Friday, November 30, 2012
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
This question never crossed my mind until yesterday, when I began reading about emus' stabby, huge (not "quite small"!) bills. I guess that if I'd thought about emus' wings at all, I would have assumed they were that weird shaggy kind of pelt that emus have, as if they're wandering around wearing a blanket all the time.
But there is a reason you've never seen an emu's wings: they're underneath all that shagginess, and they're tiny. Smaller than a crow's. Of course, this makes sense, given that they hardly need wings when they don't fly and can run like something out of Jurassic Park.
The fear I had of them as a child is turning more into fascination and a kind of awe -- but I got a chill when I found the Aboriginal story of how the Emu in the Sky came to be.
The Emu in the Sky is not so much a constellation as a negative heavenly space: the shape of an emu's body formed not from stars but from dark patches of the Milky Way. The giant emu was consigned there for eternity by a husband exacting justice upon the bird for killing his wife, according to people from Papunya, in the Northern Territory.
If you fancy going to this link to a great article about Aboriginal astronomy, it's worth clicking through to the second picture in the slide show: an astonishing photo of the emu's shape visible in the night sky, mirroring an Aboriginal rock carving on the ground below, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, in Sydney.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Emus were right up there on my list of frightening animals. They were so much taller than me. Their necks were like furry snakes. Those giant eyelashes and great dark marbles for eyes, boring into you. The only reason the emus were actually staring was to see whether they liked the look of what you had on your sandwich, but that didn't stop me from thinking they were sizing up the best angle of attack. I most feared what they could do with those big triangular beaks.
Thank heavens I didn't know then what I know now: that it's their claws they use for defense, and those claws are strong enough to rip metal fences, and if cornered they kick with their big, three-toed feet. I guess I didn't notice the horrifying feet because I was too busy trying to keep an eye on their terrifying beaks, which always seemed to be erratically darting toward you on that serpentine neck, heading towards the above-mentioned sandwich . . . or, in one memorable case, a couple of Salada biscuits spread with margarine and Vegemite, which an emu snatched from my hands and seemed to quite enjoy. (For those who aren't familiar with this delicacy, Salada biscuits are like Saltine crackers. The best part about them was that when you stuck two of them together with Vegemite and margarine and then forcibly squished down on them with your chubby little fingers, the margarine and Vegemite would extrude out like tiny nubs of white and black spaghetti. Entertainment was much simpler before iPhones.) I'm sorry, Wikipedia, but the emu's bill is not "quite small." It's a gigantic pointy stabby implement.
When Frank found this video today of errant emus wandering the streets of western Sydney and disrupting traffic, I felt certain that as an adult, I would look at their beaks and bobbing heads and realize that my childhood perceptions were all wrong. In fact, seeing them against the suburban backdrop just highlighted how right I was to be awestruck by them. What incredible creatures they are. The way they move, the way they look so confident and inquisitive, the plumage on their backs that looks weirdly like shaggy fur, the general prehistoricness of them...which is no doubt why, as the guy in the pretty phenomenal hat in the video points out, they still don't know to look both ways before they cross the road.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Ceaseless honking. Sporadic squabbles. Strange outliers accepted. The solitary Snow Goose. The Barnacle Goose. The one Brant that doesn't know it's meant to be at the beach, not here in the middle of farmland. Four White-fronted Geese, whose orange feet not too long ago probably touched the earth of Greenland, which seems magical to me. The female Black Scoter bobbing limp at the water's edge, her life ending in this improbable place, never making it to the ocean for the winter. A Mallard hybrid who doesn't know his spiffy white bib sets him apart. The shabby-looking Common Merganser that I hope fattens up and makes it through the season.
It seems that every bird as the winter approaches knows that this is a good place to be. Rawk, there goes two Ravens overhead. Great Blue Heron. Red-tailed Hawk. And then there is the peculiar boy with the peculiar dog -- half black Lab, half Chow. The boy proudly proves the dog's Chow ancestry by prising open its willing mouth and showing off its purple tongue to me. "His name's Seamus," he says. "I'm trying to get him to catch one of these geese here, so I can eat it." He throws bread at the birds, which sail around him at a safe distance, watching with canny eyes. "Seamus is an alpha male. He'll attack and kill anything," the boy explains, as the purple-tongued dog snaffles the scattered bread, wags its tail, and lumbers over for a pat, oblivious of the waterfowl.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
The clear New England sky, bare branches, the oxygen in my lungs, my heart beating in my chest, love and warmth and friends, acceptance, hope, life and memory and the fact that even those who are no longer taking in that oxygen and that crisp autumn sky are still here as long as they are in our memories.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
(Picture: By Charles R. Knight (Making of America) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Monday, November 19, 2012
|(Just spare a thought for a moment for the stylist who worked on this shot. You know it took hours.)|
I don't think Wild Turkeys are dopes. I think they're majestic and gorgeous, strutting and wobbling their wattles and preening feathers that to me look like some kind of lustrous suit of armor.
|Wild Turkeys, Arizona (Photo by Frank Gallo)|
|Wild Turkey, Arizona (Photo by Frank Gallo)|
|Guinea fowl (Photo by Fir002/Flagstaffotos via Wikimedia Commons)|
|Mmm, delicious-looking guinea fowl. (Photo by By FASTILY via Wikimedia Commons)|