Unfinished Ode to A Cardinal

17 December 1999


Birds.  I do not know much about birds. Do know that they are everywhere and come in various shapes and sizes and make all sorts of different sounds and that there are finches, robins, crows, blackbirds, sparrows, eagles, hawks, buzzards, parrots, blue jays, ravens, parakeets, pigeons, seagulls, storks, cranes, swallows, falcons, owls, hummingbirds, geese, ducks, cuckoos, chickens, turkeys, swans, ostriches, road runners, vultures, pelicans, flamingos, condors, magpies, peacocks, egrets, woodpeckers, orioles, wrens, pheasants, quail, doves, sandpipers, whip-poor-wills, martins and mynahs but beyond that and being a "target" of a very young hunter, sorry, birds have always been just part of the scenery for me and little else. But now, here, here where I live, there is and for sometime now, has been, this cardinal, who whenever I see him, which seems to be everyday, peeks at his reflection in the side mirror of one of our cars for hours on end.

I believe the universe “talks” to us, tries to tell us things of importance all the time but most times, we are to blind to see them or understand what the message is, even if we do somehow become aware that we are being talked to.

This cardinal.  He is the universe talking to me but I am not sure the message.

He is a real cardinal.  Others have seen him when I pointed him out to them so this red bird, this cardinal, is not some extension of my imagination, not some ghost only I can see, not some mystical manifestation for my eyes only but what is the universe trying to tell me?

For sure, I get the message that birds live longer than one year or even several years which is the opposite of what I thought I got told or read somewhere as I thought that because they could fly and burned so much energy in the process that the literally burned themselves up quickly and thus only lived for a year or so.  Also, I thought I knew that because birds could fly and burned so much energy, they spent almost all their waking hours looking for and consuming food.  But apparently not or at least not for this one cardinal as he spends hours a day peeking at his mirrored reflection.

But all that is biology, mechanics, science and surely not the message coming out of the heavens to me.

It is his behavior, his love affair or hatred for his image which is the message I am sure.  And does it matter if he hates his image or loves his image?  I think not. 

I assume it is the same bird.  5 years now and counting.

This last fall, I did not see him for several weeks and thought perhaps that either he had died or perhaps moved away or perhaps he was finished peeking at himself, having resolved some deep psychological conflict but yesterday and today, he is back.

I hear him first and then look to see and today, I felt a certainly happiness when I caught sight of him again.  Still.  He still lives and lives here and it was like seeing an old friend again.  Or.  Could it be they there is a whole family of cardinals which have inherited or been taught this mirror peck behavior?

Peeking at himself in the mirror.

Somehow those words, describing his behavior, are the message to me.  But I really do not care for my image in a mirror and spend little time looking at, peeking at, myself reflected.  At least no more time than I have to. Should I be?

You would think that this behavior, this time spent in a non-food gathering, non-family nurturing activity would be detrimental to Mr. Cardinal but apparently not, as he lives on year after year but why does he do it?  What could a bird be getting out of the mirror peck activity?

Can birds be psychotic or neurotic?  Does he experience anger when he sees himself in the mirror?  Is he or she, kissing themselves in the mirror with all the peeking?

I watched him for a long time yesterday as he pecked away at his reflection and after a while, I just seemed to accept his pecking and was glad he was here with me.  Friends to a screwed up bird and maybe that is all there is to "the message".  What's next?  Friends to the wind or a cloud?


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