Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Morning for the Birds

Today is the younger kids' last day of school, so the house is still quiet.  The eldest son is here, and his best friend spent the night.  But they're still sleeping, undoubtedly getting some deserved rest after staying up half the night battling each other in some virtual contest of hand-eye coordination.  So I sat at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper, listening to NPR, but the calm was disturbed by a ruckus outside.  The birds were going crazy.

I took my coffee cup and a copy of Simone Weil out to the deck to investigate.  It was just a perfect morning.  The sunlight came filtered through the heavy green canopy of leaves that constitutes the natural ceiling of our back yard.  This time of year you can't even see the houses across the gully because the foliage is so thick.  It feels like we're on our own little island of greenery nestled away in a perfectly peaceful corner of the world.  But what's with the birds this morning?

There were these robins squawking off their beaks, jumping around from branch to branch.  I first thought it must be some elaborate and aggressive mating ritual, but the robins didn't seem to be directing their avian angst at each other.  Instead, they seemed to be organized and coordinated with each other.  Then I saw it--the gravitational force around which these flitting birds seemed to orbit.  There was a big owl perched on a low branch, seemingly oblivious to the concerns of his harping little cousins.

My paternal grandmother had a fascination with owls.  She had a huge collection of owl likenesses in porcelain, wax, and even those shag carpet looped mats that were all the rage in the 70s (what were those called?).  As a kid, I always thought the fake owls were slightly spooky.  But now sitting 20 feet away from the real thing, I couldn't look away.  This wise and majestic bird commanded my attention just like it did the robins'.  But I wished that they would leave him alone so he wouldn't be chased away from my view.  What had he done to them?

A quick check in my handy Birds of Indiana book that my family got me awhile back for just such occasions, revealed that this was a barred owl.  It grows to about 24 inches tall and feeds on small mammals and birds.  Now my sympathies were changing.  Perhaps he wasn't so innocent after all.  I've seen a few broken blue eggs on the ground lately, so undoubtedly there are broods of robins nested up in the trees.  The frantic activity of their parents took on a different feel for me.

Why do we tend to root for the animals in the middle of the food chain?  I mean these robins have eaten their fair share of worms and bugs.  We don't really feel sorry for those lower critters.  But now when this large taloned predator is thinking about baby robins for brunch (and their parents go into frenzied protection mode), he drops several notches on our scale of lovability.

Nature is a pretty brutal place.  I suspect that if we could peel back the layers of the pretty greenery in my back yard, the circle of life and death would be pretty astonishing.  And of course we're part of it.  In our comfortable suburban homes we're largely oblivious to the number of things that must die so we can live.

Such a line of thinking can quickly throw a very pleasant morning to the birds.

1 comment:

hoosier reborn said...

Very cool Jim. That type of up-close view is pretty rare.