Never one to shy from incongruence, both Bobolinks, one of my favorite birds, and the concept of American Exceptionalism have been flying parallel tracks in my mind the past several days. Actually, thinking about, even dreaming about, Bobolinks is far more pleasurable than wrestling with a jingoistic self-characterization that is both silly and morally indefensible.
One of my attractions to birds is that they go about their business and I go about mine. As long as we do not interfere with one another we maintain what is most probably a far more meaningful relationship to me than to them. We lock eyes from time to time and never have conversations of any sort. That suits me just fine.
I think often of philosopher/ mathematician Bertrand Russell’s observation that there are few experiences more tedious than the conversation of well-informed people. No bird has bent my ears about how special or exceptional he might be. That is an ethical code of conduct I can live with. I have a healthy respect for ambition, hard work, and its concomitant success.
Achievement of worthy, morally defensible goals is always deserving of respect and, often, emulation. There are examples of exceptional thought, behavior, and accomplishment the world over.
No one country or group or individual can rightfully claim sole ownership of the infinite variety of humankind’s dazzling capacities for inventiveness.
Such hubris augurs ill for those saturated by its seductive prowess. Literature and history abound with stories of the tragic consequences of hubris. Avian ethics often serve us exceptionally well as behavioral role models.
Bobolinks appeal to me on many levels. They are beautiful birds that travel more than twelve thousand miles every year to escape our cold northern winter. I have always been envious of their winter vacation spots: Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. All places I want to visit one of these days. They do it on the cheap, not having to pack, pay airfare, or deal with passports and visas. When the mood strikes them they flock up, set their navigational vectors, and head out. Migratory birds understood the virtues of globalism long before we ever did. One hopes that the most aggressively invasive species on earth, humankind, doesn’t screw up the planet so badly that one day we might wake up to birdless skies. The “We are exceptional” attitude comes with what a literary critic some years ago characterized as a blindness that derails insight. Birds primp and preen so as to fly more efficiently, keep themselves insect and disease free, and to facilitate courtship and mating. Humans utilize similar display techniques, but all too often go well beyond the requirements of procreation. I have never known a Bobolink or Scarlet Tanager or any other species to trumpet its ideological bents in the same fashions as we do. Birds go about being exactly what they are: birds. They do not display bumper stickers announcing their kids’ accomplishments or political convictions, nor do they find it necessary to proclaim sole ownership of political or social convictions of value. While there is a survival imperative among birds and animals, it is always tied to species survival and ecological sustainability. It never has anything at all to do with being, as is often the case with us, number one. Each bird species is happy simply getting by and being itself.
At any rate, I look forward to my walks these days, especially when I can lean against a fence post and watch those gorgeously attired black, yellow, and white birds fly crisscross wind tossed hay fields, every once in a while alighting atop a stalk of grass taking stock of things. Early territorial and courtship imperatives drain down lots of energy. I dream of long, hot summer days years ago forking hay up into a wagon pulled by two golden brown draft horses. Of lying in the grass, exhausted, chewing on a stem of freshly plucked Timothy, sweat trickling down my body, a short snooze just moments away.
I did not know Bobolinks in those days, but I did know the wonder of pure being, of feeling whole and complete and completely at peace with existence. I felt no competitive urges or edges at all. I still do the best I can at whatever it is that I do. As is
the case with birds, I see no reason at all to advertise it. Among the necessary ingredients of a long overdue cultural paradigm shift in this country is rediscovering the just rewards of humility.
MORE OF RICHARD DEROSA’S writing can be seen at his blog: rjderosa.com. Comments are welcome.