I’ve had some troubling experiences in my life. Particularly with the avian community.
Sometime near the age of 12, a blue heron-looking bird with beady red eyes chased me in circles around an indoor rainforest exhibit. I hustle-walked round and round, losing my mind with fear of being pecked to death, until my brothers finally figured out how to chase it, at which point I ran for the exit to recover from what is still a traumatic memory.
During early childhood, a peacock scared the pee out of me in simply being its ostentatious, sexually forward self. To this day, I don’t understand why they let those things roam free. Anything whose body can suddenly burst open should be kept at a considerable distance from nervous blondes. Preferably behind plate glass. And hidden behind a curtain.
There were also some disagreeable geese outside a library in Colorado that used their necks as lunging devices and no I did not find this charming and no I’m not over it.
So me and birds, I wouldn’t exactly say we’re of a feather.
But our relationship has taken some flight in recent years, and I’m proud of us for the connection we’ve been able to foster. (Mostly I’ve done the difficult emotional work in this area, but I try not to hold that against them, as they probably can’t afford insurance for their own therapy).
Maybe they are working on their treatment of me, because this past summer I saw some peacocks and they seemed to reserve their shows of mating for the peahens instead of me. Also I frequently see some crows or wrens gathering on a wire that overlooks the Pollo Loco (where I presume they hold vigil for their chicken cousins who have gone before), so there is a chance that between bits of gossip they have decided to ease up on my jumpy self.
Because, if I’m being honest, birds have actually served me in incredible ways.
There was Martin and Katerina, the pair of mallards who wandered the Lutheran seminary where my family lived during my high school years. They decided to nest their family of eggs outside our front door, where Dad set out water for Katie and affectionately greeted her with his standard “Duckduckduckduckduck” speak. He’s a very intelligent man; he just, like me, melts into a state of incoherency when adorable, vulnerable creatures are present.
Those birds’ selection of lodging made me feel special, like I came from a hospitable tribe worth choosing.
There were the chickens at the Noah’s Ark petting zoo station at Vacation Bible School. They were placed in my palms and I held them close to my belly, where they sat calmly, like contented cats. Those fluffy babies kept their talons tucked and restored confidence in me after encountering some less-sociable animals that morning.
And there were the flamingos at the Manhattan(, Kansas) zoo this past summer, who truly lifted me out of a depressed funk within moments of crossing my vision. I hoisted my nephew on my back for a better look, and after he scrambled down toward the playground, I lingered and marveled at the ability of these pink balancers to restore balance to my day.
Last night I was rustled in my dark bedroom by the honking of passing geese. I immediately fell to worry, thinking their cacophony was arriving at an unorthodox hour. I wondered if they were OK or if they were sending the humans some warning message about something being off in nature.
“There’s fog, and we’re lost! You’re lost! We’re all lost!” I imagined them shouting.
My paranoia was soon overtaken by fatigue, and I joined Max in his state of slumber, him atop the mountain of blankets that covered me, his feline body a paperweight for mine.
Perhaps the geese were just complaining about the recent chill that snuck up on Los Angeles, inviting other geese to join on their red eye flight to Peru.
Maybe their call laced around the cat's dreams, the fowl kind being, I assume, his favorite type.
Maybe they were just saying Hello.
Anne Lamott says something along the lines of if there were one thing to convince her of the existence of God, birds would be enough.
I’ve never fully understood this thought, but I am beginning to better, I think.