Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Countdown to 11/11: 5 days to go!

Top 11 reasons to look forward to turning 59 years old:

Number 5: 59 is just a really cool number. My car sometimes gets 59 mpg when I'm driving at 42 mph (42 of course being the answer to life, the universe, and everything).

'59 was a great year for movies: Sleeping Beauty, Some Like It Hot, North by Northwest, and The Diary of Anne Frank. I think Sleeping Beauty was the first movie I ever saw in a theater, and I was enthralled from start to finish. I'd hated the fairy tale. But Disney changed all the yucky parts--in the original story, she sleeps for 100 years, so everyone she knew and loved was dead when she wakes up, and the prince is some stranger who walks in, sees her in the bed, and just walks up and kisses her--I mean, how creepy is that??

Disney sensibly made Sleeping Beauty and the prince fall genuinely in love before she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. And the fairies put everyone into a magical sleep so when she woke up, everything was the same as before she fell asleep. Disney also added a cool dimension to the main character, who in their version sang like a lark from sheer joy from being in the woods with all the birds and squirrels and rabbits. I was entranced. The prince fell in love with her singing before he ever saw her, and he also fell in love with her for her charming relationship with the animals. I've been graced three times in my life with perfectly wild birds alighting on my hand, making me feel like Sleeping Beauty. On two different mornings, a kinglet (one time Ruby-crowned and one time Golden-crowned) alighted for a brief, shining moment on my finger while I was birding at Picnic Point in Madison, Wisconsin. I don't think either of them noticed me--I think my finger was just another branch to alight on momentarily while searching for bugs--but it was thrilling nonetheless.

My most amazingly thrilling experience with a wild bird alighting on me was again at Picnic Point on December 3, 1977. I heard my lifer Pine Grosbeak calling from a distance that cold winter day. I whistled to him as I walked toward him, and he seemed to be coming toward me--the sound grew louder more quickly than it would have if he were staying in place as I walked. When I saw him, he stayed at the top of a tree, looking straight at me while I whistled and he continued to call back to me. I have no idea why I pulled off my glove, but I did, and held up my hand, and--I am not making this up--he alighted on my finger, looked into my eyes, and warbled a bit more. He may have stayed there for 5 seconds or 5 minutes--probably closer to the former, since I don't think I breathed at all. Then he leisurely flitted to a nearby branch and continued to whistle right at me. One of the most magical moments of my entire life. I felt just like Sleeping Beauty, only in real life.

I also loved the fairies, and their names. Flora and Fauna! Merryweather! I also loved how successfully the fairies negotiated their entire lives without knowing how to clean house or cook. Magic wands!!! The prince could never have defeated Maleficent (another GREAT name!) without these strong female characters.

Sleeping Beauty was re-released in theaters in 1970, while Russ and I were dating. He was man enough to brave ridicule by taking me to see it--we uncomfortably found ourselves standing in line with two of our older, more sophisticated friends, at one of the first multiplexes, right when Airport came out. Naturally we assumed they were there to see Airport, but at the ticket booth, where Russ and Wayne kept insisting that the other go first, it turned out they were there to see Sleeping Beauty too. Whew!

One of the finest moments in any movie ever is right after Maleficent in dragon form goes down in flames. The prince is kneeling on the cliff, staring down at the abyss, the sky still glowing orange and red. His horse Sampson softly walks up to him and makes a gentle whinny. An inspired, quiet moment of grace. We named our first car (a 1971 Pinto, so naturally he needed a horse's name) Sammy after Prince Philip's horse.

1959 was a great year for baseball, for a Cubs fan. Ernie Banks was at his peak in '59, winning (for the second year in a row) the National League's Most Valuable Player award, becoming the first shortstop in the history of the National League to win the MVP award in back to back seasons. Ernie Banks may be the only MVP player ever to win for a team that never won a pennant during his entire career.

Of course, every year and every number has its dark side. 1959 was also the year I started third grade--the year I had the meanest teacher ever. She made me write 500 times, "I will not talk in line on the way to the bathroom on the day before my birthday." (Even then I was always excited before my birthday.) My poor hand still remembers every word. And I bet I'm not the only one who remembers Mrs. B. But, on the good side, she did teach me what kind of a teacher NOT to be.