An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of May 1, 2016
issued from Hacienda Chichen adjacent to Chichén Itzá ruins, Yucatán, MÉXICO

BEETHOVEN BIRD

BEETHOVEN BIRD
As the day's last light faded, already I was in the dark hut beneath the mosquito net drifting off. Then, just a few feet the other side of the hut's pole walls a Turdus grayi -- what we used to call the Clay-colored Robin but which new field guides usually name Clay-colored Thrush -- began calling, and of course his voice rang through the openings between wall poles. It's the time of year for Clay-colored Thrushes to call, though, and at dusk they always sing with passion. Our page on the interesting species is at http://www.backyardnature.net/mexnat/turdgray.htm

What caught my attention was that this particular bird was a virtuoso singer. He sang with extraordinary vitality and enthusiasm, his long phrases of effervescent, fluty chortlings with certain notes echoic, or pure, or bending upwards or downwards, all interspersed with saucy clicks and smacks, and some passages decidedly seeming to ask a question, while others purred in tones seeming to say, "I know... I know... "

The longer he sang, the more astonished I was that not only could he conjure prettily contrasting notes and phrases but also convey what struck me as feelings or emotional states. Once, after sounding sweetly melancholy he broke into loud disharmony, followed by what distinctly reminded me of Beethoven ending a pastoral passage with something like a tonic donkey's bray erupting into roaring, bouncing hee-haws evoking the donkey on a pogo-stick, head thrown back, ears flopping, buck-teeth un-lipped.

The next evening I paid attention to all the Clay-colored Thrushes as they sang, and was struck by how distinctive each bird's call was. Some singers were singularly unimaginative and unenthusiastic, while others were inventive but not convincing, like a kid pounding on a grand piano. Some were fairly good overall, but not spectacular. And then, at the same moment as the night before, Beethoven bird appeared again, and now, having heard such mediocrity, his artfulness was even more transfixing.

But, is it right to think of a bird as capable of artfulness? Couldn't this genius be genetically programmed, with all Clay-colored Thrushes being capable of Beethovenish outpourings, but only with practice? Maybe our Beethoven was simply the oldest bird in the community.

But, even if this genius singing is genetically coded in the species, and Beethoven Bird really feels nothing special as he sings, what about the mere fact that the genetic coding in this bird produces something that inspires a human mind, and impresses with its excellence? Doesn't that suggest something noteworthy and maybe a bit comforting about the creative but otherwise utterly impersonal impulse causing all things to be, in the first place, including us?

Beneath the mosquito net in the dark little hut I heard Clay-colored Thrushes sing and sing, and also the Turqouise-browed Motmot croaking, and Great-tailed Grackles delivering the last of their day's dissonances, and I came to no conclusion about it all, at all.

*****

VACUUM CLEANERS
On Thursday a poem drifted in from Paul in São Paulo. It was Bob Hicok's "My Most Recent Position Paper," which you can Google.

The poem suggests the possibility of applauding little specks of sunlight that succeed in fighting their way to the forest floor, and reminds us that "this is a world made by volcanoes."

The poem, and Paul's sending it to me, put me into my own poetic mood, one hitching a ride on the frame of mind from which sprang this week's Beethoven Bird piece touching on genes and feelings. On the bike ride between the laundry room of #18 where I do my Internetting and the hut, the following poem wrote itself in my mind:

I wrote her a love poem
and signed it
God. She said signing it so
was a little pretentious but
I said, no, just the other way around,
for,
this powerful feeling, this sweetness our
coming together this desire and
yearning and planning and contentedness
all is
programmed.
We beings are just vessels through which
God channels and manifests Her own
creative impulses in this world of things,
the way electricity enlivens
vacuum cleaners, and she said,
oh.

It's a fine thing, how someone can write a poem, and someone else can pass it on, maybe inspiring poetizing of some sort even someplace else, on and on.

But, does this current tendril having found its way to your screen right now cease its journey here?