The year of the…

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Image taken in 2008.

In her paean to birding, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, Lyanda Lynn Haupt writes:

There is a game birders play on New Year’s Day called “Bird of the Year.” The very first bird you see on the first day of the new year is your theme bird for the next 365 days. It might seem a curious custom, but people who watch birds regularly are always contriving ways to keep themselves interested. This is one of those ways. You are given the possibility of creating something extraordinary — a Year of the Osprey, Year of the Pileated Woodpecker, Year of the Trumpeter Swan. This game is an inspiration to place yourself in natural circumstances that will yield a heavenly bird, blessing your year, your perspective, your imagination, your spirit. New year, new bird.

After her breathless anticipation, Haupt is confronted with… an Eastern Starling, or “sky-rat.” The Year of the Eastern Starling. Inauspicious, yes, but not without its charms, according to Haupt.

Last year, I lifted the window-hanging while still curled in bed and saw a female Northern Cardinal at one of the feeders. This year, I awoke to the sound of house sparrows in the bushes beneath my bedroom window. The window-hanging was slightly raised, so, to avoid seeing them, I squeezed my eyes shut, rolled to the other side of the bed, and went back to sleep. I admit: Yes, I’d like a crow or a blue jay. Is that too much to ask? Later, when I finally walked out into the living room, three cardinals, a house finch, and several dark-eyed juncos were at the feeding station, but what did I see first?

House sparrows.

Happy holidays

P1000477Christmas. Not my favorite. Never has been. Never will be. And for a while there… well, it appalled me.

When we adopted Rosemary in June 2014, it became clear in only a few days that she was one “crazy cat.” As the winter holiday approached, I cautioned that a tree might throw our somewhat calmed kitty back into a frenzy. My daughters reluctantly agreed, and I? Well, I thanked the universe for my offbeat new pet.

In the intervening 4.5 years, Rosemary has mellowed, so I guess I wasn’t surprised when my older daughter gently pined for a little tree this year. I’ve never been able to resist trying to grant my children’s wishes, which are usually so modest and doable; I love making them smile. So, about the tree in my house, I will say this: It made her happy, and when it comes down tomorrow morning, it will make me happy, too.

Two weeks

Before they struck out on their own…

How the time passed:

■ two fledged robins and numerous other juveniles, including cardinals, sparrows, red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, and goldfinches;
■ one play (Buried Child at Writers Theatre);
■ two museum adventures: the Field and the Shedd;
■ one documentary (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?);
■ fifteen hours of music practice;
■ one music lesson;
■ one American Red Cross course (Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED);
■ four “dates” with the lawnmower, edger, and trimmer;
■ three trips to the car dealership (Bleah!);
■ two hours of volunteer work;
■ two episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale;
■ the first week of my current MOOC (music theory); and
■ six books:

Macbeth (William Shakespeare; 1606. Drama.)
Royal City, Vol. 2: Sonic Youth (Jeff Lemire; 2017. Graphic non-fiction.)
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (Patty Yumi Cottrell; 2017. Fiction.)
Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare) (Jo Nesbø; 2018. Fiction.)
Hamlet (William Shakespeare; 1602. Drama.)
The Lying Game (Ruth Ware; 2017. Fiction.)

As well as all of the even more commonplace activities (e.g., errands, chores, walks, games) that this parttime educator’s summer months comprise. Apart from car shopping and the excessive heat warnings, the season has been quite kind to me, so far. How has your summer been?

Next up: mid-year reading review.

Backyard birding

Over the last nine days, I have, among other things:

■ followed the progress of the robin family that calls our forsythia bush, “Home”;
■ mowed the lawn three times (!!);
■ seen a play (Suddenly, Last Summer at the Raven);
■ visited the Lincoln Park Zoo;
■ prepared for and undergone one of those screenings doctors recommend for all of us fifty-plus folk;
■ potted a couple of new plants and repotted some older ones;
■ lost a battle against an unidentified and insistent weed in my back garden area;
■ seen a good movie (I, Tonya) and a good documentary (Jane);
■ caught up on the harrowing second season of The Handmaid’s Tale;
■ fretted about how little I have practiced my music; and
■ finished four books:

Sometimes I Lie (Alice Feeney; 2017. Fiction.)
Buried Child (Sam Shepherd; 1978. Drama.)
The Idealist (Justin Peters; 2016. Non-fiction.)
Behold the Dreamers (Imbolo Mbue; 2016. Fiction.)

