Morning rang with birdsong. OK, from an iPad app, but still. What a way to start the day: sunlight filtered through louvred windows, yogurt and granola in cracked Heath bowls, Western tanagers warbling from our little white tablet. This, believe it or not, was MJs first foray into portable computers. I’ve been trying to keep that horse in the barn. At least until it was old enough to wear a bridle.
“Now I know what an app is,” MJ said dreamily. She scrolled through the “C” section of the bird index. “What’s this one, Mama?”
I leaned over. “Cinnamon Teal. Eat your breakfast.”
“Wow,” she replied, taking a bite absently. “I’m going to play with the ipad all the time now. Can I?”
“Well, you can certainly look at birds.” The living kind, not the Angry ones, I added silently.
It seemed prudent to get her out of the house and put some of her newfound cyber-knowledge to practical use. You know, the virtues of reality, and all of that? Good thing we had a field trip to the Audubon Center planned. Ten minutes later we were whizzing there in the Leaf. Half an hour after that we were on a nature hike with twenty other pre-schoolers. Not a Thoreauian silent ramble by any stretch of the imagination, but still very enjoyable. MJ wore the new binoculars her grandfather had given her.
“I think I see a rufous hummingbird!’ she cried.
Her peers looked impressed. I handed her the water bottle. “Stay hydrated, bird girl.”
The hours passed pleasantly. Soon it was time to go. On our way out we passed through the Center’s tiny gift shop. There MJ spotted a rack of stuffed birds–the kind that make a “genuine” sound when you squeeze them. Fondling a blue one she looked up at me longingly. Every parent knows this look.
“Can we buy it?” she asked.
“‘We?’ Or me?” I asked her, teasing.
“Mom. It’s a great blue heron,” she responded, without cracking a smile.
“We” bought it.
After driving home, preparing new snacks, and re-caffeinating, (me), we grabbed Mike and headed back out. Ever since he finished his insane work week Mike’s been promising MJ a trip to the L.A. River. I’d never been. We’d heard–although it seemed hard to believe–that there were lots of birds there.
Before she got back in the car MJ made sure her new doll “Bluey” and another stuffed bird–a Killdeer–were in her satchel.
“Do you have your binoculars, too?” I asked.
She checked. “Yup.”
And a good thing, too. The river, funky and urban as it is, turns out to be a spectacular place for birders of our ilk. The novice ones, that is. At this time of year, at least, it’s a veritable Boston pops of waterbirds. We saw blue herons, Canada geese, sharp-suited stilts on delicate legs, mallards, tiny coots, a magnificent and professorial-looking egret, cormorants, and several others we were unable to name. By the end of our walk all of us were grinning and punchy. MJ waved her two dolls overhead:
“Did you see them, Bluey? How about you, Killy?”
I’ve been meaning to talk to her about that name.
“Caw–aaw!’ the stuffed birds responded. I don’t think herons or killdeers make such a sound, but neither Mike nor I was in the correcting mood. We’d seldom seen MJ–or her toys–so excited.
Frankly, I was pretty jazzed, too. How insane, how profound, how inspiring, to find this wellspring of life wedged between grim freeways, sprawling power plants, and mean-looking tow-yards. Sure, there were some old plastic bags on branches, and a few teens drinking beer, and I could do with a lot less cement. But the birds were like poetry amidst a bunch of junk mail. They classed the joint up. Spectacularly, in fact.
As for my daughter, she found it pure magic. And that, of course, was magic for us.
It’s six-thirty now; Mike’s in with MJ putting her to bed. They’re reading “A Field Guide to the Los Angeles Region,” as Bluey and Killy watch from the floor. It’s a sweet tableau, and a peaceful one. Soon, MJ will gather up her birds, along with the blanket they’re perched upon. Tumbling backwards and pell mell into bed, she’ll allow herself to be covered, and sung to, and settled. In moments she’ll be sleeping, her soft friends tight in her arms.
And maybe, just maybe, she’ll dream of Happy Birds.