Friday, May 22, 2020

Poetry Friday: Pandemic Birding

Next week we're finishing up with school. Every year at this time I am grading huge piles of work and fretting that nobody learned as much as I had hoped. Every year at this time I am convinced I won't finish everything, and this will be the first year in my teaching career when I will not turn in my grades at all and just, I don't know, suffocate under a mound of unevaluated student writing. This year, all that is happening times a million. Of course, this year the writing is all in Google Docs, so the suffocation would be virtual. The perfect end to 2019-2020, when we here in Haiti spent more than fifty percent of our teaching time in lockdown, first for political crisis and then for health crisis.

Meanwhile, on Sunday I wrote this poem.

Palmchat, Source

Pandemic Birding, Sunday, May 17th, 2020

Today my brother wrote to tell me
that the nighthawks are back.
A friend texted a description of a bird
and then a photo of a scarlet tanager.
Another sent a video from a walk she took,
in which I could clearly hear woodpeckers.

My online birding group had a Big Day today
and birders all over the world added their finds to a spreadsheet.
It felt good to check for numerical updates on a list
that had nothing to do with sickness and death.
(We were just over a thousand species, last I looked.)

It’s not always easy to know
what to say to each other, these days,
as tragedies mount
and interpretations vary,
but then, we have the birds to report on,
and they’re doing what they’re supposed to,
behaving the way the books and apps predict,
going about their daily routines,
unaffected by human affairs.

I sat and watched palmchats today,
the national bird of the Dominican Republic,
our neighbor to the east.
They were enjoying the fruit
in the ficus tree in my yard.
There weren’t very many other birds out,
maybe because the palmchats were so noisy,
eating and hanging out close to each other,
the way - remember? - people used to.

Ruth, from

You can see more pictures of palmchats, and listen to how they sound, here.

Carol Varsalona has today's roundup, and it looks as though she and I were on the same wavelength, with seeking relief in nature.


Linda Mitchell said...

A lovely poem. I feel like I know exactly that place of knowing I simply won't get it all done. My work is different. Its orders and budget information and online connections with kids. I do love how the birds all around me are completely unaware...and act like nothing has changed. They are well. I think they are telling us to be well too.

Mandy said...

I've been watching the birds also a bit more and have a pair of eastern bluebirds for the first time. I loved your thoughts from the birds.

KatApel - said...

Wonderful poem, Ruth. It speaks of so many things. I do especially like that plaintive little ending...

Heidi Mordhorst said...

Hello, Ruth--a rich, rich poem of escape and focus and how everything brings us back around to the big thing. I'm so curious about the name of "palmchats"--surely they're called something else in the DR? I'm also noticing who's calling it a "quarantine" and who's calling it a "pandemic" and looking for patterns.

May you end your odd, unsatisfying year without virtual suffocation and with a remembrance that you were no doubt there for your students when they needed calm, steady listening.

Linda B said...

Wishing you no suffocation & finally a deep, deep breath that your work evaluating has ended, a goodbye like no other, I know. Your poem certainly shows the year for you, some for others. I hope that the summer fills with good thing for you & your students, Ruth, and loving "behaving the way the books and apps predict", a solace from the birds.

Ruth said...

Heidi, they are called cigua palmera in Spanish. In Kreyol, zwazo palmis.

Janice Scully said...

What a wonderful respite I felt reading your birding poem. I hope you get some good rest soon. I'm sure your students benefit from your love and attention.

jama said...

A wonderful poem, Ruth. A thousand species! This really speaks to the importance of finding purposeful work and community when all else feels overwhelming and uncertain.

Carol Varsalona said...

Yes, indeed, Ruth. We both seek refuge in nature. I listen to sounds, see sights I see everyday and note that I am well under the stress of the pandemic. We cannot even go beachside to hear the roar of the sea and the shrieks of the gulls but you added in a link to hear your birds in Haiti. I thank you for your poem and the bird calls. Would you like to offer the poem and photo for #natureNurtures2020 Gallery?

Tabatha said...

A thousand species is fantastic!
The photo of the palmchat is so interesting to looks very intelligent and maybe a little...tough.
Good luck with your papers. One foot in front of the other, Ruth. That's all we can do!

Mary Lee said...

What fun to have an online birding group! I think I might need to start one! We have been spending more time walking through All of This, and have seen lots of birds we wouldn't have ordinarily seen. (Especially if I had been drowning in the usual May Stuff.)

Peace to you, and no suffocation allowed!

laurasalas said...

So much bird enthusiasm! I love watching birds, though I know very little about them. But your poem made me think of talking with my dad, who has very opposite views from me on politics, pandemic, and more. It's hard to find common ground, but plants and birds are often where our conversation wanders...Thank you for your poem!

michelle kogan said...

Thanks for this mini rendezvous-escape via your poem and with the palmchats Ruth, nature's a wonderful thing to get lost in, especially birds. I enjoyed some of the movies your link brought us to. Your students will remember you were there for them–I was thinking about you this week as I heard another report about Haiti related to the pandemic. Hang in there. I hope you will enjoy more bird watching this summer.

Karen Eastlund said...

I am trying to remember when we could gather. I rejoice that the birds, the rabbits in my yard, the squirrels, and
the turtles in our canal all know what they are about. Best of luck with your end of year work...

Molly Hogan said...

The birds have been such a source of comfort for me in the midst of this crisis. I hope they continue to be one for you as well. I love the name "palmchat"--it just sounds so cozy and friendly sounding. Hang in there!