For the commonplace book, from Act Two of Buried Child:

SHELLY: Can’t we just drive to New Mexico? This is terrible, Vince! I don’t want to stay here. In this house. I thought it was going to be turkey dinners and apple pie and all that kinda stuff.
VINCE: Well I hate to disappoint you!
SHELLY: I’m not disappointed! I’m fuckin’ terrified! I wanna’ go!

Seen at or under the feeders…

… in the last three days:

American Goldfinch
American Robin
Baltimore Oriole
Black-capped Chickadee
Blue Jay
Brown Thrasher
Brown-headed Cowbird
Downy Woodpecker
European Starling
Hermit Thrush
House Finch
House Sparrow
House Wren
Mourning Dove
Northern Cardinal
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
White-breasted Nuthatch
White-crowned Sparrow

The year of the…

In her paean to birding, Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, Lyanda Lynn Haupt writes:

There is a game birders play on New Year’s Day called “Bird of the Year.” The very first bird you see on the first day of the new year is your theme bird for the next 365 days. It might seem a curious custom, but people who watch birds regularly are always contriving ways to keep themselves interested. This is one of those ways. You are given the possibility of creating something extraordinary — a Year of the Osprey, Year of the Pileated Woodpecker, Year of the Trumpeter Swan. This game is an inspiration to place yourself in natural circumstances that will yield a heavenly bird, blessing your year, your perspective, your imagination, your spirit. New year, new bird.

After her breathless anticipation, Haupt is confronted with… an Eastern Starling, or “sky-rat.”

The Year of the Eastern Starling. Inauspicious, yes, but not without its charms, according to Haupt.

As I have on the past fourteen or so New Year’s Eves, I ensured that all of the feeders were topped off and that corn and nuts were scattered for the squirrels last night. (There are, of course, no squirrel-proof feeders, but I have learned that feed scattered away from the feeders will (mostly) keep those furry nuisances away from the birds and the more expensive seed.) Last year, I espied a black-capped chickadee in the oak out back. This year, I lifted the window-hanging while still curled in bed and saw a female Northern Cardinal at one of the feeders.

Project Feederwatch

img_6870The 2017-2018 season of Project FeederWatch began on November 11, but there is still time to register for this wonderful program.

From the Project FeederWatch website:

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Anyone interested in birds can participate. FeederWatch is conducted by people of all skill levels and backgrounds, including children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs. You can count birds as often as every week, or as infrequently as you like: the schedule is completely flexible. All you need is a bird feeder, bird bath, or plantings that attract birds.

If you plan to participate, set up your feeders and commit to keeping them filled throughout the season. Use a variety of feeders and seed to attract a greater variety of visitors. For more information, check out this site.

Notes from the last few weeks

Baltimore Oriole.

The orioles arrived before May concluded, but we have not yet espied the indigo buntings — in the yards or on the bike trail. And now it is June. In fact, it is fiercely June: The rains abruptly concluded about ten days ago, and the grass, which has assumed a slightly o’ercooked tan-green hue, sighs, “More water, please,” as it crunches underfoot.

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We have enjoyed some terrific theater since I last wrote: Not about Nightingales at the Raven, Pass Over at Steppenwolf, and Great Expectations, a Remy Bumppo and Silk Road Rising collaboration.

We had not been to the Raven since All My Sons in 2014. The excellent performances in Nightingales, an early and uneven Tennessee Williams work, ensured that we will make returning a priority.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Pass Over (which features ensemble member Jon Michael Hill — popularly recognizable for his Elementary gig) leans heavily but effectively on the structure of its chief influence, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and its leads, Hill and Julian Parker, deliver compelling, get-out-your-chair-and-applaud performances. (Added bonus: Hill and Parker are Illini!) If you’re in the area, you should see this one.

You should also see the collaboration of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company and Silk Road Rising, in which Pip’s “great expectations” take him from his small Indian village to colonized Calcutta. (More information here; review here.)

We also saw the National Theatre Live broadcast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, featuring Daniel Radcliffe. Catch a rebroadcast, if you can.

