A Bird Came Down the Walk
Reader, I mailed it.
This month I sent a card to a poet in Montana, a letter to a penpal at a correctional facility and a card to my parents. Letters went to Massachusetts and to Idaho. I’m on track to hit my “30 letters in 30 days” goal and I hope you hit whatever target you set for yourself, or came close enough. Big thanks to those of you who took time to write to me, (especially if we’ve never met!). If you wrote to me, you’ll get a reply very soon. And if you meant to send more postal mail this month but didn’t get to it, there’s still time to put some lines down on paper, stamp it and send it into the world.
One Truth, One Dare
Jenny Odell is a writer and artist I admire.
In her book, How to do Nothing, she writes in part about how the constant demand on our attention and push toward productivity is costing us more than we might think. Odell tells of how she’d owned binoculars and a bird guide for some years, but hadn’t used them — she could pick a scrub jay out of a bird line-up, but was only dimly aware of the feathered friends around her. That changed in 2016, when she began to do something she called “bird-noticing.” Rather than pursue birds, she decided to settle down and notice what was already there, listening for bird sounds and tuning back in to her surroundings. It’s the idea of sidestepping distraction and intentionally coming into awareness of something that’s been there all along. She’s not precious about it — there’s no need for fancy tools or a lush yard full of bird feeders. One can simply focus on a crow perched on a telephone wire or watch pigeons at a bus stop.
This leads us to this month’s Truth & Dare: the Bird Capture.
Truth: Write about a bird you see, (an ode, physical description, poem, piece of flash [non]fiction, anything genre you like)
Dare: Capture a bird, (render it artistically somehow: on the page with paint or colored pencils, take a photo, make a sound recording, etc.)
Double Dog Dare: Commit a poem to memory about a bird and recite it to someone
My daughter and I recently participated in an art project called Disappearing Birds of North America.
We were each assigned our own bird to render or interpret somehow — the art will go into the Disappearing Birds of North America Archive and be used for conservancy work. My bird assignment was the American Sparrow, and I confess I was intimidated. I’d never drawn a real bird from life, and I didn’t want to mess it up, for the bird’s sake. But after sitting and studying photos of my American Sparrow, I realized that getting a perfect likeness wasn’t the point anyway. The point was in the noticing, in the close study. Because now I recognize my sparrow right away – I see its markings and think, Oh hey, there you are.
In the yard outside, there’s a Dark-eyed Junco trilling to another Junco across the street in a neighboring tree. One has a lower register than the other, but the calls are the same and it’s clear there’s a conversation going on over my head. I’m grateful to hear it. I am learning to slow down, to try and recognize the birds around me, their lives and conversations already in progress. Hope your writing and Bird Capture goes well this month – don’t forget that you can reply to this newsletter to file your Bird Report.
Sending love and solidarity in the meantime,
— Or maybe you just need a good letter? Reply to this email with a request, or write me at PO Box 13642 Portland, OR. 97213 and I will drop you a note.
— Odell’s new book is Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock, (I’m waiting for the paperback version, but it looks good)
— Once upon a time, I wrote an ode to our chicken, BlackBlack, who died at 13.