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?