At 24 the natural world opened for me like the door in the Arabian Nights, and I stepped out of some kind of heedless space made of inattention into the forms of this life made up of animals and weather and landscape and sky. At 24 I spent 6 weeks in Montana in the Beartooth Mountains, and I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. Montana taught me how to be awestruck and Dillard how to see and listen. Nothing since has been the same. I began to be watchful. I began the long yearning to be out in the air. I fell in love with birds.
Birdsong stops me. It holds me in the middle of a step. I raise my head and using it as a radar con I turn it this way and that to catch the best pathway of the song. Last night at a small party, engaged in a conversation, I heard the call of the wood thrush, so clear and close that I shifted my eyes to the woods and stopped speaking, thoughtless, for a moment bereft of manners. These songs make up whole worlds for me that leap into sharp relief — the beauty of this one short life; the presence of these exiled lives all around us, the ones we have pushed to the edges; their delicacy, their innocence and the barbarous nature of those who mean them harm.
Whatever happens now, I have possessed the dispensation of birds for 40 years — their flight, their colors, their songs, their sudden pleasures strong enough to render me suddenly still and forgivably rude.
Beartooth image from Dell Kay Bertino