Coming home to roost to celebrate San Jacinto Day?

corrmorants

 

Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life,
The middle Tree and highest there that grew, 
Sat like a Cormorant; yet not true Life
Thereby regaind, but sat devising Death
To them who liv’d….

Paradise Lost, John Milton

Satan disguised as a cormorant to spy on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden seems apt to me.

stretching-cormorant
USDA photo

The gloomy-looking double-crested cormorants always spook me. They love to pose on the chains by the dam by the marina, stretching their pterodactyl-type wings as though offering to lift the chains for the barges to cruise right under, dramatically plunging to the level below.

I feel a little bit better about this display now that I know they have no oil glands to repel water; they have to spread their wings to dry out their water-logged feathers. They can’t help it.

But cormorants pop up suddenly from underwater, seemingly out of nowhere, as you walk along the river’s banks. Like Lola Fandango swimming in the tank in Where the Boys Are, these expert fishermen can hold their breath as they swim underwater for a long time. More than a minute.

Even one of river’s cormorants can give me the willies. That’s why this Hitchcock-like gathering of the birds on the Mission Reach seemed particularly ominous the other morning. For birds added to the list of those protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the 1970s, this had to represent some kind of major powwow. Fortunately, their eyes focused toward downtown, the water buzzards let us pass by them unharmed.

What could the convention of cormorants portend? The Irish part of me heaved a sigh of relief – at least the sea crows were not perched atop a church steeple.

Some cultures consider cormorants noble, but, while I’m trying to regard the glass as half-full, I can’t sell myself on that one.

Fishermen regard their sighting as good luck; the fish they seek should be found nearby. One plus for the cormorant.

According to the USDA, greedy cormorants keep fish from overpopulating the river. They actually are an environmental indicator species, meaning the environment of the Mission Reach is healthy. So our cormorants are bearers of good news. Chalk up one more for the cormorant, plus one for the work of the San Antonio River Authority.

In old Norwegian legends, a trio of cormorants bear messages or warnings from the dead.*

But we encountered a whole army of them ready to invade downtown. There were maybe 100 of them. Maybe even more than 200 (Okay, I’m not sure how many. But we definitely were outnumbered.).

But good ol’ Cliff helped me figure this out. Norwegians also believed the dead used the cormorant guise another way as well – so they could fly home for a visit.

the spirits of defenders of the Alamo?
the noble spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

So, based on my extensive research, my interpretation of the meaning of the gathered army follows.

Obviously, those cormorants were the defenders of the Alamo, rising up to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Mexican Army at San Jacinto in 1836.

What do you think of that brilliant idea, my friend, Phil Collins?

Fiesta San Antonio must be their favorite holiday for rising from the grave. Betcha they come back next year.

*I have to stop right here and make a confession to the spirit of Mrs. Masterson. Some of these concepts came from CliffsNotes.com. But I promise. I never opened one of those guides once in your class in high school. Not for Milton. Not even when Moby Dick threatened to swallow all time for social life. Plus, I knew you could smell a CliffsNotes’ idea in the answer to a discussion question before the ink dried. Toward the end of the book, though, I did start reading only every fifth chapter…. That was still a whale of a lot of pages.

Ominous omens keep flying by…

OMEN, n. A sign that something will happen if nothing happens.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary (1911)

No matter what, it’s the San Antonio Book Festival’s fault. Writing about some of the authors scheduled to appear there sent me back to a post from long ago about Jake Silverstein’s book, Nothing Happened and Then It Did, which had sent me delving back into The Devil’s Dictionary. Hence the omen reference. Add to that overstimulation from listening to five full sessions of authors talking followed by the Literary Death Match.

National Park Service photo of red-tailed hawk
National Park Service photo of red-tailed hawk

This past Thursday morning, the Mister and I headed southward for our morning walk. A hawk swooped onto a tree not 15 feet in front of us. It was a newly planted tree on the Eagleland stretch of the San Antonio River, the name of which comes not from sightings of eagles but from the Brackenridge High School’s mascot.

The branches of this 12-foot tree were not big enough to successfully support a hold-onto-your-chihuahua-size hawk; so, before we could even zip out and focus the smartphone, he flew off. While we were fiddling like dummies with the smartphone, the hawk caught something white now dangling helplessly from the hawk’s claws.

I wasn’t thinking omen yet. But a mile or so later on the Mission Reach by Lone Star, we saw another hawk swooping through the sky. We were impressed by a two-hawk day because we rarely even spy one.

But that afternoon, there was a third flying across 281 right in front of me as I headed to a meeting.

Three hawks. Now that seemed ominous to me.

Some people view hawks as messengers. Messengers bearing warnings, not usually glad tidings. I was afraid to even begin to surf the internet to find out what it would mean if three were trying to deliver news to me. I elected to prefer the theory that the hawks just happened to live nearby; it was meal time; and I was passing through their grocery store.

The next afternoon was warm. We had the doors on the second floor wide open. I kept hearing noises, though home alone.

Bravely going back up the stairs to the third floor, I found the source. A sparrow clinging to the shade on the south bank of windows.

I’m thinking omens again. Some people believe a bird flying into your house is a sign of death. I prefer the belief it means a loved one is trying to communicate with you from the grave. That seems more comforting.

Unfortunately, the windows on the third floor do not open. I was pondering how I was going to convince the sparrow to go back down a floor to the open doors when the sparrow spied this:

spring-green

The bank of windows on the north side. Well, the sparrow went for it as fast as his wings could flap through the length of the house.

Smack. Thud.

I’m thinking serious omen.

A bird breaks his neck flying into your window, particularly while inside the house? Not a good sign. A harbinger of death.

But a break came. A major stroke of good luck. When the sparrow hit the glass, he fell smack into the middle of the trashcan beside my desk onto a soft bed of kleenix, ever-present during this season of pollen.

I was able to cover him with a jacket and cart him out to the back porch. Upon my removal of the cover, he sat there stunned for quite a while. He had been tricked by those very same green leaves once, and, no fool, he wasn’t going to race toward them again. After about 30 minutes, he trusted his surroundings and fluttered home.

Surely that trumped all prior gloomy warnings.

I fretted a bit all weekend but finally decided no news was good news.

brokenwindowOur daughter solved it all inadvertently with an email with this photo attached. Aha, the sparrow must have been trying to tell me there had been a storm in Austin, and a branch blew into their house and smashed a window. Phew.

And then, on the phone later, she told me about the impending death. The Mister’s Infinity that had passed her way was in the process of passing away.

The Mister was sad. He loved that car.

But I was jubilant. Those hawks were only trying to tell me the Infinity was dying. I can handle that. I never even learned to find it in a parking lot; one silver sedan looks just like all the others to me.

I’m not paying attention to messages from birds again though; no matter what that pair of coots on the Mission Reach seems to be trying to say. The foreboding row of dark cormorants perched on the dam won’t scare me.

And those herons and egrets? They and all the other birds who didn’t use to flourish here are only here because our environment is improving everyday as the San Antonio River Improvements Project matures.

clawThe Mister and I just happen to walk right across their dining room table, often interrupting a crawfish feast, as we head southward.

And, that sparrow spared by the bed of kleenix absolutely has to be a sign of good luck.

April 29, 2014, Update: The flock of wild parrots that are spied around Southtown periodically just spent about 10 minutes fluttering around a cypress tree outside my window. Spectacular. Wish they would stay, but I think even that temporal a siting is a good sign.