Sunday, September 28, 2008
Walking through a Hyattsville bike trail last weekend, my girlfriend and eye spied a crane flying low over a creek. It had a long, yellow beak and a spray of black across its head. The bird spread out her wings and pulled them in before landing in the water.
It was thrilling to see, as one doesn't often see cranes flying through town. The closest I normally get is seeing the cranes on the Maryland license plate.
To me, it's obvious that birds are the most exciting and beautiful animal there is.
Did you know that there are over 10,000 species, making them one of the most diverse animal species in existence? Sure there are vultures and chickens and pigeons and buzzards--not the most attractive members of the species, but they are balanced out by the majesty of the bald eagle, the peacock, toucans and hummingbirds. There is a whole hobby dedicated to observing their beauteousness. The fact that the homely pigeon and the gorgeous crane share the same class, is a testament to the diversity and complexity of the species.
Birds have long held a large spot in the human imagination. Our literature and myths often refer to them: Coleridge's albatross, Poe's raven, the cock that crowed after Peter denied Christ three times, Yeats' falcon, the sirens of Greek mythology, the dove that told Noah and his family that the flood was over, Hans Christian Andersen's duckling, the Phoenix that destroys herself and regeneterates over and over and over.
Why does this animal have such a hold on our concisousness? After all, whales are beautiful too. I think, in part, it's that birds do the most wondrous thing: they fly. There is nothing more gorgeous than a sky turned black by a flock of migrating grackles. The only thing better than watching a flying flock is seeing them all change direction at the same time. Did you know that scientists have no idea how birds achieve this marvelous feat? Humans spent centuries trying to figure out how to mimic the bird's flight pattern. We've only had limited success. None of us can flap our arms and take to the sky, but it's a frequent fantasy. It's why we love Superman. It's why soaring above the clouds is such a commonplace dream. We have flight envy.