Monday, September 5, 2011

The illusion of ownership

Winter and the Nuthatch

Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,
the timid nuthatch will come to me
if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.
The first time he did it
he landed smack on his belly, as though
the legs wouldn't cooperate. The next time
he was bolder. Then he became absolutely
wild about those walnuts.

But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,
the nuthatch was flying into a stranger's hand.
To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.
I wanted to say: Mister,
that nuthatch and I have a relationship.
It took hours of standing in the snow
before he would drop from the tree and trust my fingers.
But I didn't say anything.

Nobody owns the sky or the trees.
Nobody owns the hearts of birds.
Still, being human and partial therefore to my own
though not resentful of others fashioning theirs—

I'll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early.

-- Mary Oliver, from Red Bird.

I know, I know, this isn't a nuthatch, it's a chicadee -- but they do both have that distinctive stripe on their heads...

I read this poem this morning (some 30 pages in, Red Bird with its distinctive sadness about endings and loss is already becoming dogeared as well), and it resonated with that awkward sense of ownership one feels about... well, everything: our homes, our communities, our clothes, our friends, our "look"  -- Do you remember that funny song, "Paris Original" from the musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying?"

This irresistible Paris original,
So temptingly tight
I'm wearing tonight
'Specially for him. 

This irresistible Paris original,
I'm wearing tonight -- oh, no!
She's wearing tonight
And I could spit. 

Some irresponsible dress manufacturer
Just didn't play fair.
I'm one of a pair,
And I could---oh no! 

This irresistible Paris original,
All slinky with sin;
Already slunk in
And I could die.
And I could kill her.

It's this feeling that makes me risk straining my back to drag that beautiful piece of driftwood up into my yard so someone else won't walk off with it.  It's this feeling that makes me grumble (usually, thank heaven, followed by a self-deprecating chuckle) when I see strangers on my street, photographing my neighborhood (which is so lovely that I've produced a calendar for us all each year for the past 10 years; you'd think I'd be willing to share!).

It's the feeling, I suspect, that drives mankind to wars, and I don't love it in myself.  But at least I can smile at it, name it and claim it and make it my own -- and write a poem of course!


MainelySusan said...

What a timely post, Diane.
With Labor Day past most of the tourists are gone from the peninsula where I am fortunate enough to live year round. As I've watched the out of state plates stream by, I've caught myself growling occasionally, and not being as generous as I would like to be - especially since I've just completed my first year as a full-time resident - "being human and partial therefore to my own successes"

Thank you!

Diane Walker said...

When I lived on Orcas Island (also a tourist mecca) there were several island trucks (pickups, always with a hunting dog in the back) that had bumper stickers that read, "If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?"