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Rus Mental Contagion
Notes from open land
by Wendy Lewis


A band of jays, a pitying of turtledoves, a quarrel of sparrows.

I stopped feeding the birds about a year ago. I don't really know why. True, it was a production to buy the 50# bags of differing seed types necessary to feed the variety fowl, haul it all up behind the house, especially in winter, and mix it together in the weathered aluminum can. The feeders attracted squirrels, which consumed far more of the feed than the birds, and their presence provoked the dogs, cause for much whimpering, barking and chasing. But, I loved watching and identifying the birds, so I didn't mind the efforts or annoyances. The plain brown sparrows and finches were plentiful and the juncos playful. The nuthatches scurried up and down the trunk around the woodpeckers. Robins and ravens mixed with bluejays and cedar waxwings. Some rare days, I would be lucky enough to catch a cardinal, a goldfinch and an indigo blue bunting at the feeder together, redyellowblue leaping into harmony. I miss them.

A murmuration of starlings, a siege of herons, a troubling of hummingbirds.

Friends and family trickled in, spilled in, gushed in. All ages, sizes and personalities bringing their hopes, joys, secrets and disappointments. Lights were low, candles and fireplace burning. The ritual food was rich, wild and musty - jammy wine, roasted root vegetables, elk, plum sauce, pomegranate and greens, dark crusty bread, thick slabs of butter. Conversation hummed and simmered, swelling beyond its own embracing rim. The lost were found, the lonely met, the anticipated welcomed; a variety of hearts, humor and wit in impossible sync, glasses raised, "Here.... to family, friends as family, revelation and revolution!" Across town and across an un-flown universe, a confluence of blood, a dissolution of siblings, an entanglement of wives. Years of misunderstandings, assumptions, failed attempts, accusations, isolations, frustrations. We were not invited to their tables and they would not join us at ours. We gather instead on opposing shores while our father flies tirelessly back and forth between us.

A deceit of lapwings, a murder of crows, a conspiracy of ravens.

Among other beloved luminaries, Fatguy flew in from Oregon for the holidays. One of the gifts he brought us were a sublimely tacky, sculpted trio of birds whose bodies are split at angles where magnets were adhered. To play, each half was placed on opposing sides of a pane of glass giving the illusion that they were soaring through the window and into the room. The blue bird now flies in from the south-facing dining room window; the cardinal and hummingbird float from stacks of dishes through the hutch door panes in the same room. The tokens of affection we exchange keep us living in each other's houses. These kitchy clay birds will hover over us the way our love hovers over Oregon.

An exaltation of larks, a parliament of owls, a charm of goldfinches.

This morning, under heavy grey skies, I watched a few birds gather at the foot of the oak tree beyond my kitchen window. They were rummaging through the snow, instinct having led them back to a tree once used for shelter and a feeder once counted on for sustenance.

©2006 Mental Contagion • Making Space for Visual Artists & Writers