Murmuration

Whoever’s job it is to come up with collective nouns for birds must have a hilariously good time. A parliament of owls. A nye of pheasants. An unkindness of ravens. Meanwhile, a  collection of starlings is called a murmuration.

                                   -Ezra Klein, The WashingtonPost

Sitting at my desk this morning and running through all my start-of-day emails and Internet rounds, I stumbled upon a video that snapped me right out of my early morning, overslept-by-45-minutes haze. I saw the reenactment, caught on and made into a lovely piece of film (view it below), of one of my own experiences that I later captured in a poem (read it below), as I—a poet—am wont to do. I inched closer to my monitor, both hands resting on it’s tripod feet against my desk, angling it and shifting it so I could see as best as one can see things on an old desktop computer in a fluorescent-lit office building. It was breathtaking to see my own descriptions of that experience and my own memories of it, come back to life on a screen in front of me, breathtaking in that truest, most literal sense of the word. Magnificent.

I felt an immediate need to get outside. I feel this way often, working my day job inside a dark little cubicle on the seventh floor of an office building that could be any office building. What dim and damp light makes its way from the mid-NovemberSeattlecloud cover often just barely gives the windows of our office a blueish glow, so that the only light I see by is artificial, hollow and plastic in tone. The recycled air gets hot, and stuffy in the afternoons, giving me the intense urge to at least just press my cheek against the cold glass separating us from the outdoors. And when I get home, throw on my wellies and wool hat, clip on Mona’s leash and head back out the door, I feel the evening wind, the kiss of winter, pressing against my cheeks. Then I can breathe again, purge the office stuffiness out of my lungs, and look up to the sky to see what I can see.

Often, I walk during my lunch at work. I’ll go with a friend, or I’ll go by myself, minding no bother to the rain or cold, just to get a break in the day, a dose of the outside into my body. It isn’t much, walking through the city, but it’s something. Indeed, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life living in and loving the outdoors, feeling equal parts capable and challenged by outdoor recreation endeavors. Hell, I spent well over a month traveling by sea kayak through the southeast coast ofAlaskaat the age of 17. I was raised in the wilderness of the Northwoods of Wisconsin, taught to appreciate and respect mother nature. As a child, I spent days on end just enjoying the woods and water—no TV, no video games, no distraction or busywork.

And now here I am, that wild little girl all grown up, living in the city all these years. The thing I love so much aboutSeattleis how quickly I can move from one environment to the next within its borders. Today, I’ll drive out of downtown proper after work, head into my neighborhood of Magnolia, and end up atDiscoveryParkwith my dog, where we have the splendid expanse of 534 acres to roam, all within 30 minutes door to door. That expanse is what saves me, what allows me to appreciate glimpses of nature wherever I can find them, such as I did on the day I experienced the impetus for the below poem, one of my very favorites.

The Overflow on the Other Side

Those birds must have been swallows,
those that filled the straight-edged gaps
in downtown’s sky with their undulating
connect-the-dot blackness.

All the street-stranger neighbors and I
let our umbrellas dangle, get bumped
by winds at our thighs. We jerked our chins
to the skyline so we could watch
this hybrid clan, this school of fish/swarm
of shivering gnats signal the apocalypse
in the air above the streetlights
and stunted sidewalk trees.

I’ve never seen birds move and shake
that way together, slamming bodies
against each other, reaching to fly nearest
a skyscraper window, then crashing back
the opposite way. One end of the mass
pulled back, and under, like the ocean
as she calls back a wave. The overflow
on the other side spilled all across to spread,
this pattern repeating strobe-quick.

But the apocalypse didn’t come.
And soon this cloud of bird
dissolved away, as if all liquid
in their bodies evaporated, all sinew
dried to ash, pushed apart by winds.

The birds abandoned their colony,
and on the street we birdwatchers
were made strangers again.
Umbrellas were righted and perched.
The rain was just rain.

And here, on video, that surreal phenomenon of nature captured by others who felt as compared to share it as I have. Watch, my friends, and enjoy. And then go outside and let that early winter air creep into your lungs and refresh your spirit.

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