This time of year is especially steeped in old and new traditions celebrating religious deities, mid-winter rituals, and honoring our heroes past and present. We join with our loved ones, in our homes, in our communities, and revel.
Admittedly, I get annoyed with the crass commercialization that currently exists. As an American I sometimes feel steeped (and am) in a massive swirl of junk and nonsense. But I try hard to overlook this and take pleasure instead in the humble sweetness of being alive on planet earth.
Last night our 7 year old neighbor friend came over for a playdate to have dinner and open a few presents. He came over very excited and lovable, with his backpack filled with things to show us: a pint container filled with stones and rocks to look at with his magnifying glass, a yellow plastic gun filled with mini marshmallows that he shot against a target we concocted, a bag of marshmallows (of course), a very cool thing called a beyblade that was a flashy version of a spinning top, and his finger flashlight for the walk home. We didn’t talk about Santa (do we have to lie to celebrate?) but we had a great and wild time, and sweet moments. He sang Feliz Navidad, one of the songs he performed that day for the school program.
I like humans a lot, they’re my species. I also like many other mammals and animals of all sorts, and I go to them in my mind when I am overwhelmed with humans. It was the Australian bowerbird who came to mind recently one busy Wednesday as I stood in line at Target.
My current book is set in Australia, so I have spent a lot of time studying and visiting Australia. Their bowerbirds are fascinating. There are eight or so different kinds of bowerbirds and they all build their bowers differently, and then each individual adds their own special decorative touches.
The actual bower is a grassy structure made of sticks and grass, and the size and shape varies depending on the bowerbird species and location. It is a stage they build, to attract a mate. The bower bird is especially fascinating because of what they do to decorate their bower. There is nothing quite like it on this earth.
What you see in this photo is the beginning of a satin bowerbird bower we found when we were birdwatching in the rainforest one day. It is absolutely crazy to come across something like this in the forest. You’re hiking through a smelly, dripping rainforest that is completely devoid of humans, it is entirely organic and non-human. Climbing over huge slimy downed trees, you’re focused on avoiding thick streams of ant armies and intimidated by the cacophony of squawking and cackling. And then you come across something like this that is a massive mess of human debris. It looks like trash. Your first thought would be “Gross” except that all the “trash” is in one color. Bic pens, colored clothespins (called “pegs” in Australia), plastic straws, cigarette wrappers, bits of balloon, feathers—all in blue. What the….?
This is the proud estate of a male satin bowerbird.
These incredible birds build structures far taller than themselves and painstakingly collect all the most beautiful baubles they can find from all over their kingdom. So I think about this in that long line at the checkout, I look into the carts of my fellow humans to see what baubles they are transporting from this big, red empire to their own proud estates.
We like to share our beautiful things with one another and rejoice in our community. The satin bowerbird dazzles a future mate with exotic blue items, our little friend carries his special prizes on his back to entertain his friends. What a wonderful thing.