Monday, September 01, 2008

a relationship moment for the birds: explains a lot

The Stellar's jays at our campsite are brazen, fearless creatures who, along with their partners in crime, the squirrels, have so far eaten holes in a backpack, a cooler zipper and a pair of sunglasses.

At the campfire presentation one night, we learn the jays are related to crows, smart problem solvers who share information (which must go something like, “Now listen boys, if you can't get them to cough up the goods, fuck with their sunglasses...and don' eve' go against the family...”).

The whole evening is about birds as it turns out, with an ornithological specialist showing us slides of birds they've tagged. The yellow and black of a chickadee appears 1000 times its actual size on the screen, its colors faded in the mere dusk of early evening.

“Does anyone know what this bird is called?” our host asks.

“A woodpecker?” someone calls out.

“Noooooo,” she says, her voice raising higher as she stretches the word, generously allowing room for other possibilities.

“A sparrow?” a boy of about 12 tries.

“This bird is almost the same size as a sparrow,” she says by way of telling him he's wrong.

Her life's work against our little band of idiots, she's been passing out pencils made of recycled materials to anyone that gets a bird name right. Her left fist is still crowded with the implements and she pushes them back and forth in her hand.

“A mourning dove?” a woman pipes up.

Instead of throwing the pencils to the ground and stomping away, the woman says cheerily, “Wow! You all really know a lot of bird names!” Then she says, “Wellllll...” which clearly means “I'm going home to kill myself.”

I lean over and whisper to Mike. “Is it a chickadee?”

“No!” he scolds me returning my hushed tone.

“It's a chickadee,” the presenter announces a second later.

Mike and I exchange the glance, the one you would expect us to exchange. His says, “Oops!” Mine says, “You owe me, bastard! I wanted that pencil!”

But I've since forgiven him completely. You see, time away without the stresses and distractions of daily life, deepens a relationship. You learn about your partner things you may never have learned otherwise. And you learn that even in the still of the forest, the only way to be released from the pain is to move through it.

Since the bird incident, my husband has confessed to me that he was made to play the part of the gopher in his second grade theatre production. I blink, half-listening while he rattles on about it. And then, like a chunk of fool's gold, the nugget of truth shines. The play, it turns out, was “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

“Mike,” I say, being sure to speak especially slowly, “there is no gopher in 'Winnie-the-Pooh'.”

“I know,” he says.

“Oh, honey! You never told me!” I exclaim, moving to wrap my arms around him. “And anyway, it was just a pencil.”

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