Monday, April 6, 2009
Watching for Birds
By Augusta Scattergood
Lately, I’ve been thinking alot about birds. And not merely as a diversion from writing, though as a time waster, it’s a good one. In Florida we are surrounded by new-to-me birds. Not just your ocean-variety gulls. But all manner of water birds, and even an escaped band of very loud green parakeets that flock to a neighborhood tree. Birds are best when observed soaring in the clouds like the hawks from my friend Lee’s living room window in Austin, Texas. Or diving for fish like the pelicans congregating on the piers near our house.
But sometimes, you can’t resist the stories birds tell. Or at least, telling a bird story or two.
We were living in New Jersey, in a quiet borough (yes, they actually call little towns “boroughs” there), and it was late and dark. When I looked down from my upstairs bedroom window, I saw a police car in front of my neighbor’s house, lights flashing.
This was worrisome. She had three little babies and a husband who worked late hours in Manhattan. So my husband and I did the neighborly thing. We rushed right over to see if we could help.
Before we even knocked on their door—it was way too late for a doorbell’s buzz—two local policemen paraded out of the front door hauling a huge dog crate between them, balanced on two broomsticks. Although my neighbor had a big, friendly Lab, there was no dog inside this crate. Instead, a very fierce, very angry wild turkey attempted to claw his way out of his prison, all the way down the sidewalk. Carried by two borough policemen.
In a little town a mere train ride away from New York, a wild turkey had managed to bust into a suburban kitchen when the dog went out of the door. And frighten my poor neighbor enough to call 911. The damage done to the kitchen cabinets by Mr. Turkey was extensive. When another neighbor showed up the next morning with a bottle of Wild Turkey, the victim was not amused.
Why am I remembering this story? I now live on a canal in central Florida where I frequently watch birds to pass an afternoon not writing. Although I hope to work an anhinga or a diving pelican into an essay or story soon, so far it’s not happening. But yesterday a great blue heron stood two feet from my back door—always open to the breezes—and he stared at us.
A heron has a large, sharp beak. My heart sped up and for a moment I was tempted to reach for the phone and dial 911 before I remembered: He is not a wild turkey. He is not about to peck my kitchen cabinets to pieces. Then the heron flew his graceful flight across the canal, to the safety of the sea grapes.
And I tried to take it all in. To look at that bird standing petting-distance away. To look at it like a writer.
Kate DiCamillo began one of my favorite books, Because of Winn-Dixie, her award-winning children’s novel, inside a grocery store. When writing about what it takes to be a writer, she says we need to learn how to look:
The world, under the microscope of your attention, opens up like a beautiful, strange flower and gives itself back to you in ways you could never imagine.
I’m working hard on learning how to see things like a writer, to notice details and wonder about the story. As long as it’s herons at my back door or hawks soaring outside my friend's window-- and not wild turkeys forcing their way into my kitchen-- I’ll watch and wonder, giving them my full attention, till they fly away.
Augusta Scattergood is a freelance writer and book reviewer who, from her early college days, has been a rabid Carolina Tarheels basketball fan. Visit her blog at http://ascattergood.blogspot.com/