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Feed Me!

Feed Me!

Are parent birds stressed by their duties or anxious to be done with their fledgling peeps?

IMG_6252One Saturday morning this June, during yoga, my second class of the day, over the heads—or rumps actually as they were in downward facing dog—of my students I saw a small songbird perched on the streetlamp outside the studio. The fact that the bird was on the streetlamp at eye-level to my second-floor studio meant both that it was two stories in the air and that it flew there under its own power. Nonetheless, every time a bird that looked to be the same variety swept by, the bird I was watching flapped its wings. Was it frantic or hopeful? “Feed me,” it seemed to be saying, as were so many of the fledglings spotted about on the grass in my back yard. They were in that perilous moment between being taken care of and birdy adulthood when they will fend for themselves.

Hunting for food is not, in birds, a straight-up instinct. I learned this from a man wearing a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) shirt and a photographer stationed on the bike path not far from the studio a couple of summers ago. They were watching and taking video of a young great horned owl, wide awake in the early evening, who was taking swipes at a much smaller bird that was swooping around the owl. “They almost look like they’re playing,” I whispered.

“In a way, they are,” explained the man from the DNR in hushed tones. “The owl isn’t disturbed by the bird; he’s just intrigued. And he probably isn’t too hungry yet … his parents will have fed him enough so that he can survive for days eating nothing.”

“So, he’s not trying to catch the little bird?”

“Not yet. He doesn’t yet know he can. He’ll learn to, though. Play becomes prey.”

It’s different, I think, from the way humans learn to provide food for ourselves. Much of what we do is imitate the caregivers who raise and feed us. And, too, we are often driven by hunger to seek food, sometimes any food. But playing with it is the providence of toddlers who are learning how to eat, not how to obtain food.

Even so, the parallels from the bird world to my own fledglings are impossible to ignore. Recently graduated Seventeen has a bright future ahead, the college of his choice to begin in the fall, and a kind of invincibility that I envy. His sister, newly Fourteen, doesn’t seem far behind to me. Each of them is fully capable of building a meal from the contents of the refrigerator and pantry, and Seventeen is working this summer at our favorite grocery store. Instead of making my weekly treks to stock up, I hand him a list and he brings home every single thing on it with a gratifying attention to detail and one mystery item he’s excited to share.

Still, when they’re really hungry they look straight to me. Seventeen has perfected a kind of big-eyed look that we both know is a put on and nevertheless melts my heart into scrambling eggs for his breakfast or heating up leftovers at lunchtime. Fourteen takes a different tact: “There’s nothing for lunch,” she’ll assert, often around three or four on a summer afternoon. Reminding her that lunchtime has long since passed does little. Instead I leave off what I’m doing, cut up an apple, get out other things I know she likes, and point out options.

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A junior falcon improbably perched on a car. When I got closer, I saw the bird was watching a squirrel run out from under the car, shake its tail, and then run back under. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out, but I suspected it wouldn’t be too long before the squirrel became supper.

I wonder, at such moments, how the bird parents feel. I know that I am impossibly torn. Celebrating Seventeen’s high school graduation and watching him get ready for his next chapter, I could not be more proud. Giving in with a smile to his pathetic feed-me face, I’m not-so-secretly glad I can keep him close a little while longer. Lying on Fourteen’s bed while she figures out just how to register for Silver Cord hours (her high school’s program to encourage volunteerism), I’m happy for her to lead the way, but glad too when I can show her she’s flown by the pertinent screen. Are parent birds stressed by their duties or anxious to be done with their fledgling peeps? When mine were really little, I did find feeding them somewhat stressful. But we outgrew that together. Today their physical care is a kind of pleasure I’m not yet ready to relinquish.

 

In between the new moon and the full, I’m playing a little catch-up here at OverneathItAll. The end of the school year, graduation, and the Great American Road Trip all meant I put writing largely aside for a bit. Even the most compelling of activities require breaks now and then. I’m happy to be opening my computer again and looking forward to sharing the journey with you. With gratitude and big love as ever, Rxo

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Phrase Phase

Which one is correct?

When my newly minted teenager, Thirteen, was just beginning to articulate complete sentences at the age of about Three, she learned to say, “Actually.” She did not use it to correct others, but to make a point as fact. “Actually, I was going to pet the cat.” “I am hungry, actually.” “Actually, good night.” As a developmental habit, it was actually pretty cute and didn’t last long enough to become annoying.

Ten years later she might just as well append actually to every comment because she is a stickler for accuracy, and not only her own. If I report that it’s 4 and we need to leave, she’ll tell me it’s only 3:56. If her brother mis-quotes a song lyric, she will take pains to sing the refrain emphasizing the correct words. If she herself says her left hand but means her right, she’ll burst into giggles and ask loudly why in the world would she say left when she means right.

I can only hope that this linguistic phase will also be short lived.

I put aside my wondering about where her commitment to detail came from to do a little celestial research. I thought I remembered that July 31 this year brings us a Blue Moon, the second full moon in a calendar month. A blue moon is auspicious, of course, because it doesn’t happen very often. The full moon offers a big hit of lunar energy, and a blue moon shines its big light onto the truth in our hearts, offering us a path to follow those notes toward meaningful transitions.

Verifying my memory online, I was drawn up short when I uncovered an inaccuracy in my own understanding of the world. Traditionally, it seems, the blue moon was the third full moon of four in a single season (between equinox and solstice or solstice and equinox). That was according to the 1937 Maine Farmer’s Almanac. Then, in 1946 a reporter for Sky and Telescope, in an article entitled “Once in a Blue Moon,” interpreted the older definition to mean two full moons in a single calendar month (http://earthsky.org/space/when-is-the-next-blue-moon).

Which one is the correct definition? Do we have a blue moon this month or not until May 2016? According to the reading I’ve done, people can’t agree. But the author at earthsky wisely suggests that both definitions are folklore, and thus we get to decide and enjoy either. As I see it, with two definitions for blue moons in use, the phenomenon is less incredibly rare; so the phrase, once in a blue moon, is less laden with the meaning of something seldom happening.

A little further research offers this—five hundred years ago (okay, 487), there is printed evidence that if something happened once in a blue moon it would be something utterly absurd, akin to “when pigs fly.” The flying pigs were also popular parlance about the same time, alongside the moon being made of green cheese. Together they must have rubbed out the blue moon as absurd, allowing it to come roaring back to mean a rare occurrence.

I love language. I love that it shifts and grows and accommodates our changing communications, but I also consider myself something of a usage guardian and strive for accuracy in meaning, punctuation, and grammar. In clear communications, accuracy is powerful; and boom, I am handed new understanding. Living with an English professor turned editor, a Sixteen year-old-boy who knows most everything, and a grandmother with nearly ninety-one years of living experience, of course Thirteen is driven to discover the Actually in any situation. At this moment, when she is learning to navigate the world at an age during which she can enjoy the Minions movie and Dirty Dancing in a single weekend, this moment is more rare and precious than any blue moon, because when it’s over it won’t ever return.

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Valencia, earlier this month (July 2015)

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Either the hand has grown or the jelly fish are smaller … or both! California, January 2009

In spite of my general preference for particulars and a feeling that the oldest way is somehow the rightest, I’m sticking with the idea that this month (7.31.15) we see a blue moon; twenty-eight days ago my peeps and I were under a glorious full moon in Barcelona. The world turns and turns and we’re lucky to be on it. Thanks for reading, Rxo

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