The Rural Life
So far, I remain an accidental bird-watcher. I have lots of books about birds and a good pair of binoculars, which I use whenever I see a bird that looks unfamiliar to me. We have year-round bird feeders, and I listen to recorded bird songs, hoping I'll be able to recognize the birds I can't see by their singing. But I have yet to set off actually searching for them. I watch the ones that come to me, the ones that make themselves known in the clearing at the edge of the woods that we inhabit.
"Habitat" sounds awfully general. It turns out to mean not some willful choice — the kind a human would make deciding to live in Dallas rather than in Denver — but a profound correlation. The marsh is who the red-winged blackbird is. The fence post is the meadowlark.
When I first began to notice birds, I thought of them as autonomous creatures whose habitations were simply unconnected matters of fact — as though the pictures of the birds in my bird book could somehow fly free of the pages themselves. But recognizing what you see means, first of all, taking account of where you see it. It becomes clear, sooner or later, that we live in a world of infinitely overlapping and abutting habitats — and that we are one of the rare creatures that are unbound, except in the broadest sense, by place and vocation. It takes an act of will on our part to remember how profoundly, and how beautifully, bound to habitat all the other creatures around us really are.
This thought occurs to me again and again on fine summer evenings, which have been so rare this year, when the phoebes are fluttering after bugs, sometimes pausing on the grass, but swiftly coming to rest on the back of a lawn chair or the very end of a twig. Where the phoebes will not fly, the barn swallows take over, also pursuing insects. Sometimes a swallow will cruise past my head. Compared with the swallow's manner, the phoebe flies a parenthetical flight. And as the two of them take bugs from very different regions of this place of ours — before they retire in favor of the bats — I can hear the catbird hidden in the densest shadow, mewing away. It shows itself just at the edge of the thicket, peering into the clearing where a human sits, hoping that the good weather lasts for a while this time.