphine) apathy.

It turns out that plants use different tactics to scare off attackers. Some plants contain poison; others just anesthetize their attackers, as wheat does with opioid peptides. Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Body and Mind, Death, Food and Diet, Shamanism | 7 Comments

A Decent Funeral

Lots of family and family-of-family; a couple of neighbors; a few very dear friends of mine; a few family friends of my brothers. Flowers were tasteful, but (in keeping with my mother’s wish, who always said, “If they didn’t care enough to send me flowers when I was alive, I sure as heck don’t want them after I’m dead and can’t appreciate them!”) not overabundant.

The embalmer did as good a job as humanly possible, but she still looked nothing like herself. Which was just fine: that simply wasn’t her, there in that casket. I put a few items into the casket that she wanted to be buried with — a stuffed polar bear, a photo, a birthday card my niece had already bought her — and brought her wedding ring, which she wanted to be buried with. I thought it would be no big deal getting the ring on, but her hands were nicely locked together, so it was as if she were being particularly obstreperous when I was struggling with them. Once the ring was on, her hands wouldn’t go back together properly — one arm kept flopping to her side after a few moments, which was both ghastly and hysterically funny. It was a Chuckles the Clown moment for those of us standing around the casket.

Continue reading

Categories: Death, Family, Healing, Nature, Spirituality | 4 Comments

Lights out? Experts fear fireflies are dwindling

When I was a kid, summer was all about lightning bugs. Well, that and playing outside until 9:30 p.m. Summer days in the Washington, D.C. area was mostly miserable—one writer compared summer in Washington like stepping into the breath of a very large, very hot, dog—but summer nights were really delightful. Little lights blinking on and off, the bugs themselves just trying to find dates for the evening . . . it was rather magical.

I started noticing their decline in the early 1980s, but the ’90s made me start despairing. Was it pollution? Overuse of pesticides? It didn’t matter; one by one, the tiny stars were going out.

MSNBC published the following story today: Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Environment | 2 Comments

Poor Bears

The news is depressing, I’m afraid. A twelve-year-old girl was out walking her dog on a farm near the town of Sauðárkrókur, on the Skaga fjord in Iceland, when she spotted a polar bear.

There are, however, no polar bears in Iceland. The only place the bear could have come from was Greenland, about 300 miles away. And the only way it could have arrived was atop an ice floe.

The girl alerted the authorities. A group of journalists gathered. And last Tuesday, police were “forced” to shoot the bear, saying that it was “threatening the public.” They said the bear charged a group of reporters “in a panic,” that they had “no other choice” but to kill it.

I don’t mean to be snarky with the quotation marks. It’s just that this was the second polar bear to be shot and killed in Iceland in as many weeks. With the first bear, an officer said no drugs were available to sedate it, so he consulted with the minister of the environment, who gave permission for police marksmen to kill the bear. But a veterinarian says that he himself had the drugs available in his car. He also criticized police for not closing a mountain road where people congregated after hearing news of the polar bear.

After many protests from environmentalists and animal rights groups, authorities had vowed to capture the second bear and have it shipped in a cage back to Greenland or give it to a zoo. The chief veterinarian from the Copenhagen zoo had been flown in late Tuesday to help. He named the bear Ofeig, whose name translates roughly as “he who should not die.” Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Environment, Nature | 1 Comment

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