The other day, I decided to treat myself to an eleven-dollar bottle of Italian wine and to make some home-made guacamole. So, I went downtown to make my desired purchases of ingredients at a local wine shop and the adjacent grocery. When I was leaving with my purchases, I happened to notice a small, dead bird on the freshly resurfaced parking lot which is shared by the places where I had made my purchases. I recognized the patterns on the bird immediately and I was filled with sorrow. I wondered how this small tragedy came to be in this place. I speculated that it must have been deposited by the front of a vehicle which had been out in the countryside.
I felt puzzled because the bird was a Dickcissal. They are not likely to be found in a town.
They are a bird which somewhat erratically appears in summer in the open pastures and prairies of the Midwest. They are finches which innocuously summer here and travel thousands of miles in migration to Central and South America where they are considered an agricultural pest. Here, they are dapper little yellow breasted announcements of “dick,dick,cis,cis,cis,sal” which feed on insects and seeds with, generally, considerable space between their territories. A few years of traveling thousands of miles every year under their own power is not a small thing to accomplish, but that is their life.
To most people, they are an unknown entity, but to me they are one of the treasures of the Midwest and they are a measure of environmental quality. It is also noteworthy that their numbers have dropped off by an estimated 25% over the past few decades.
As I briefly stood in sorrow on that hot black surface with its intense yellow guidelines, I was struck by how the brilliant yellow softness of that breast which no longer pulsed was reflected in, and contrasted with, the hard artificial controls of the human made lines. I found myself remembering the painting of a chained goldfinch by Carel Fabritius which had stunned me with its skilled execution, symbolism, and seemingly advanced anachronistic existence when I was an art history student in the 1980s.
Both images, the one before me and the one of memory were the result of human actions which I imagined were disconnections from nature. At the same time, I know that any disconnection from nature is an impossibility. Human nature and human cultures seem to be largely driven by a need to believe that we have power over nature, but that sense of our place in the supposed scheme of things is possibly our greatest folly. An image of a chained little songbird and the reality of a dead little songbird in a seemingly alien location to its habitat are of no less significance than any other supposed achievements by humanity. We have been led to believe otherwise by religions and other forms of desperation.
The power to be disconnected from the effects of our existence is all around us and it is a very dangerous power. Trillions and trillions of imagined monetary worth is obsessively sought and used to maintain our vain delusions of superiority over nature and each other while the signals of the extent of our delusions are all around us, but we are usually too busy trying to be a part of our personal cultural delusions to learn to see or comprehend any message from beyond our delusions.
So, there I was, in “the Midwest,” seeking “Italian wine” and avocados while pondering the seeming alien location of a little native who had died not so far away while I was seeking things which were far from native to my location. My desires were not disconnected from a system which relies upon huge amounts of cruelty and death in regions halfway around the world and the chain which connected me to my little perch gave off a little glint of brilliancy in the body of that Dickcissal.