Sunday, January 15, 2012

Bird Calls from The Saints of Los Vientos

An excerpt:

Los Vientos, Florida
March 28, 1989
Prue sat on the white coquina sand of Los Vientos watching the pelicans dive into the water.  She was fascinated by all manner of birds. With binoculars pressed to her face, she was still and quiet, watching for Florida’s sand hill crane, a bird much rarer than the grey osprey.  The sand hill crane’s mating song, which Prue had heard only once, was two cheetah-like female calls answered by a long cheetah-like sound from the male, the calls repeating until the birds met.  It was a love song.  With their long legs and pointed beaks, the tall cranes soared through the sky with a wingspan of six feet.  Prue had seen a flock of at least fifty birds flying together.  Dr. Neal Carl, who worked at the St. Mark’s Nature Reserve, told Prue that the sand hill crane’s cousin lived all the way in Siberia.  “It’s a rare bird.  A sight to behold.”  What kind of birds do they have in Lithuania?  She couldn’t wait to meet her grandfather.  Does he like birds?  Her father liked birds.  He was the one who’d sent the binoculars: a Christmas present.  He’d written a card.  You are always on my mind.  It was a Willie Nelson song.  Did he mean it?  She was twelve the year the binoculars arrived.  Am I always on your mind?  She still didn’t know.  
              Her mother said, “Bird watching is for old people who have nothing better to do with their time.”
 “Then I guess I’m an old people.”
Her father had also written that he’d try to see her the next Christmas.  Five Christmases had passed without him.  You were always on my mind.  If I made you feel second best, Girl I’m sorry I was blind…
Today, Prue saw the Sand Hill Crane.  She got to her feet.  There were only four of them, two males and two females, majestic with long legs, their beaks a hundred blended shades of brown.  The first one flapped its wings; its feathers appeared burnt red in the sunlight.  Its wings billowed and dropped, billowed and dropped.  The next three ascended from the marsh.  Within seconds, the four birds soared effortlessly overhead.  Prue reached back and touched her scars.  Then, adjusting the binoculars, spoke to the sky: “I want to fly.” 
1941, Exact Date Unknown, Speculation, Conjecture
There’s a chance that Alexandra Zilius, Frederikas’ mother, who, as you know, loved birds so much she birthed one, saw the sand hill crane’s cousin in Siberia. 
There’s a chance that after the cattle cars had stopped and the dead mothers and babies were deposited into waiting mass graves… that Alexandra, who’d once sung arias, was showered and deloused, and after a wind-and-frost burned man pointed to a Soviet sign needing no interpretation: Work is an Honor, that Alexandra, Freddie’s loony-goony grandmother, spotted or heard one of only 10,000 sand hill cranes then inhabiting eastern Siberia.  It would’ve been a bird she’d never seen, and she would’ve been in awe of its size, in its ability to traverse continents, and of course, in its song.  There’s always a chance.  And my bet is that if she wasn’t rolling “wee” down that green hillside, she must’ve seen and heard that bird.  

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