If I could be any bird, what would it be? This is a question I have thought about since my initiation into the birding world nearly ten years ago. Since I still can’t tell you what I want to be when I grow up, I ponder this question instead.
I suppose the question itself is not unlike what you would ask a person with a pair of shoes or handbag for every occasion—evening stroll, wedding, or slog through Southeast Alaska mudflat. Since moving to Alaska, my choice in footwear has been winnowed down, reduced to two seasons—wet and dry; non-insulated and insulated xtratuf—so again, I return to the birds.
The more I learn about birds, the more difficult the choice becomes. I began by trying to choose one species that fit me perfectly, my personality, my appearance, my likes and dislikes. The more I have reflected on the question, the more complicated the possible answer. There just does not seem to be one, singular bird to claim as my own, a spirit guide to sit on my shoulder as I wander through this life, to fly a few feet ahead, day in and day out, and make sure I am moving in the right direction.
To make matters worse, every new place I travel, I meet new birds and my repertoire from which to choose my ideal guide grows greater and ever more complicated.
Could I be a wren? A round, spritely bird for all habitat occasions: marsh, forest, rock, or canyon. Troglodytes pacificus, the pacific wren, is tiny and simple to look at, shades of brown and rufous with spindly, determined legs and feet, song more complicated than most and lasting for nearly 13 seconds (that is a long time for a bird to sing). Perhaps, I could. But coming in for a closer look, I think about the winter wren’s tendency to nest in cavities with little light, to skulking beneath shrub and behind stone, jumping up and into the open periodically to survey the scene but generally remaining hidden in the foliage, a dweller of forest thick with secrets.
The canyon wren, Catherpes mexicanus, hides deeper still, camouflaged by color and habitat in the depths of sand, sage, and boulder, its cascading notes descending from high to low a ghostly echo, a reminder of life in a harsh land.
There are times when I finally force myself to roll out of bed in the morning that I feel like a wild-crested Steller’s jay with shocking, blue plumes. Other mornings, the thought of leaving the warmth and comfort of the covers to face the world leaves me cowering as if a hermit thrush.
My life path as uncertain as it is in the present moment leads me to try on the character of the Roadrunner, perpetually in motion, moving swiftly with only fleeting glances to the ground already trod upon and eyes steadfastly anchored on the path ahead.