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by Tom Thomson
An Eternal Becoming
There is an improbability about birds, not that they fly, but that they seem to exist in a world apart from our own.
I'm sure that Annie Dillard was also thinking about birds when she said, "The great hurrah about wild animals is that they exist at all, and the greater hurrah is the actual moment of seeing them."
She goes on to speak of their wariness and what a prize it is to behold them. That goes double for birds because of their ability to fly away when we most want them to stay. Oh, birds have wings all right and for some birds that gift makes the world their oyster. Many of our spring migrants spend the winter in the neotropics, exotic places like the Bahamas and Trinidad and Venezuela and beyond;.black-bellied plovers that nest above the Arctic circle travel as far away as the coast of Chili. Nighthawks and upland sandpipers spend their winters on the pampas of Argentina. That's tourism on a grand scale.
A scientist of the old school might say that these peregrinations really aren't made from free choice, that bird behavior is mechanistic, that they are captives of their own genetic makeup. That is undoubtedly partly true but when I look at the rush hour traffic on a freeway, I wonder who's kidding who.
All birds aren't world-class travelers. Some of them stay at home, others make journeys of a more modest kind, say from Ohio to the hills of Tennessee, or the pine barrens of northern Alabama, or just to somebody else's backyard. Blue jays, robins and downy woodpeckers, for instance.
The greater triumph of birds might be that they exist in a world of fast-motion with sensory perceptions that are beyond our conception, a place where life is lived in a fast lane that we can only imagine.
No matter. One of the nice things about the study of birds is that we can bring our own personal interpretations and feelings to the subject. For me, there are many such threads and one of them is that birds are the perfect eternel devenir, an eternal becoming, an abstract link between ourselves and the natural world, embracing the past, the present, and the future. I hear the same mournful sighing of the mourning dove that John Audubon heard along the Ohio River. It is the same sound I heard as a young boy, hear now and, hopefully, it is a sound that will caress the ears of posterity for many years to come.
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