Pivot point

What made the ancestral timberdoodle decide to haunt the woods’ edge instead of the shore? My mother surprised one this morning up above the old dump and watched it for a while: the oddest walk she ever saw, she said. With every step, its chest throbbed visibly, as if with some uncontrollable emotion. I went to look for it after lunch, and it flew before I spotted it on the ground. I followed it up the old woods road, camera at the ready, my eyes riveted to the spot where it landed, but each time it flushed before I could distinguish the mottled brown of its feathers from the brown leaves, which were lifting and turning over in the wind. I’ve never had the sharpest eyesight.

I noticed as I walked back that there were still a few patches of snow on the powerline right-of-way, sheltered by the thick green laurel. Up on the ridge, the wind roared and died, roared and died, not quite as regular as ocean surf.

After Stravinsky, can anyone hear the phrase “rite of spring” and not feel a shiver of strangeness? Tonight at sunset, we will be almost equidistant from this morning’s sunrise and tomorrow’s. And at dusk, if the winds die down, the woodcock will position himself out in the field with his long sandpiper’s bill pointed at the sky and project his nasal longing into the heavens, again and again. Then he’ll launch his fat body several hundred feet straight up and fly in wide ascending circles, his wings twittering like a flock of sparrows, before plunging again to the earth. What if happiness were a pivot point you could occupy, even in the presence of unfulfilled desire? Would you try to make a fulcrum in your breast? Would you throw your voice as far as you could, and then go after it, secure in the knowledge that what goes up must come down? Would you haunt the brushy edges of the night?

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

11 Comments


  1. Fabulous questions, Dave, and I don’t have the answers. I think if I could fly and sing like that I’d be pretty happy. Only yesterday I learned that only the male sex of birds sing. I felt sorry for the females.

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  2. What if happiness were a pivot point you could occupy, even in the presence of unfulfilled desire?

    Love this. And it’s a favorite game of mine, for writing prompts: the what if. Maybe I’ll steal yours.

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  3. “Would you throw your voice as far as you could, and then go after it, secure in the knowledge that what goes up must come down?”

    So like a woodcock. That really made me smile! :)

    They do their dance here as early as January. I’ve gotten close to several this year, but always unawares — we scare the crap out of each other, and I come away half exhilerated and half disappointed.

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  4. Very nice imagery, and ditto for your older discussion of woodcocks!.

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  5. I saw my first woodcock ever on a late evening in the January of 2007 in, of all places to see for the first time a bird I’d been wanting to see all my life, in an abandoned parking lot while looking for an apartment near here. It stood there in the half light, neck craned, warily watching me approach, then burst into flight when I was just within the right distance to see it more clearly. It was a whirr of dark feathers amidst the rooftops and then was gone. Night herons, nightingales, woodcocks, and nightjars…all weird, shadowy birds.

    One night I walked along the highway next to the Charles River in Boston and passed a lone dogwood tree from which emanated the beautiful, liquid song of some bird. I assume there are no nightingales in the Americas… so what was it that I heard that night? A catbird? Would you know? It was as if the tree was singing to me…

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  6. Dave, which WP plugin are you using for the readers to edit their comments? That’s so cool!

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  7. This made me smile and want to get up early enough tomorrow morning to hear them for the first time this spring.

    I’ve had a similar experience… flushing them in the daylight in swampy places… never quite able to get my eye on them fast enough. Such strange birds!

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  8. marja-leena – That’s true for most birds. However, in some species of wrens, the female does what is called counter-singing – essentially dueting with the male. There are probably other exceptions, too, but I can’t think of any off-hand.

    Theriomorph – Be my guest. (And yes, that was the prompt around which I built the post. You must be a writing teacher!)

    Rurality – The one time I got a good, long look at one on the ground was when we were leading a large group of people around the property one drizzly September afternoon. Perhaps the bird was mesmerized by the presence of so many people, but we all got a good look at it before it flew.

    David – Thanks, and thanks for taking the time to read and comment on that older essay, too. I sometimes feel sorry for all my older posts, which got stripped of their Haloscan comments when I moved off of Blogspot.

    miguel – Interesting story. It would be nice to think that the birds are adapting to more heavily populated landscapes; they’re in decline in many areas due to so-called clean farming paractices, which leave so little brushy edge and old-field habitat.

    That was probably a mockingbird you heard. They can range fairly far north in towns and cities, I think, taking advantage of the heat-island effect.

    The plugin is WP AJAX Edit Comments. See my Credits page (which is linked from the footer) for links to all the plugins I’m using. (Well, all except one, Exec-PHP, which I don’t mention because it may consitute a bit of a security risk.) I’m glad you like it. It’s designed to make the blog administrator’s job easier, too, but the one thing I don’t like about it is that I can’t click on the names of commenters to go check out their blogs without first going to the comments section of the backend; if I click on a name here, it assumes I want to edit (and how likely is that?).

    Laura – Are you getting the snow we’re having here? High winds might not dissuade the woodcocks, (see yesterday’s Morning Porch), but I’m thinking a snowstorm just might put a damper on things.

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  9. I am tempted to call the woodcocks “Curlies”, because their mating call sounds so much like the “woop!woop!woop!” of Curly Howard of the Three Stooges.

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  10. I’ve never actually seen the Three Stooges, so I’ll have to take your word on that one.

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