When I was small my father used to sing a song he learned in the oral tradition, “Oh the Duke John was a mighty fine man, he had ten thousand men, he marched them all up the hill, then he marched them down again.” He also used to sing, “The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. And all that he could see, and all that he could see, was the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, was all that he could see.”
As kids, we just learn the songs and sing them because someone taught us. It’s only later that we start to think about what those songs could really mean. I think the first song was really about King George and how he was a nutcase who was sure he could see Italy out his bedroom window. He (and most monarchs and even some presidents, sadly) made his armies do things simply because he could and no one could complain, at least to his face. How the name got changed to “Duke John” I don’t know; words often change in the oral tradition and maybe my assumption this is about King George originally is incorrect, after all. Be that as it may, the point is that we all are involved in activities that occur over and over and are just as nutty and non-productive as marching up and down the same damn hills. The story of Sisyphus is a myth for a reason.
In the second song, we learn that no matter where we go, there we are. Our nature is the same no matter our place. Traveling doesn’t change that. Perhaps Emerson was right when he said we need to develop who we are where we are.
Although the birds in my backyard sing interesting and often lovely songs, it’s too bad they don’t have the benefit of reflecting upon my father’s songs. Week after week, all summer and long into the winter, they end up taking a joyride down my chimney and end up in the fireplace batting about, not enjoying, as none of us do, coming to a bad end. If I don’t hear them, they spent hours there in the dark, learning despair. What do they think when they find the bones of those I didn’t hear; the ones who came when I wasn’t home to hear? The cats, intrigued at first by the new sound of flapping wings in the stovepipe, become bored, stretch, and pad away. If they can’t pounce, don’t bother them. The birds are on their own, shortening their lives by all the frantic flapping.
I wonder, just as I do with humans, what makes them choose this downward slide? Do they fall in by mistake, a product of clumsy bumbling? “Oops! AIEEEE!”
Is it curiosity? “Hmm. What have we here? A black hole? Let’s investigate!”
Fatalism? “The hole is here, I’m here. My plunge is meant to be. I’m not going to live that long anyway.”
I see parallels here, don’t you?
Once or twice a week, I’m called upon to be compassionate, to rescue these misguided, winged wonders from the gloomy tomb in which they find themselves. I cover the pipe opening with a long plastic bag in which I once brought home seafood on ice. (It’s not easy getting a bird out of a home with multitudinous windows and vaulted ceilings, not to mention the superstition that a bird flying in the home signals death—hence the bag.) Finally, I open the flue and wait for them to come into the light, like some proselytizing prophet. Sometimes, it’s a long wait, as any prophet knows. Once they are safely inside the bag, I walk to the door and release them. They chatter a bit as they fly off. Maybe they are saying thank you. Maybe they are shouting relief.
I wonder how many times I rescue the same bird.
I wonder why I’m the one chosen to rescue them. Is it my destiny to be an avian avatar, the chosen one to show them the way?
Or am I just being who I am where I am, climbing up and down that mountain, trying to make some sense out of the journey?