I caught it out of the corner of my eye last summer: six broccoli plants in a row, taking a bow in a rolling wave, like stumpy Rockettes. It didn’t make sense but it was graceful and lovely. And then I noticed the choreographer: a crow had taken off abruptly from one end of the broccoli bed and set them rocking. It reminded me that another thing that invariably makes me happy is wingbeats. Wingbeats! The flappination of air!
Everybody’s all about the bird songs, but I like wingbeats so much that sometimes I stand under the bird feeder just to hear them properly. I still don’t know that many bird songs but I can distinguish different species’ wingbeats at my feeder with my eyes closed. And as long as I keep them closed I’ll never know I’m wrong.
Dave and I were on a trail on Mt. Hood one time. It was a dark narrow corridor, the trees nearby on both sides and meeting just above our heads. Then there was this sensation, a throb, a premonition. Like your last breath before the Rapture. And a moment later a raven came up from behind and flew right over us, slow, not much faster than we were walking, so that we had time to feel its majestic percussion. Flap. Flap. Flap. I’m telling you, it was holy. And so much better than the Second Coming, in that we didn’t have to worry if it was too late to join the right team. We knew we were exactly where we belonged: on our home planet, which we get to share with an iridescent black angel.
Pigeons, on the other hand, have many fine qualities, but I don’t care. They kind of bug me. And one of the things that bugs me about pigeons is how noisy their wingbeats are. Looks like they’re smacking their own wings together over their heads, and that’s just so inelegant and sloppy. That’s if you can get them in the air to begin with. Their indifference to being stepped on bugs me too. Weird shiny little head-bobbers with a bad diet. Even the iridescence is all wrong. Ravens shimmer in a shifting sheen of purple and green. Pigeons look like an oil slick.
But I do know Studley’s wingbeats. Flibberty flibberty. They’re a certain pitch and a certain speed and, most important, a certain distance away. Like, if they end up on your hat? It’s Studley.
The sound of a normal wingbeat has to do with the air turbulence. But owls have engineered fluff on the leading edges of their wings to muffle their sound and can fly almost silently. This is real handy if you want to sneak up on a shrew. And it’s right considerate too, from the shrew’s standpoint. It’s bad enough getting turned into an owl pellet without having to suffer that last bit of panic and dread.
When it’s my time to go I hope an owl brings the news. If not, a chickadee will do. That’s it’s own kind of rapture.
Merry Christmas, y’all. Here’s something: listen for the wingbeats!