Monday, October 24, 2016


I’ve been in Louisiana for a week now, and I miss the sight of birds dipping in the bird bath in the front yard at Sewanee, Tennessee where I live part of the year. The bird bath in the backyard here in New Iberia has been upended because mosquitoes were laying eggs in the water.

Shortly before I left Sewanee, we experienced a crucifixion of birds, a bird kill that occurred when more than 130 birds died after flying into the Sewanee War Memorial Cross and surrounding trees. A cold front moved through the area during that night, and nocturnal birds, flying lower than usual, were attracted to and became disoriented by the lights on the cross. Investigators said that migrating birds use earth’s magnetic field to help them navigate, and artificial light confuses them. The result was the massive bird kill.

Kevin Cummings, staff writer at The Messenger (Sewanee’s “newspaper of note”), reported that after the birds died, Sewanee’s Plant Services changed the two lights at the cross, lowering the 2,000 watt bulbs to 400 watt bulbs. Cummings also reported that in the past, bird deaths had occurred on foggy nights, but the number of deaths hadn’t exceeded six or seven. In nearby Beersheba, forty-five minutes away at the Assembly United Methodist retreat center, 80 birds died the same night as the bird kill at the Sewanee cross. Migrating birds, if they’re flying low, are also drawn to brightly-lit windows of homes, but no mention was made of bird kills at residences.

As I write, I see Dr. Sullivan, our bird bath tender, turning over the bowl of the upended bird bath after she has filled a large red pot with purified water to carry to the bath in anticipation of our feathered friends. However, a huge pile of ants, uncovered and now beside the bowl in the barren yard, may discourage bird visitors; it’s amazing how quickly nature takes over when house and yard are vacated for six months of a year. I expect the crows to return as they seem to know when I arrive and camp out in the trees next door, usually to bring me messages of good will. They were present at my leave taking from Sewanee, and I’m foolish enough, or superstitious enough, to think they follow me. Blue jays also hover around the house here; one year, a pet jay arrived and sat for months on a window sill, looking in and sometimes tapping on the window pane to attract attention. Both species think that I can interpret their songs and tapping, but I only sense their good will.

One book of my poetry entitled Soaring contains several crow poems; this snippet entitled “More Crow Calls:”

Hearing a party of crows
almost daily now,
black warriors raucous in tree tops,
we become them, seeking seed
lodged in yellow grass,
churlish crows squeaking combat
while trying to imitate doves,
delighting the soul like no other bird.
Ravens jeer at open territory,
lift us above downdrafts
to sit in the arches of oaks…
laugh at the wind.

We bird watch,
birds watch us.
Vigilant crows
watch for their day to rule,
seeing straight through to within:
the evolution of human soaring.
How we claim ascent,
tree top, free fall
while sitting at a table,
lying in bed
waking before daybreak,
wings beating wildly.

P.S. A mockingbird just landed on the empty pedestal.

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