Birds of the Briars

April 22, 2013
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I’m sure I make a sight right now. Red scratches crisscrossing the bared skin of my arms, legs and face- wounds of war from my struggle through a bramble patch. There are thorns still embedded in my clothing- ripped out like a bee’s stinger from the angry limbs I marched through- and my hair is tangled and briar-wild. Mud clings to me like a second skin I’ve long forgotten to live without. The wind is cold, carrying with it the promise of rain. Around my neck, the only gear I brought with me- a pair of binoculars. They are as worn as I- brambles have long left their thin scrapes on their once smooth sides, sand has scratched the lenses, and the neck strap is worn thin in some areas.

And I am so, so, happy.

It seems almost a paradox- to find such joy amidst my physical misery. But, who is to say simple discomfort can dampen true passion? In the time I’ve crouched here, hair caught in the briars surrounding me- like Medusa’s hair, or a spider’s web- I have seen the truest of all beauties.

From my prickly perch, I’ve watched medieval epics unfold. I’ve tracked a Black Vulture across the sky- her great, translucent-tipped wings and bold silhouette a draconic sight against the ashen heavens. I’ve watched the brash Northern Mockingbird- his soldier’s white epaulettes stark against his steely wings- charge from tree to tree, whistling the tunes he learned on his travels. I’ve listened to the streak-robed Brown Thrasher’s verses- as varied as a royal bard’s. And I’ve watched with awe as their tyrant leader flicks his white-tipped tail in the regal manner of the Eastern Kingbird.

From my thorny theater, circuses of sky-wise performers have awed me. From the Barn Swallows who soar in looping, dizzying spirals in the most lively, graceful acrobatics, to the Cooper’s Hawks who plunge to earth in a daring display of speed and control, I’ve gazed in awe. From the clownish Tufted Titmice- who squabble and chatter and flit to and fro- to the cheeky Ruby Crowned Kinglets who flash their crimson caps in scolding to those who misbehave, I’ve laughed in glee.

From my spiky seat, the songs of the birds have held me captive. I listen to their songs, the echoing “Oh dear-sweet Kimberly-Kimberly-Kimberly” from the White Crowned Sparrow, the brash “What-cheer-what-cheer-what-cheer!” of the scarlet Northern Cardinal, the rippling “Drink-your-tea!” that spills from the beak of the Eastern Towhee. The charming mewing above my head speaks of a Gray Catbird that has come to admire the choir, and with a soft whirring coo, a Mourning Dove announces its own arrival.

From my briar bench, I’ve enjoyed the passage of avian rainbows. I’ve heard the blurry melodies of Scarlet Tanagers perched high in the treetops- and with enough patience and luck, I’ve spied their ruby bodies. I’ve gazed in wonder at the sunset-headed Blackburnian Warbler as it stopped to preen. I’ve observed the serene Canada Warbler- pale yellow bellies with a lacey necklace of black- as they fluttered in the deep thicket.

But my time is up; the wind has brought its prophesized storm. As always, it feels too soon to leave my blind. Nonetheless, I stretch my weary, thorn-torn legs, and make my way home. Tonight, as with every night, I’ll dream again the beauty of the birds.

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