Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Digging up a memory, then wanting to cover it over with lime

Don't I look like an only child here? No siblings!
I don't where my big brother and my sisters are, probably off to
the side somewhere, goofing around. This photo was given
to me in a little photo album by my godmother and aunt
on my dad's side, Elva. A few years ago, she gave me and my siblings
each a little photo album she'd made; my album has photos she took
or collected that kind-of feature just me or show me with
my family. I'm guessing she took this photo herself,
as I had never seen it in my mom's collection of family photos.

I was just at Julie Zickefoose's amazing blog, reading a great post with lovely pics about sandhill cranes in New Mexico. Juxtaposed with pictures of her adorable kids and these beautiful birds, she mentions a sobering truth (my emphasis):

The cranes walk along the roads atop the dikes at Bosque, and they often seem to stand vehicles down, in no hurry to clear the way. It's so good to see them rule the place, when they're hunted for sport all along their flyway. Yes. Sandhill cranes are shot for sport (and occasionally for food) in every state they migrate through. There are seasons and bag limits on sandhill cranes all along their migratory route. If you don't believe me, just Google "Sandhill crane hunt." If you're sensitive, don't. Most birders, who will travel hundreds of miles to watch their migration gatherings, don't know that these "ancient birds" that they admire so much are targets for hunters, and are as shocked as I was to learn it. I think they need to know it, and I often bring it up when I'm among crane fans, even though it doesn't do much for my popularity. Talking about crane hunting in such circles has roughly the same effect as cutting a giant fart at a cocktail party.... The thought of bringing these long-lived, monogamous, family-oriented and highly intelligent birds down for sport or roasting makes me physically ill.

So I click on the comments link and proceed to write about how much I hate the idea of a hunter bringing down any animal, yadda yadda--you know my my views on that--and I'm typing the word verification . . . and then it hits me: the flash of a very old memory. What is it? It was so long ago. . . .

I'm probably four or five years old, and I'm petting a crane. I think to myself in the present, "how could I have petted a crane?" But the memory is persistent; it flashes over and over until it is no longer a single frame but an entire movie: several frames running over and over on a loop. My little hand, petting the blue-gray feathers of a crane.

Suddenly the silent movie becomes a talkie: my father's voice is telling me it's a "heron crane." My sister Mary and I are petting the bird.

I'm sitting here now, knowing now that this is a Great Blue Heron I'm petting--and this heron was stuffed and mounted by my amateur taxidermist father. He kept it in his workroom, along with his bobcat skin and his mounted rattlesnake skin. Maybe my mother wouldn't let him bring this stuff in the house? I don't know. But the heron has been sitting in his workroom for a while, so it's dusty and a little worn.

I remember that I pet the bird every time I'm in his workroom, as I watch him cut wood to make cabinets, or sharpen his garden hoe on his bench grinder, or find a screwdriver to fix some loosened fastening in the house. I pet its soft slick blue-gray feathers, marvel at its long skinny legs, and stare into its yellow-with-brown-pupils glass-marble eyes.

Even now, I can smell the oils, the wood, the metal shavings, the paint and stain, the dust in that room.

And I can remember petting the heron.

17 comments:

FranIAm said...

Oh my... Delia, I don't even know what to say.

It is always the dissonance of our families and our memories and of who they are and of who we become... How we become, who we become.

Thank you for sharing this.

And you are so waaaay cute as a little girl.

Mary said...

You are amazing, Delia, to make the connection with current and past...

We ARE composed of our past and our families. Sometimes, a little flicker of information will invoke strong feelings and you did it!

Awesome, awesome post.

I always chatter about Chickadees and other birds I love, but the one I admire above all else:

The Great Blue Heron (formally referred to by me as the Stinker)

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Wow. Powerful post.

Micgar said...

That's funny how our senses stir our memory huh? When i go over to my mom's house I sometimes smell my father's (who passed away 2 years ago) art supplies in one of the rooms and it reminds me immediately of him. We see those cranes all the time-I'm in ABQ, NM.
Nice post!

Julie Zickefoose said...

This is gorgeous, Delia. It has taken me forever to figure out the genesis of certain convictions. I have a similarly vivid recollection of weeping over pheasant feathers as my father and uncle plucked them in a small woodshed in Iowa, asking my dad if it was a hen or a rooster pheasant, asking him why he'd kill a mommy pheasant, clinging to his leg--I was so little, and felt it so unbelievably forcefully.
Thank you. I didn't know whether I should bring up crane hunting, and knew I couldn't ignore it any longer. It makes me angry to my core and I wanted good people like you to give it some thought.
I know the smile on that sweet little girl--I'm ONLY CHILD for right now! As the youngest of five, I LOVED being only child!

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