28 12 2009

it has turned me to air, it can fly right through me

it is only fitting that today I saw three Bewick wrens, low in the bare branched bushes along a wall.

Three!  It is as though I were suddenly wealthy, such featherings, such tails and eye stripes.

as if I were invisible

all twittering

the final trespass

Last winter, in Seattle’s biggest snow in a decade, the wren in our garden greeted me from the brush pile

In the snow, as beautiful and bright as ever

And here, they say, is why the wren is the King of the Birds, and why he is hunted midwinter.  This wintertime vitality, the slipping low appearing and disappearing, the voice, like a monarch’s.

Their faces are wings, & their bodies are uncovered.

Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence’s Hunting the Wren is a very  nice place to go if you want to learn how the sweet winter wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, transformed into the symbol of the king of the birds, the winter sacrifice, compounded with Christ.  The resurrection in a cauldron, the cages and the wrenboys. And all the mumming

Money I want, money I crave.

If you don’t give me money,

I’ll sweep yous all to your grave,

And bury the wren at your door.

The idea of the wren hunts has bothered me ever since I learned of them.  It is not the same as a bothering of other sorts of hunts; or of the consuming of small song birds in small towns in Europe (with napkins over the head, as Willie likes to remind me).  That’s something else entirely.

It is the archaic and strangeness of the custom tied in, wrapped around, confounded with what our relationship (Homo sapiens sapiens I mean) is to the wren (in this case Troglodytes troglodytes)–currently and thousands of years ago.  And it is the wren herself, to me the little Bewick’s Troglodytes bewickii–does she see me and can I possibly see her?

Again and again I stumble into the abyss, one abyss, between me and her (and all those other abysses, between her and the winter wren, between the winter wren and the house sparrow haunt this one deep chasm).  I want to be able to encompass her into myself and to offer her to you but she is utterly apart and separate and of course, I have said this before, you grow wearing of my ravenous longing.

The poor wren

The most diminutive of birds, will fight,

Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.

All is the fear and nothing is the love;

Enter the cauldron, your bones will rise again: the bird has flown out of reach and I am, to be quite honest, relieved.  She is safe and she is apart from me and I shall be nothing to her today.

They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly

The other problem with the wren hunt, apart from the central and biggest problem, that of the animal other and my desire, is the sheer complexity of its accumulated rituals and debris: all the skeins that criss-cross with the wren at the center.  I am pulled to the hunt by my attraction to the creature; I am also pulled by this sense of the depth (albeit short in biological terms) of time it represents.  It holds more meaning to and is more revealing of this winter-time darkness than the Christmas rituals bought and sold at market.

Put in your hand, pull out your purse

and give us something for the poor Wran!!

In all its multitudes, in the multitudes of species (more than 80), in the multitudes of individuals–these sweet and individual birds

little wren, that many a time hath sought

Shelter from showers, in huts, where I did dwell

the multitudes of humans making some sort of contact, albeit one of opening the door to death (and isn’t that generally the case when we try to go there, we are murderous) with the other and with other spaces of existence.

I had no portrait, now, but am small, like the wren

The multitudes of travels between here and whatever the beyond is: the wren is as much in thrall as we are to the space between life and death.  But we will make her a symbol and she will be the creature to travel back and forth and tell our futures and bring us news of those we’ve lost for we are impotent without her.

In the forest on the branches and the clotheslines
a fierce little wren singing loud, and high
while his eyes, insisting on their own life,
gave legs to the lie
that there was world, and time
to grow old in its light


As ever, I am a thief

quotes are from Denise Levertov, Larry Levis (thank you Debra DiBlasi for sharing this poem), Irish Wrenboys, William Shakespeare, Waterford Wrenboys, John Clare, Emily Dickinson and Shearwater


Owling, Ule

8 12 2009

My hair will not turn white

for I crawled out of the womb of machines,

someone had strangled

her snow-white sister

I wanted to share this with you:

Yesterday I went for a run (as I am wont to do)–I took the path through a local Park.  I can run the path and feel like I am in the woods for a moment before I leave the park and run up to the kid’s school (and then make them walk home–which at times is fabulous and at times is unpleasant).

On the trail I saw

first:  a Bewick’s wren

second:  a barred owl

third:  bare branches against the sky with small gold leaves fluttering on a smaller tree below

This was, for some reason, a sublime combination.

the bells of the one

and only world.

Perhaps it was the cold.  It was 0 degrees Celcius and there was indeed ice.

Perhaps it was the absence of the police– the death of Maurice Clemmons.

Perhaps it was just being outside.

just whose world is forbidden to me.

Or maybe it was the damn owl, sitting low to the ground, on a fallen stump near the creek, where unfrozen water beside the dark bare trees.  I am always so very pleased by the sight of a wren, of any species, and the wren prepared me, though he/she hid so quickly, I knew she/he was there.  The owl swiveled her/his head and I imagined the silence of his/her flight.

I am not a good ornithologist and so I had to look up the owl species when I got home.  My ignorance was indeed bliss.   The pretty creature was a barred owl.

If I didn’t open my eyelids

Of course, barred owls are kicking spotted owls out of their habitat.  Or rather, they are expanding their range into the contracting range of the spotted owl–and in these ranges they are aggressively taking over habitat used by the spotted owl.

(I wouldn’t have seen the rope).

Life is linked to violence, so says Matthew Calarco.  But that doesn’t help me now that I am stuck with the sense that that gorgeous barred owl is yet another verminous creature pushing another species extinct.  (and what does extinct mean?  it means never again).

The barred owl is of course, only expanding its range because it can survive in areas opened up by humans–city parks, secondary growth.  Spotted owls do not do well in these environments–nor do they do well when sharing ranges with the barred owl who are more aggressive and will kick members of the endangered species out of suitable breeding grounds–at least according to a collection of anecdotal observations.   They are, to quote The Smithsonian Magazine, “bigger and meaner.”  And when the barred owl moves in, the spotted owl moves out.  Of course, one favored approach to managing the problem is shooting the barred owls.

If I had the word

Isn’t that always the way we deal with our problems–just shoot it. I’ve written about this before in light of that far more objectionable (by many people’s standards–though not necessarily mine) beastie–the feral cat. I find the issue of the human-caused collision of species other than humans to be extraordinarily troubling.  It is hard to sort through and I believe that for the most part our ethical responsibility to all individuals involved is elided.  At the same time, for the spotted owl, it is triage time–as they are essentially currently cycling towards extinction.

(I wouldn’t misplace it)

if I had no thistles in my heart

If you have a better way of thinking about this– a way that will reduce the fraught sense I feel about nearly everything (this harms that–that harms this–careful where you step) let me know, it’s gotten harder to talk myself out of these ethical conundrums, despite the fact that I ultimately have no practical involvement with most of them anyway.

(I would put out the sun)

I will neither be shooting nor facilitating the movement of the owl I saw yesterday–but then I wish him or her godspeed; so perhaps I am more committed than I’ll admit to you or to me.

Often I’ve wished

for the quiet of angels

and hunting grounds filled

with the powerless cries

of my friends.


quotes are from Ingeborg Bachmann, Calarco’s comment is in The Death of the Animal