Do you listen to podcasts? Our drive in and out of Chicago yesterday was punctuated by the first three episodes of S-Town. Fans of both seasons of Serial, we all agree Brian Reed’s narrative style outstrips that of Sarah Koenig: Hers were great stories adequately told; his is a good story well told.

That said, the spoiler-ish “Was the Art of S-Town Worth the Pain?” (The Atlantic, April 9) has made. me. think.

Evaluate the moral price of producing good art and what damage it might cause to those involved when their secrets are instantly available for the entertainment consumption of thousands or millions of listeners. ­­S-Town may be a groundbreaking new kind of podcast; it also, like many poems, memoirs, and articles before it, confesses other people’s pain in a public—and at times questionable—way.

Speaking of episodes, my husband and I must catch up on 8 and 9 of The Handmaid’s Tale before the finale this week. (I hope you’re all watching.)

When I’m not watching (or backyard birding or biking or writing or…), I am, of course, reading, and my participation in the “Shakespeare in a Year” project is going particularly well. In fact, finishing The Rape of Lucrece early last month put me ahead of schedule. My remarks on the poem:

Last year, I read Cymbeline in anticipation of seeing a Shakespeare Project of Chicago production; and more recently, I stumbled on a film that imagines Cymbeline as a conflict between a motorcycle gang and corrupt police. As I read The Rape of Lucrece, then, I was immediately reminded of the Posthumus, Iachimo, and Imogen storyline.

Fundamentally, the similarity between Imogen’s story and Lucrece’s, the origins of both of which are ancient, is that their husbands publicly rhapsodize on their beauty and chastity — and thus, embolden their listeners. The husbands’ lack of circumspection leads to the violation of their wives. What a theme, eh? The listener in Cymbeline is Iachimo, who spends an uncomfortable amount of time ogling Imogen as she sleeps before stealing a trinket. He later lies about enjoying her bed. In The Rape of Lucrece, the listener is Tarquin, who also leers at the slumbering wife before violating her.

On hearing Iachimo’s false claims, a jealous Posthumus arranges for Imogen’s death. Of course, when the duplicity is uncovered at the conclusion of the play, Posthumus and Imogen are reunited. Yes, I am aware that we are readers “out of time,” so to speak, but I remain as horrified by their rekindled relationship as I am by that of Hero and Claudio in Much Ado. (Would that Benedict had killed Claudio, but, then, that’s not a comedy, is it?) How does the idea that one’s partner wished her dead inform the union?

Shudder.

Unlike Imogen, who is initially unaware of the attack on her reputation, the raped Lucrece determines to tell her story and name her attacker. That she sees death as the only release from her shame resonates in this, a month in which many are talking about a television show that depicts the rape and suicide of a high school student who, with her recorded note, tells her story and names her attacker. Shame transcends time, apparently, as do jealousy, lechery, and sexual violence.

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In one of those moments of serendipity / synthesis / synchronicity, we visited the Art Institute not long after I had finished the poem and posted to the “Shakespeare in a Year” group. Now Tintoretto’s Tarquin and Lucretia, always unsettling, is forever stitched to my reading.

More soon.

A field guide to the birds

Roadside Silhouettes

The image above shows the inside cover of a fifty-five-year-old copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds. One of the advantages of helping sort the thousands of books donated to our library’s sales is that one may find a treasure like this… for $1.

Speaking of birds, and treasures… The female rose-breasted grosbeak was at the feeder this morning — as fine a celebration of my daughters’ return as any.

Much of the girls’ first two days home involved unpacking their belongings and eating, in their words, “good food.” My younger daughter also joined me in the yard work Friday and Monday. We’ve planted and / or hung a number of bird- and butterfly-attracting plants this year and set up a new wasp-resistant hummingbird feeder. The male ruby-throated hummingbird has already put in a brief appearance, and all the usual suspects — robins, cardinals, goldfinches, blue jays, mourning doves, house finches, nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and more — join us regularly. Once the orioles and indigo buntings stop by, it can most certainly be called May in the forever home.

(When my daughters and I sit in companionable silence and watch the birds, I am reminded of the many hours over many years we have spent observing backyard visitors. How is it possible that they are college seniors already? Time bends and folds.)

In other news… Over the weekend, we headed into Chicago for the Court Theatre’s production of Harvey. Timothy Edward Kane’s turn as Elwood Dowd is reason enough to see the play. Recommended.