My daughter hates birds. Except for Tippi Hedren after being cooped up for months on a shoot with spooky Alfred Hitchcock, I don’t understand someone taking such a dislike to birds. “It’s their knees,” she says. “They bend backwards. Gross.”
I, on the other hand, am intrigued by any creature that effortlessly runs, swims, or flies. It seems you never see a gazelle with arthritic knees or a klutzy sunfish or an eagle with a fear of heights. Gracefulness, that ability to move seamlessly through one’s environment, simply amazes me.
Oh, I’ll admit nature can be a pain. For weeks I entertained murderous thoughts about a woodpecker that enjoyed early morning jackhammering on the wall by my bed. A friend suggested that I place fake snakes on the side of the house to scare off the woodpecker, a trick similar to mounting phony owls on the runways of airports. But I didn’t think nailing rubber reptiles to the wood siding was going to enhance my property value.
And I have been known, while camping, to shout for a gun in the middle of the night as I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag, finding every rock on the ground, while a whippoorwill in a nearby tree called and called and called.
Yet despite these nuisances, I keep seeking nature out. Since moving from North Carolina to Minnesota, I have taken to the trails that crisscross the prairie. I never tire of seeing the white egret standing on the edge of the pond. And if the Canada geese are noisy so are the airplanes.
One of my first weekend trips after I arrived was to the Mississippi River where on an island there was a colony of great blue heron or as we birding insiders call them: GBHs. GBHs are cool creatures, winging overhead their long legs dangling behind them, but they are something else playing house in gargantuan nests atop the cottonwoods. A naturalist told me that every year they count the GBHs in Minnesota. It is not a job for the timid. The census takers wear goggles and rain gear because apparently the GBHs do not take kindly to being counted and express their displeasure by either pecking or vomiting on the GBH counter.
My husband, who was raised in Minnesota, has childhood memories of loons on crystal lakes. Even though we live in suburbia, he has two pairs of binoculars at the ready at all times. This is not as crazy as it sounds. When visiting Connemara, the North Carolina mountain home of Carl Sandburg, I noticed a pair of binoculars on the dining room table. There was a line of bird feeders outside the dining room windows. Apparently, it was not unusual for Carl to throw down his grilled cheese in the middle of lunch, grab the spyglasses, and scope out the hummingbirds.
Of course, it does not do to become too attached to anything in nature. Easy come, easy go is the natural law. Once I was watching a little boy tossing stale bread to some ducks in a small lake in North Carolina. It was spring, and the cuddly, fuzzy baby ducks simply melted your heart. We were laughing at the ducks’ antics when a big turtle rose out of the water and snapped off the head of one of the baby ducks. The traumatized child ran screaming to his mother. Suddenly, I wanted my mother, too.
After reading any news on the Timberwolves (the basketball team, not the critters) and the latest terrorist attacks, I usually turn to the Variety section of the paper. There in the “Did You Know?” column is all kinds of useful information. Sometimes even stuff about birds. One morning after reading the paper, I had to call my daughter. I’d just read that those knobs on the long, pencil-thin legs of flamingos were not knees. They were ankles. The knees of flamingos are actually hidden under their feathers.
“So, what you’re saying is this bird has ankles half way up its legs,” my daughter said. “That’s still gross.”