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Jewish World Review
Nov. 11, 2010
/ 4 Kislev, 5771
Audubon: Bye, bye birdie
Turns out those marvelous paintings of birds in their natural environments
are like hamburgers – more enjoyable if you don’t know the intricacies about how
they came to be.
For some reason I imagined that Audubon studied the
birds from a peaceful perch in the woods, sketched fast and had a good memory. I
pictured Audubon wading through creeks, crouching behind bushes with a sketch
pad a respectable distance from his subjects.
It is near midnight as I turn to a painting of two
snowy owls on tree branches against clouds in a moonlit sky. It is peaceful and
serene, just the sort of glimpse one should have of the beauty of creation
before closing the door on a weary day. Restful.
I flip back to the field notes in the anthology and
read that a particular specimen of bird Audubon shot was “too shredded” to draw.
I am now wide awake. Now all I can see in my mind’s eye is a bird shredded into
strips and they are not golden brown chicken strips with fries on the side.
Audubon continues, “Killed an opossum. Many
Blackbirds. Bats in the evening. Many other insects.”
The house is quiet, it is dark outside and the
husband is sound asleep. There is a soft thumping coming from the armoire. Of
course, bat wings flapping. You hear about it all the time. People go to bed at
night and wake up to see bats hanging from the corner of the ceiling. But the
bats will have to wait, because I’m pretty sure insects are now crawling on my
I flip to a painting of four pileated woodpeckers
with red crests and dashing black masks wrapping around their eyes. They are
gabbing on a tree limb surrounded by brittle leaves and small dark berries.
Striking. Wonderful. Peaceful.
I turn back to the journal: “I shot a beautiful
white headed eagle falco leucocephalus, my ball passed through his gizzard and I
could not see any of the contents.”
Great, now I have a picture of an eagle soaring
through the sky with a gaping hole in the center of its body with its gizzard
flapping. Chicken strips and a punctured eagle. Maybe a naturalist is not a good
choice for a book before bed.
Audubon proceeds to describe a fin tail duck
he has been tracking in the waters of the Mississippi, “the bill dark blue, legs
and feet that are light blue and have black palms, and the tail, dark brown zig
zags with transversal bars of light.” Finally, I am reading and drifting,
reading and drifting. “Tail composed of 18 feathers rounding each feather narrow
and sharp,” reading and drifting, reading and drifting, “the feathers
terminating in spoon like shape points.” I am just about asleep but push on for
one more sentence: “Contents of gutt & gizard: small fish bones and scales
and large gravel.”
I crawl out of bed, pad down the hall to our son’s
old room and pick up a magazine from a stack he has left behind. Something.
Anything. I take it back to bed and see it is a special issue of Outdoor Life.
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© 2009, Lori Borgman