Thursday, October 11, 2007


Saw an actual wild bird in the heart of the big city this morning. Actually I heard it before I saw it, but at first I thought it was one of those tape recordings they have here, birdsong issuing suddenly from hallways and lobby speakers to give the impression of a natural setting among the glass and concrete canyons threaded with white noise of traffic and trains, but then I realized the call was too asymmetrical for commercial purposes, it was non-repetitive and not chirpy enough to bother taping and broadcasting in high fidelity. It was a practical, down-to-earth kind of call, not cute, hadn't the kind of charm commerce looks for in a bird.

I stopped and tried to see where it might be perched among the token trees of the few species that can survive the conditioned air and castoff light of the big city. The mirrored-glass tower had a few of the struggling green items fringing it so as to conform with urban environmental laws of the same basic intent as birdsong tapes. I couldn't spot the bird until it gave up and flew to the top of one of the trees, the better to get a perspective on why there was zero response to its continuous and earnest calls. It turned and stared and called in every direction, but likely there wasn't another of its kind within the distant city limits.

I myself have never heard or seen an actual bird - other than metroevolved pigeons - anywhere near here. I have glimpsed ducks on the river now and then over a period of 25 years, but not lately. And needless to say, ducks never come into the big city. This bird, a dull brown and about the size of a thrush, called more and more loudly and complexly, with what sounded to me a growing undertone of puzzlement, though that may only be a reflection of the puzzlement I myself feel whenever I come into the big city.

The only responses to his calls were trucks rumbling by, dense traffic, car horns, beeping traffic lights, a distant siren fading, pedestrians passing below not hearing the bird, or more likely dismissing it as one of the tapes buildings play, like those programmed fragrances they pavlov in stores to trigger a purchase response. A natural reaction in the big city.

One isn't aware of those fragrances either, because by now there is some bit of lobe in the urbanite brain that filters out irrelevant aspects of metroreality, the way we filter out the buildings themselves unless we're seeking a specific address, but the actual bird wasn't part of that, knew no addresses other than the big one he'd thought he knew, just somehow got to a place where he was surrounded by mirrors that rose and disappeared into a sliver of sky, came here for reasons I can only imagine but would prefer not to ponder under the circumstances, being something of a wild bird myself.

As I stood there watching, listening to his frustrated calls, I came to feel that he represented something that lives yet in all of us when we come to the big city and is puzzled there, with or without a destination address. Like us the bird was still trying to figure out in his own wild way what the hell was going on, why was he here and where was this, where were the forests, why wasn't he getting an answer?

He was still calling, back there in the distance, when I arrived at the address.


Anonymous said...

I do hope he found his way back into the wildlife. Very nice analogy..

Bob Brady said...

I hope he did too; there were no birds at that spot today...

Anonymous said...

The city is so strange to me when I have meetings there. When I go there my heart immediately starts to beat faster. I hope this little aviator returned to the real world.


Martin J Frid said...

Hoping all the wild birds will be able to keep on doing their thing, whatever that thing is.

Chancy said...

Robert, This post about the wild bird, lost and confused in the big city reminded me of this old book "Adventures In Contentment" by David Grayson. Grayson left the city for a life on a farm to regain his health and sanity. I think the bird of which you wrote did the same thing.

"All these things happened in cities and among crowds. I like to forget
them. They smack of that slavery of the spirit which is so much worse
than any mere slavery of the body."