Sunday, July 31, 2005

#3: On Wild Turkeys, WINGED MIGRATION & Our Place in the Family of Things 12/25/2003 (WVR annual gifts program) I first saw the pair of wild turkeys yesterday morning through the sleet. Where I work is behind the airport, near a golf course & down the road from an animal shelter. We think the wild turkeys are refugees from the brush-clearing that’s been going on up the road. They arrived out back by the kitchen just after Thanksgiving, & can be practically on top of you before you know it. Our building is constructed with a ledge overhanging all the first-floor windows & the wall beneath the windows slants ramp-like to the ground. This creates an alcove out of the wind. So the turkeys are peeking in everywhere at eye-level during the day. We say, ”Oh there are the turkeys again,” with an odd satisfaction that we have such things in our midst. I first saw the turkeys when I looked up from my desk beside the window, distracted by their looming shadow. There they both were, hunched down, patiently looking me over. I think the smaller one doesn’t like the snow because she picks up one foot distastefully, the same as a cat will. I found a wild turkey feather in the woods once, but that single feather barely prepared me for these birds’ glossy, chocolate magnificence. The oddest thing about this is that the turkeys appeared the very next morning after I watched the film WINGED MIGRATION again for tonight’s show, after I decided to add something from the poet Mary Oliver’s newest book, OWL & OTHER FANTASIES. Just like the times you think about someone & the next thing you know, they’re striding toward you on the sidewalk, or your phone rings & that’s who’s calling. These manifestations can be powerfully consoling. As soon as I saw the turkeys – when I started thinking again, that is, because they pull all of your attention right into the present - I knew this was the best gift. WINGED MIGRATION pulls all of you into the present too. It might be the best documentary I’ve seen. Made by the French Galatee Films in 2001, it’s been making its way through the US this past year or two. I first saw it late last summer at the Westcott Theatre & now you can get it at Blockbuster or Emerald City Video. There’s also a sound track CD available that’s worthwhile on its own. WINGED MIGRATION systematically follows birds on each continent & over the oceans through their fall & spring migrations. Birds have been migrating for 80 million years. The narrator notes the average mileage that a particular species flies each migration – the greylag goose flies 1,800 miles from southeastern Europe to Scandinavia, the Eurasian crane - 2800 miles from Spain to the boreal forests near the Arctic Circle, the whooper swan 1800 miles from India to the Central Asian steppes, the African pelican – and so on, winding up in Antarctica with albatrosses, rockhopper & King penguins. Wisely, very little talking intrudes on this movie, & just occasional background music. You never see the fleet of ultra-light planes that got so close you hear wings flapping at thousands of feet. The credit list at the end -- of countries, cities & non-governmental organizations that gave permission & assisted this film – goes on for days, explaining part of why such collaboration to present one seamless world on-screen took four years. The range of what fills the screen is breath-taking. One minute a barheaded goose squints into a frigid blizzard gale in Central Asia; suddenly the camera pans to the entire flock rising to escape an avalanche. In this & every other such moment, these filmmakers resisted the very human impulse to tell us how they managed to get out of the way too. There are many fortuitous encounters that the film crew must happen across. A boy frees a greylag goose caught in the vines of a pond so she can catch up with her flock, & we see that tell-tale vine dangling from her leg on the return trip much later in the film. Some ducks in the desert comically flap away from a band of galloping horses. An old woman emerges from a stone barn & greets cranes returning in the spring, feeding them corn from her hand. It’s jarring when a red-breasted goose gets caught in the sludge flowing into a river outside a factory in Europe, & fiddler crabs devour a sea bird with a broken wing, but the sheer athleticism of a hawk methodically wheeling after a frantic smaller sea bird reminded me of a master skier maneuvering through a slalom course. On an Amazon River boat, one blue parrot works his way free of a wooden cage & escapes – brilliantly! In a northern Pacific gale some Arctic terns hitch a ride on a freighter, strolling along the deck. This film, like the turkeys, is the kind of gift that leaves your heart clean. Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” catches for me some of the gift of knowing we are part of something greater than ourselves. Here it is: You do not need to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting, over and over announcing your place in the family of things. (973)