Mid-Winter’s Pause for the Quiet Beauty of Birds

The bird sitting atop my husband Roger’s cap was a Florida scrub jay, an endemic endangered species; see—he wears multiple leg bands. A rare encounter it was those fifteen or so seconds fifteen years ago. The memory persists of that blue wonder.

The following poem and those that follow are taken from my 2007 chapbook, Dawn of Migration and Other Audubon Dreams. (Link below.)

Blue Wonder

Breed, Breeding

Scrub jay—lustrous—in scrubby

flatwoods plucks winter seeds.

These are mating days.

Bird First

Rara avis of rare blue

Against rare gray, becoming rarer.

I am stunned.

Fashion by Scrub Jay

Aphelocoma coerulescen

threatened, banded, counted—

feathering his cap.

          ~~~

Stalking Revenge on the Tamiami Trail

I’ll stick with Florida for a spell, wishing the birds could wing some warmth to all who shiver.

This elegant bird is the great egret with its black legs and feet as opposed to the smaller snowy egrets, tho’ also white, have black legs that end in bright yellow “sneakers.” High tops! The great white is common here but can range up the eastern seaboard to Massachusetts in summer.

Here’s an egret poem for you. The Tamiami Trail is the original route from Miami to Tampa, cutting westward from the Atlantic coast, across the Florida Everglades, a road hacked out of the soggy wilderness. The US 41 route turns northward at Naples on the west coast and pokes its way north to Tampa. Most people that I-75, with its iconic “Alligator Alley” between the cities. It tidily parallels the older highway.

Stalking Revenge on the Tamiami Trail

This poem keeps its clawed feet

on the ground, more silt than soil.

They are the caution-yellow feet

of a snowy egret with all six toes

submerged and distorted by refraction

through an inch of clear, if toxic, water.

This poem balances on its edge of Earth

with the black-lacquered stilts

of an intensive, dedicated wader; it crooks

low to wield a sharp black sword. How

quick the thrust and strike to angle prey.

While this poem senses it could loft on

weightless white wings – could be a seraph

of the early dew – and fly into a remnant

pond apple tree, instead it waits, still, stiller,

to feed. On mosquito fish? Young Florida gar?

An exotic, invasive tilapia? No. This poem

claims a more voracious, eclectic appetite. 

Up to its ankles in a shallow Everglades

slough, it takes its studied stand

on one foot now, poised, focused,

watching for you to swim by.

                              ~~~

Please, pause for the pink of spoonbills.

Refuge

          On the day of the thirty-three

          dabbling roseate spoonbills

one white ibis and I

          shouldered in the lower limbs

of the red mangroves

          to await the rising brown

tide bring the water-borne

          swirl and eddy of noonlight

and sustenance of time

          to place the heart upon.

~~~

I’m a snowbird. I migrate like waves of avians do south before winter, north in spring; it’s been the rhythm of my years now for twenty-three seasons. I see these fractals in the sky the birds make, sensing their urge.

The black-and-white photo is of Canadian geese, heading south from Lake Ontario in Kent, NY, where Roger and I lived for nineteen years. Does anyone not know a Canada goose if you’re east of the Mississippi? The white-on-blue birds are white pelicans, which possess the second longest wingspan in North America. (The California condors take top honors.)

I tip my hat to Branta canadensis in the poem below, but the white pelicans are included in chapbook.

Dawn of Migration

golden groundfog grown molten

in strong slant of sunlight

millions of particles     moisture

air liquid     trees dampened

emerging as from under water

north of the road     some fields already

tumbled into clods     thick brown

others awaiting harvest     corn

yet marching toward

the brow of northern horizons

foreshortened by tassels

embraced in mist

it’s Beaufort scale 0     calm

winds less than 1 mile per hour

smoke rises vertically

as does groundfog     as does mist

in September calm     a moment’s reprieve

in the farmed land

on such a morning     geese arrive

clamorous to browse the stubble

staying only long enough     to glean

a second parcel     staying until

bare trees wave them away

First published in Dawn of Migration and Other Aububon Dreams by Karla Linn Merrifield, RochesterInk Publications in cooperation with the Genesee Valley Audubon Society, 2007; reprinted in Wilderness House Literary Review, Spring 2012.

