January 19, 2011

Snow buntings on the hill

  
Birds play a role in the visual literacy of most all of the world’s religions. The trickster raven, the altruistic pelican, the falcon headed sun god. To modern non-believer birds often go unnoticed, a thin spoke in Mother Nature’s wheel or at best represent a connection to place rather than religious allegory. A summer forest is more forest when a thrush is signing, a beach is more beach with a gull overhead, and perhaps Spring isn’t Spring without a robin.

On the morning of January 17th as I parked my car to attend the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast at Quinsigimond Community College atop Greendale hill in Worcester, a loose band of about fifteen Snow buntings landed in the grass in front of me. Snow buntings are a high arctic, white and black bird with patchy gray feathers dispersed depending on age and sex. They appear in New England during the winter, enjoying the frozen peaks and taiga like haunts of airports and beach dunes. They seem out place in their snow colored plumage and bounding flight.

Seeing these arctic fairies dashing into the air on long, elegant wings in the urban heart of Worcester seemed nothing less than supernatural. The air was a still 11°, the sun out, on a day for remembering non-violence, tolerance and love these buntings seemed to leap from the hands of John the Baptist into the air on a mission of good will.

There is no tangible connection between bird watching (a pastime notoriously devoid of cultural diversity) and Dr. King’s legacy and this moment was admittedly anthropomorphized. Yet, seeing these strange and surprising visitors was a reminder of the possibility of life –hopeful and unexpected. On a day marked by the remembrance of a slain leader, the work that has been done, the work that still must be done these arctic buntings became an eccentric allegory for a moment of personal solace in the seven hills of Worcester.

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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