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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Birds and firs

This morning a swarm of birds was flying in and out and around and between the firs standing on the bank. One pair even swooped in tandem twice around a tree, a few inches apart, leading or chasing, I couldn't tell, exploiting gravity with wings stiff like fighter jets, although not so malignant or ostentatious. I'm not sure what kind of birds they were, I'm embarrassed to say. In defense I'll state that it was hard to see markings and colorings against gray sky and gray bay, even with binoculars, especially when the birds were flying about at such speed and in such joy and causing rather comical arm movements and dizziness in yours truly. They looked like fat house sparrows (at least from the Stokes Guide, in which they are absolutely the last bird in 700+ pages, by the way) but their flight was somewhat undulating, which is more like finches. Not exactly knowing what they were did not diminish my pleasure for those few minutes, until they suddenly all left, requiring me to go back to an essay I'd been trying to ignore.

The binoculars were the source of another embarrassment besides the comedy of arms. They revealed weird spikes on the balsams' branches. At least I (or rather, Google) could solve this one. Cones on a balsam fir grow straight up from a branch, and when the seeds fall off, they leave a spike sticking up like a candle. (Apparently, German tribes got their idea for candles on Christmas trees therefrom.) There were hundreds of them on the firs. The embarrassing part is that in many years of coming to Maine and seeing fir trees, I'd never noticed them.

Scores of birds, scores of cone spikes - how wonderful to take the time to find out what you don't know. And then, in the flush of inspiration, to take up the flight of words again, also to find out what you don't know.

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