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We’re out of love again and wandering with other birdwatchers over the cedar shakes, spying on spring nesting sites where great migrations end and settle into familiar patterns of rearing and weaning. We’re here not so much to learn or unlearn lessons we don’t already know but simply to lose ourselves in observation, in strange cries and croaks and wattle rattles, in the dusting of wings with swamp wind, leaves, thistle. Half of me watches the nesting dance and joust of wood storks and egrets, while half my mind flits to the Ukraine-Russian war half a world away, the ‘mindless slaughter’, as newsmen say, when really, it’s horribly mindful, murderous intent, artillery flattening the homes of millions, the old shashka slicing a path to the Black Sea. It’s a human thing that separates me from the wild life I’m here to see. I see wood storks all concentration on the moment of their perpetuating. Clattering bills clipping the feather fluff of their mates’ necks, perhaps part of the ritual of their coupling. I’ve not spoken a kind word all morning to the one I’ve mated with for life. Nor has she turned toward me. Or away from me. Like many of us, she maintains a studied neutrality, a learned distance. Why are we here? To walk the boardwalk’s circuit, cedar shakes buoying us over the swampy spaces, letting us bridge the distance between these fleshly beings with calculating hearts and minds and those winged creatures lost in the present moment of their mating, almost oblivious of us.
Copyright 2022 Neil Shepard
Neil Shepard’s many books include How It Is: Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry 2018). He edits The Plant-Human Quarterly published by the Otherwise Collective.