Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was on my mother’s list of banned television watching for my younger sister and me. (So was Three’s Company, but for entirely different reasons.) Although I have seen a number of Hitchcock’s films, I still haven’t seen The Birds. I was reminded of this during a conversation with my sister-in-law a few days ago, when she told me about an encounter she had with an angry blue jay whose nest she and a childhood friend had come too close to during a tree climbing escapade. I was horrified for her as she related that story, of two girls scrambling to get out of the tree, batting away an angry jay who swooped and pecked at the youthful intruders. And I was horrified for myself … because for me, birds have always been somewhat magical.
I am the kind of driver who often has to maintain a precarious balance between personal safety and the chance for a better view of the red-tailed hawk I have spotted circling above. When I am walking my dog, I am as interested in our mutual exercise as I am at the chance to spot an oriole or bluebird in the meadows that we pass. And I have had some truly spiritual sightings, like the bald eagle who watched as my husband and daughters and I canoed up to the pine tree it perched in, and then, as if on cue, swooped down and spread its wings right above us and sailed out across Swan Lake in Belfast, Maine.
My mother is to blame for all of this. When I was a little girl, she introduced me to the red-winged blackbird. What a bird that is—as if it contains the magic of nature in its own being! A twist of its body as it sways at the top of a reed of sea grass, or a flutter of its wings and the brilliant red of its hidden markings comes to life, instantly transforming it from a nondescript blackbird. In sensitizing me to the common miracles in everyday nature my mother gave me a gift that has stayed with me every day.
This year has been extraordinary. On New Year’s Day, during a quick trip to the grocery store, my husband and I pulled the car to the side of the road, and walked to stand beneath a tree and stare at a gorgeous site: a northern hawk owl, sitting on a branch above us, while the snow fell silently around it. Then in February, on the 30th birthday of one of my closest friends, I resigned from my job to start my own business. On the way home that afternoon, again in a snowstorm, I again pulled my car to the side of the road, this time to watch a barred owl sitting on a telephone wire. And finally, in June on my wedding anniversary, my mother called from her seaside condo to tell me that a pileated woodpecker had been in a pine tree in her garden that morning.
I know not everyone would be excited by these stories, and I would bet that my sister-in-law, affected deeply by her childhood experience with the angry blue jay, would certainly not be moved. But I can’t help feel just a little grateful that I was banned from the living room when The Birds was on (even if I did sneak a peek at episodes of Three’s Company whenever I could).