It must be fun, I thought, to be a bird. I mean, how cool is it to be descended from a group of theropod dinosaurs from the Mesozoic Era? Now, eons later, if you don’t feel like fighting, you can flee by just flying away, soaring over steeples and rooftops, or hopping from tree limb to tree limb, or hiding among the thorns in the rosebush. Hungry? My neighbor Teague has feeders! Dusty? Help yourself to one of the two birdbaths I keep ready-and-waiting for you in the backyard. Plus, you have feathered finery to wear every day, songs to sing, places to go. Like Florida in the winter or even toasty Costa Rica, a pleasant little country that welcomes every flying thing from hummingbirds to ospreys when the weather up here makes us all wish we go down there.
Anyway, all these thoughts occurred to me one morning as I watched a lone grackle strut down the middle of Cannon Street, just the way Mark Mumford used to do when he would lead the Kent County Marching Band down High Street in the Fourth of July parade. Except my grackle evidently came to the conclusion that walking down the street was, well, for the birds and so he took off in a low flight pattern before lifting up, up, and away high into the sycamores, lost to sight but not to sound.
Being a guy, I envy birds because my avian brethren get to wear the gaudier colors. Long ago, male birds came to the evolutionary conclusion that brighter is better, that glitter really does get the gal. Everybody knows that female cardinals come in drab brown while males of the species drive bright red Ferraris. Peacocks have those legendary fantails while peahens have to be content with a few matronly tail feathers. Then there are bluebirds of happiness and purple martins; red-wing blackbirds; scarlet tanagers and bright yellow finches. All I ever get to wear these days are colorful socks. Sigh.
Anyway, in addition to a palette-full of colors, birds around here come in all shapes and sizes. On any given Eastern Shore day, I can encounter everything from house wrens to hawks, herons to hummingbirds, ospreys to owls. Down by the river, waterfowl abound: there are still plenty of stay-at-home geese, countless varieties of duck, even swans, all seemingly serene on the surface but (just like the rest of us) paddling like hell below. Over on the golf course, it’s not at all uncommon to see an osprey snatch dinner from a pond or a bald eagle soaring high above a fairway, white head and tail clearly visible along with that unmistakable don’t-mess-with-me scowl.
People identify with birds. I have two friends who live with parrots, one named Einstein, the other, Jack. (Those are the birds’ names, not my friends.) Come to think of it, we’re surrounded by teams with avian mascots. Baltimore is replete with teams that fly: the Orioles, the Ravens, the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. Up in Philly, the Eagles finally won a Super Bowl while over in Delaware, the Blue Hens rule the roost. (Coming from Pittsburgh, I am particularly partial to Penguins, although those silly birds really are flightless in these parts.) Closer to home, Gunston School and The Radcliffe Creek School both honor a Heron mascot while The Kent School flies an Osprey flag. Thankfully, I’ve yet to see a team with a turkey buzzard for a mascot.
Much as I admire birds, I do have one problem with the thoughtless ones who live along Cannon Street. Apparently, they think I bought my car at Target because when I’m parked beneath one of the sycamores in front of my house, that’s what they use it for: target practice. This time of year, my dilemma is do I park away from the trees and bake in the sun or opt for a shady spot knowing I will soon be off to the car wash again.
Suddenly, I remember that I used to have a recurring dream. In it, I could fly effortlessly. I would just hop once and take off, soaring high above the city. I could go anywhere, see everything. Now I realize I haven’t had that dream in a long, long time. I miss it!
It must be fun to be a bird.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com