Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Day in the Twin Cities

Thursday I went down to the Twin Cities to spend some time with my Journey North buddy Jane. We'd made these plans over a week ago, and I decided to go through with it even after the horrible collapse of the I-35W bridge. Traffic wasn't nearly as bad as I'd expected, though it took almost 4 hours to get to Jane's--I usually go over the bridge, so had to take an alternate route.

Jane and I needed some down time, so she and I decided to just do what we felt like, so we went out to lunch and then to Garrison Keillor's book store, Common Good Books, in St. Paul. What a lovely little place--just like my fantasy perfect bookstore! Well, except for one little thing--my fantasy bookstore would carry my books. I checked out the nature section and then Jane asked at the desk but they hadn't heard of me. Oh, well--it wasn't that disappointing, and then we headed to the movies to see Hairspray--there wasn't a single bird in the film, but it was a joyous riot. I just love Christopher Walken when he gets into dancin' mode.

Then yesterday I met up with my friend Julie Brophy. She and I are going to be working on a project next year trying to attract nighthawks to nest on rooftops by providing nest pads, and we were making some plans for the project over lunch. Then we headed to Purgatory Creek to see what we could see. Neither of us had been there before, and we had no clue where the blind was (must be a pretty effective one!) so we missed the Red-necked Phalaropes that had been hanging out there. We did see several species of shorebirds including one Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and lots of egrets. A family with a couple of little kids came by and Julie helped them see some of the birds. But despite the nice variety of birds and the fun of seeing children enjoying them, the low water levels filled with dying, struggling fish made me sad.

I drove home feeling low, listening to news of deaths in Iraq, deaths in the Mississippi, crumbling infrastructure and droughts and hot temperatures, and wondering what we can do to turn things around. Where's Franklin Roosevelt when we need him? Just think--while he was president, we defeated BOTH the Japanese and the Nazis in less than four years while ending the Great Depression and keeping our country as united in purpose as it's ever been since the Revolution. I think the secret of Roosevelt's success was his reminder that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. It's rather the opposite approach to our current color-coded fear-mongering, keeping everyone on high alert about Iraq even as we make arrangements to provide weapons to Saudi Arabia, the very country that supplied almost all the hijackers on 9/11. I find it all very confusing and demoralizing, but as I said, pessimism and fear are not the way to pull ourselves out of this morass. It's important to pay attention to the loveliness in our midst so we stay anchored to the best of our world. I don't think it's a coincidence that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who so believed in and affirmed human dignity and and value of each human being, was also an avid birder--he knew what was worth protecting and saving, and why.

We need to be more proactive--about our aging infrastructure, the quality of our air and water, and disappearing natural habitats. The egret was the bird the National Audubon Society has long used as its emblem, since Audubon got its start in the band of people working hard to stop the slaughter of birds for their beautiful plumes. But the egret serves equally well as an emblem for clean air and water, and protecting wetlands and other habitats. I saw an egret flying overhead during television coverage of the I-35W bridge, threading its way through the scene as if knowing that the fates of every creature on earth are inextricably stitched to our survival. Collapsing buildings and bridges, exploding pipes, bombs and automatic weapons and land mines--all of these bode ill for birds as well as us humans. Roosevelt would have understood.