How to see dinosaurs.

Last week, I spent a lot of time watching Floridians. There were a fair number of geezers in golfing shirts and slow-moving Cadillacs, but the most interesting creatures by far were the birds. Limpkins, buntings, grackles, curlews, grebes, plovers, loons and whipoorwills.

I love watching birds, even in New York where you mainly run across grayer species likes sparrows and pigeons. The park across the street is home to doves, starlings and the occasional woodpecker but the most exciting are the red-tailed hawks who nest on the top floor of the NYU library. They hunt in the morning and at dusk, usually pigeons, squirrels and rats, but rumor has it they show up with the occasional tabby. I always used to worry they’d snatch our miniature dachshunds and try to fly off with them while I gripped the leash like a kite string.

In Florida, we saw loads of brown pelicans plunging into the Gulf (apparently by the time they are 8- or 9-years-old, all this plunging gives them cataracts). We saw majestic Great Blue Herons, nearly wiped out a century ago by hunters after their plumage for ladies’ hats. One evening a burrowing owl showed up on our street, its head and huge eyes swiveling with amazement at the sight of us. We heard and tracked down a mockingbird in a bottlebrush tree and listened to her cycle through a long repertoire of songs. Two geese would buzz us every single morning, their wings humming like jet engines, hellbent to whoknowswhere. On a boat trip we saw three adolescent ospreys nesting atop a wooden sign that alerted boats manatees were nearby.

There were several families of ducks that lived in the canal by our dock and each morning the drakes would glide forth, followed by hens towing a long line of ducklings. Every so often, a competing drake would show up and be met with much quacking and frenzied beating of wings. Some starlings lived in a nearby palm and each day one particularly nasty raven would show up to harass them. The two clans screamed and clashed in the sky until one retreated till the next round, the next day.

These snarling, clawing skirmishes reminded me of King Kong and Godzilla, and that, in the end, birds are just …. dinosaurs. There’s no longer much doubt about it. Dinosaurs didn’t disappear — they grew beaks and feathers and started shitting on cars.

I first absorbed this idea about three years ago and it has made birdwatching all the more fascinating. Look at how a crow walks and you can see those velociraptors lurching through the lab at the end of Jurassic Park. Look at a starling’s cold round eyes, a pigeon’s scaly feet, the anatomy of a pelican’s bill. They are weird and different and ancient. Those are dinosaurs pecking at a dirty scrap of bagel in the gutter. Dinosaurs lined up on the top of Washington Square arch. Dinosaurs breaded and fried in my lunchtime sandwich.

Who needs a time machine? Just look out the window.

Sometimes your world view can be flipped like a light switch. One word, one image can jar your perspective in a way that can’t be unseen. Your spouse becomes paraplegic — black to white. The doctor says ‘Cancer’ — white to black. Election results. A plane hits a building. Let’s call this urinal, this soup can “art”. A beautiful face across a crowded room.

What if you look in the mirror one day and see “my grandmother.” “A fat man.” ” An athlete.” “A dinosaur”… What then?

Or, what if you decide you see “a hero”? “A pioneer”? “A warrior”? “A rock star”? An artist”?

What is the one word could you apply to yourself that could change it all?

18 thoughts on “How to see dinosaurs.”

  1. Well, it may sound very fluffy and shallow, but yesterday my husband told me I was beautiful, completely out of the blue as we were walking along. It sounds the sort of thing a husband would say to get you to agree to him buying a new racy car…or to persuade you it is ok for him to go fishing on your birthday or something….but mine doesn’t really use adjectives in any situation. So I believe he really thought it in that moment. And having thought I was a particularly haggard looking 57 year old and feeling I had become one of those invisible post menopausal women who no longer work and have gone to seed…it was the most wonderful thing. So I decided to embrace his moment of creativity and smiled for all the rest of the day and felt what he had called me…at least inside 😃
    (Ps…of course it is likely that he is after my money 🤣🤣 I had just been to the bank)

    Liked by 8 people

    1. You are beautiful and I don’t even know you! Somehow you have made it to 57!. How wonderful for you. Some have not.Your comment really resonated with me. I am 60 and so embracing all of it. Finally feeling like I really know me and not caring about how others may judge me. At our age we have so much wisdom and life experience and so much growth!! I feel so free in my painting as well. Your husband said you are beautiful because he knows all of you, inside and out. It came from his heart.

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    2. “Invisibility” is a good way to describe this season of life, but how wonderful to be seen by the one we love. I hope you carry that with you always!

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  2. Birds as dinosaurs! I appreciate and aspire, Danny, to the breadth and depth of your seeing. Won’t see our feathered creatures quite the same way from here on out, thanks to you. (and Caroline, anything that goes to seed by definition has life and growth and future ahead. You might enjoy Mary Pipher’s Women Rowing North…that woman’s got it goin’ on, on the cusp of 70yo.)

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  3. Marco island is a great place to unwind. But I don’t know that I ever really thought about birds and dinosaurs… but certainly if I think about large, old birds like pelicans and ostriches and albatrosses… I should have. Thanks for the reminder.

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  4. Dino Bob was considered a heretic when he posited that dinos moved like birds, but he was proven right. And my son’s generation has grown up without the image of dinosaurs as slow-moving lizards, so respected the tiny green-and-electric-blue Celestial Parrotlet who lived with us as the being of ancient descent that this bird KNEW himself to be.

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  5. About 10 years ago, we were craving eggs so we bought six chicks at the Tractor Supply Store to raise. At about six weeks old–before they were old enough to go outside but after they’d got too big for the laundry basket they knew as their first home–my husband called me down to the basement. “LOOK! DINOSAURS!” It was true. We had a half-dozen little T-Rexes scrambling about in the basement. Since then, I see dinosaurs everywhere. Wild Turkeys, Road Runners, the infamous Cassowary recently in the news. Straight out of the Mesozoic, all. I love that you have the wherewithal to notice what you noticed, Danny. And to connect it to your art. That’s why your blog is one of my favorites. Thank you!

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  6. Read all the comments and then forgot the original question and had to scroll back up. You have to forgive me. I am on the cusp of 80. (and live in central Florida all winter with the dinosaurs and flowers and palms). My word is “attentive”. Mary Oliver says “the soul exists and it’s built entirely out of attentiveness.” I have a book for Danny to read and blog about. A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. Edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick.
    You always set me to thinking.

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