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From the VQR Vault: Ornithology

ISSUE:  Fall 2015

The day is cool and grey. 
The solemn cuckoo haunts the damp limbs 
And recesses of the sour woods next door;
Her tone sucks summer from the air.
I try to turn away the sound 
Which melts into the dissonance of this later yard; 
Costlier colors ripen into newer chords, 
Raw without memory. Along the woods edge ground 
The scratch and hop of the rufus towhee,
Cognac brown, satin white and black.
Silvery rings the veery 
High above shrill voices arguing their games.
The oriole mocks at us, his golden apple breast 
Crowning the tree where he eats. 
Our patch of sky shreds in gashes orange, scarlet, blue—
Flicker, tanager, bluejay. I slowly learn
The bold mixed consummation of the August air.

Rosamond Field, “Learning the Songs of Birds,” Fall 1963


I am only fairly sure of their being in fact purple finches, so I get down Peterson’s Field Guide and read his description: “Male: About size of House Sparrow, rosy-red, brightest on head and rump.” That checks quite well, but his next remark—“a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice”—is decisive: it fits. I look out the window again, and now I know that I am seeing purple finches.

Howard Nemerov, “On Metaphor,” Fall 1969


Thoughts that lead nowhere are more tiring than those that go somewhere. This past winter I was so run-down from thinking that I quit sitting on the porch until my neighbor Harold suggested putting up a bird feeder. “Birds will distract you,” he said; “you will be able to sit for hours without a single thought.” 

Samuel Pickering Jr., “Just Started,” Spring 1984


Men, of course, cannot easily rid themselves of birds. Some birds, such as English sparrows and pigeons, have become men’s parasites and hangers-on, exactly as have rats and mice. When the human race expanded all over the planet, so did the sparrow. Now that swans are so widely protected from murderous assault, they, too, have achieved a kind of dependence on man. And, of course, there are always pet canaries and parrots in cages … In place of caged pets or sycophant sparrows, “wild” birds can be lovingly understood in their own habitats. So understood, they can teach us many things.

Stringfellow Barr, “Men and Birds in Their Own Habitats,” Fall 1970


Its own way, its only way, 
Out in the open, unexamined, unput-upon. 
The great blue heron unfolds like a pterodactyl 
Over the upper pond, 
                                             two robins roust a magpie, 
Snipe snipe, the swallows wheel, and nobody gives a damn.

Charles Wright, “A Field Guide to the Birds of the Upper Yaak,” Spring 2004


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