good and bad bird stories
Friday, April 15 2011
Though Gretchen and I are vegans, the same cannot be said about any of our critters. We feed our dogs vegan kibble, but they're perfectly willing to kill a a chipmunk or a woodchuck (both of which I've seen Sally kill on rare occasions). Clarence is probably our most effective predator, killing a steady stream of chipmunks, voles, baby rabbits, Deer Mice, and even the odd Flying Squirrel throughout the year. While Julius (aka Stripey) mostly hunts birds, Clarence is something of a small mammal specialist. Today, though, I saw Clarence carrying a limp bird in his mouth. I ran up and got it away from him in hopes that it was stunned but it was already dead, so I put it back on the ground in hopes that he might actually eat it. The bird was Phoebe, the neotropical migrant that likes to build nests under the generous eaves of our house. It was sad to think about this poor creature that might well have been hatched in a nest right here at our house. Last fall it had flown all the way down to Central America and spent months surviving Boas constrictor, Jaguarundis, and habitat loss, flown back across thousands of treacherous miles, only to be caught and killed by a house cat. And for what? All Clarence ended up eating was its head.
Yesterday a happier bird story transpired. I'd come down the stairs to find a brightly-colored Purple Finch had flown into the kitchen and was banging himself (it was a male) against a window trying to escape. Nigel and Clarence were pressing in from two sides, so I'd had to act fast. I'd grabbed it in my hands, took it out on the east deck, and held my hands open. I love those few seconds where the bird is free to leave but doesn't yet know and just sits there. When he eventually flew off, he executed a beautiful sinusoidal path to a tree 80 feet away, chirping happily as he did so.
The weather was cold enough to discourage outdoor activities, so Gretchen and I ended up watching a movie this afternoon. It was Marwencol, the documentary of Mark Hogancamp, a man who, after a savage brain-damaging attack, retreats into a richly-detailed 1:6 scale World War II village in his yard. I'd heard about Marwencol on BoingBoing.net, but I hadn't known a couple very salient details: that Hogancamp's attack was a hate crime (motivated by his being a crossdresser) and that Hogancamp and Marwencol are both right here in Kingston, NY (from the film it looked like he lives somewhere in the seedy south fringe of Kingston along Rondout Creek). As someone in the film points out, the thing that makes Marwencol so compelling is how completely non-ironic it is. It's like the play of a child, but as brutal, richly-detailed, and fully-realized in a way only an adult could pull off. Some photographs from within Marwencol could almost pass as frames from a movie set in WWII-era Europe. There's even a touch of mystic science fiction, in which one of the characters (a blue-haired "witch" made from a Barbie Doll) is equipped with a time machine made from an old VCR and pieces of a cellphone. A especially poignant scene is one where Hogancamp's avatar in Marwencol, in order to help himself deal with the psychological trauma of a beat down administered by the Nazi SS, starts building himself a little miniature village of his own, complete with crude little houses, tiny jeeps, and people (presumably at 1:36 scale).
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