Friday, March 5, 2010

Fantasy birds

Things have been so gray of late. Interminable dark skies, frozen earth. It is a lonely, hard kind of a winter this one. The economy is still miserable no matter what the statistics say; my health insurance premium just tripled, which makes the petty sniping in Congress even harder to stomach. But I escaped last week. I was in Guatemala, a country as beautifully strange as its name.

And there at last I found my fantasy birds, all living amongst lush green fleshy plants, on rich volcanic slopes. Often I couldn't even see them, but only hear them calling to one another from deep within the greenness and the mist. Emerald Toucanets barking like dogs. Long-tailed Manikins that sounded like the sweetest clearest bells. Violaceous trogons doing a hollow haunting staccato sound.

My eyes found it hard to adjust to all that green life after being so accustomed to fields of white and bare twigs against a flat gray sky. But when I did catch a glimpse of one of these birds, it took my breath away.

Greens, turquoises reds, oranges, and yellows so rich and lustrous it didn't seem possible. Outlandish crests, extravagant trailing tails. Bright flashes of surreal shapes and hues flitting through the leaves so that at first I thought I had imagined them, dreamed them while awake.

I usually find it frustrating when I go birding and hear birds calling but can't find them, or when other people see a bird and I can't. But here, with an orchestra of bird calls all around me, big old trees, tangling vines, and the promise of seeing a flash of color and wing at any moment, I just didn't care. It was all beauty. And it was a source of joy knowing that I would never see some of the incredible birds that I could hear calling from behind towering stands of bamboo or across the other side of a densely forested valley. Here were the birds of my dreams living out their lives in secret. This was their kingdom.

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