First the Big Bang. Now tiny tweets.
As they are wont to do, Myra-Jean’s obsessions have shifted again. Leaving behind the interstellar plane, they’ve flitted back to earth and landed nimbly in the world of ornithology. Good-bye, Jupiter! We are all about Juncos now.
It began with a book our next-door neighbor gave us some time back. It’s a quirky, prettily drawn tome called, simply, “Birds.” It sat unread for awhile, but gradually MJ took to it, eventually memorizing it nearly completely. This happened between literary flights to outer space, of course. “Birds” was a side interest, you could say. A flight of fancy. Had a bit too much Kuiper Belt? Let’s take a palate-cleanser with a belted Kingfisher!
Then my mom got her a bird bingo set for Christmas. A simple but pleasant game, with gorgeous drawings of exotic breeds, it became a daily activity. MJ–a typical, classification-loving four-year-old–learned quickly how to spot Spotted Kiwis, Arctic terns, and Magnificent Frigatebirds. It’s weird to hear your kid pull a card out of a bag and cry, in a competitive fervor, “Come on, Andean cock-of-the-rock!” But, with kids this age, you get used to anything.
The bird bingo craze abated. But, for MJ, interest in her feathered earth-mates did not. A couple of weeks ago, at the library, she found a just-published book called “Look Up!” Everything you ever wanted to know about birdwatching, it’s for kids a bit older than my daughter. But that didn’t stop her. We read it. And read it. And reeeeeeead it. Soon she (and we) knew more about ornithology than any person without binoculars decently should. I was more than a bit embarrassed when, at the zoo, MJ pointed at a cage and yelled “Look! A Eurasian blackbird! I think he’s a juvenile!”
“Ok, kid,” I muttered. “Simmer down. Let’s keep the Linnaean classifications to a dull roar.”
One day not long after that we took a trip to the beach. Many of MJ’s classmates were there. “Why don’t you go play with them?” I asked.
“No way. I want to go sketch those brown pelicans.”
“And Mom! I think that’s an albatross!”
Little Miss Audubon drew for hours. I went to sit with the adults.
The obsession, at this point, is at what I’ve come to call its “boiling point.” We’re as far in as we can be. I half expect to go into her bedroom in the morning and find my daughter incubating eggs. All day today she insisted on being called “Saurus Crane.” She routinely squawks. She says she dreams of penguins.
And we’ve hit the library again. In fact we’ve pretty much cleaned it out. The whole avian oeuvre is here, with us. We have books about penguins, birds of prey, crows, owls, and sparrows. We have generalized bird books. We have “Birds of Los Angeles County” and “the Audubon Guide for Young Birders.” We are steeped in ornithological facts. It’s even infecting me. I am looking at our local ravens with new eyes, staring obsessively at mourning doves, and considering killing the neighbor’s cat on behalf of the local hummingbird population.
OK, not really. Although I have taken to calling him Hitler.
Anyway. It’s super weird. But also wonderful. I wish I’d noticed the natural world when I was younger. Perhaps, growing up in Brooklyn, it was an impossibility. Certainly growing up in my brain it was. Either way, I’m thrilled to have a kid who makes me pay attention now. Oh, there’s a down side. The more you learn, the more there is to get depressed about–half of the damn bird species are struggling to survive, and the neighbor’s cat will continue to do his fucked up, feline part. But there’s beauty in the minutiae of this world; I’ve found that learning about it makes the somewhat rampant ugliness a touch more bearable.
So here’s to the robins! Hail to the mockingbirds! Kudos, California condor!
Now how can I get a bell on that asshole tabby…?