~~~ 

We alight now in the Galapagos Islands, with its Galapagos flamingo (akin to Chilean flamingos) and the Galapagos penguin, both endemic species, fortunate to encounter both on Roger’s and my first (of twelve) expeditions with Lindblad. Yes, I saw tortoises of many island-specific gene pools, same for the legendary varied finches that opened Darwin’s eyes. I could see first-hand what flipped that light switch.

Below is an excerpt from a much longer poem titled “I Dream of Darwin,” which I wrote while I was traveling there and was first in The Centrifugal Eye, November 2007; later reprinted in the Fifth Anniversary Anthology of The Centrifugal Eye, 2012. Of course, it’s also in Dawn of Migration.

Go, flamingos! Sorry, penguin, I’m still shivering from snorkeling with you in the frigid Humboldt Current!

I Dream of Darwin, Pt. I.

Attention, time traveler,

You have been naturally selected

for this original voyage.

Recline your seat into a primal

position:  mutable,

unstable as any other species.

Unfasten your seatbelt of restraining

piety.  Prepare to meet thy remaking

with blue-footed boobies alongside.

My breath is a passport of admission; my blood,

warm as it is, pulses into December; my heart

plunges into the confluence of five wild currents.

I fly me to the Equator off Ecuador, one of the last

six billion of the Hominidae,  catapulting toward

flightless cormorants, readying to land.

I prepare also to get down

on all my fours with marine lizards, and slip

into Earth’s embryonic waters, rebirthed.

Now I lay me down upon volcanic rock,

lash-licked by Pacific waves, in the crucible,

sun- and salt-bathed among sea lions and seals.

I get me to that fabled archipelago

of isolations for finches to convene with

pink flamingos in hidden lagoons. 

                    ~~~ 

Perhaps the most alluring bird we encountered in the Galapagos was the remarkably attired blue-footed booby. Blue feet!  Yes! And we happened to see them at the height of the mating season, with males crooning to their mates and performing a charming and at moments comical dance for their feathered sweeties. Hence…

Mating Ritual of the Clucking Sula nebouxii     {read from book}

twig     twig     take the twig

good saltbush     dry saltbush

my lovely blue-footed cutie

looky here     here     dearie

this perfect smooth pebble

of pahoehoe lava     pure     uncut stuff

baby     baby     aren’t you no

a pretty feathered one     yes     kiss

kiss     beak top to big point beak tip

why     you simply lift my wings sweetie

I’m wingin’ it     wingin’ it     see     see

you wing me too     onetwoonetwo

verily     heart of my birdy heart

you life my webby feet     you do

you do     just get in step darlin’

get down     get down this Galapagos

afternoon and stomp     stomp

stompstompstomp these crusty rocks     

kick up some dust honeygal

let’s do the dance     dance

do it dolly     twine your neck with mine

my true blue-footed beauty

make with me     let’s make

booby whoopee

this fine Española day

Love those booby feet, but I’ve long been fascinated by the feet of birds—the power of their grip, the webbing (or lack thereof), the claws! No wonder they ended up the focus of a poem that was published in my 2022 book, The Urn (link below), dedicated to Roger as a kind of pre-elegy as we first confronted his diagnosis with a terminal illness.

At the Feet of Birds

I envy webbed feet of pelican,

anhinga, double-crested cormorant,

one on the cedar pylon

of a derelict wharf,

two on low telephone wires.

They grasp the hurricane’s

sweeping truth

and let go when it’s time.

I envy the long-toed feet

of all egrets and herons and ibis

to walk on water lilies,

to curl nimble digits over

an edge of limestone,

sink ankle deep in mudflat muck.

They grasp the tidal mandate to

obey life’s ebb and flow

and let go when it’s time.

I envy the taloned among them:

red-shouldered hawk, bald eagle,

osprey, and swallow-tail kite,

lording over the Earth from above

mangrove islands, sloughs of

pond apples, the River of Grass.

With a parliament of owls,

they grasp the eternal law

and let go when it’s time.

In my envy, I wish to possess

the power of Everglades birds

to hold on. I wish to become

a roseate spoonbill and learn

how to grasp life firmly,

then let go when it’s time.

~~~

 

And with this image of a brown pelican silhouette over the Gulf of Mexico, I will wing off into the sunset until next time. I hope this pause for avian beauty in image and poetry will refresh you…buoy your spirits…and help you fly toward the next horizon called Spring.

Scroll down to locate The Dawn of Migration.
The Urn

4 thoughts on “Mid-Winter’s Pause for the Quiet Beauty of Birds

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