Last week as I was locking my bike, I nearly ran over the body of a dead bird. It was about five inches long from beak tip to tail feathers and had a black head, back and wings with white spots, and a white belly. Orange tufts decorated each shoulder and the base of its tail. A beautiful bird. It lay sadly beneath a wide window of Bragdon Hall.
I have never been very good at bird ID, and frankly, unless it gives you immense pleasure to know what ridiculous name some nerd made up for all birds that look kind of like this one, I don’t think it really matters. As one Quest editor so eloquently put it, “Species are bullshit.”
This bird was an individual. It held all the character and life that you, reader, do in your own individuality. And like you, it was a pretty huge dumbass. In all likelihood, it died from a high-velocity collision with a windowpane that it did not know existed.
My hope is that this week’s bird serves as a reminder to those of us whose internal worlds are so dominated by the pleasure and tragedy of human society that complex emotional dramas unfold above our heads and beneath our feet despite our best efforts to pollute and pave them out. Incessant taxonomizing of our unknowable world domesticates the mystery and intrigue that once drew us out into the wild.
“Wilderness” is a bad concept. The canyon (or the biosphere, for that matter) is a garden and has been ever since humans first decided to name the creatures they shared land with. To name this bird would be to fold it under the pavement. The notion of the wild may be useful, however, in locating the nature in ourselves, our societies, our artificial materials, and geometric buildings as a spiritual promise that we will accept the unknowable parts of ourselves and share them with our fellow beings that fly in our skies.
I spent some time with the bird that I found. I borrowed a shovel and carefully lifted it from where it lay, and brought it out to the east end of the Canyon. I buried the bird under a wild tree, feeling a strange empathy for its life cut short. How many invisible anthropogenic barriers have I smacked into? How many have I helped to install?
I think there is a possibility for us to tear down some of these barriers, eventually. But in the meantime, it may be all we can do to help point them out to our dear bird friends. UV strips are very cheap and easy to slap onto the bigger windows around campus. A tiny investment from Reed could begin to re-wild our campus architecture. There was no difference between the canyon and the buildings that surround it to this bird. Maybe there shouldn’t be for us either.