Cedar Waxwings

On the way to class on a gray chill Thursday afternoon overloaded with the lesson plan in my head and the computer:

  • to complete discussion of last paragraphs of Thoreau’s “Sounds”– the negative formula divesting the saunterer of worldly encumbrances: “No yard but unfenced nature reaching up to your very sills, A young forest growing up under your meadows.”  The irony of 600,000 people a year visiting Walden today, the edge of the  pond “restored” with rebar grid and imported rocks, sand and tree plantings. My afternoon there in the rain, in 2003, swimming in my underpants.
  • moving on to “Solitude””its insistence on the refusal to grieve”for the lost younger brother and the lost beloved, the only two people Thoreau was really close to”and the insistence on the cockerel’s joyful exuberance felt even by the “misanthrope and most melancholy man,” except for the one hour of “a slight insanity in my mood,”  after which “every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.”  The desire to dwell not in a neighborhood but rather “most near to the perennial source of our life, whence in all our experience we have found that to issue, as the willow stands near the water and sends out its roots in that direction.”  The conclusion of that most transcendent chapter, the cry for a drug to repair the rent that tears us from our essence: “What is the pill which will keep us well, serene, contented?” And the answer””a draught of undiluted morning air.”

As I approached the English building I was distracted by a gaggle of bird calls overhead. In the flat backlight I couldn’t make out their shape”were they starlings or grackles?  One bunch was rustling in the top leaves of the holly trees alongside the door, while another was spinning cartwheels just above it, and several individuals dashed toward Eucalyptus trees back by the Plant Conservatory.  Then the group overhead descended to the hollies, the group in the trees blasted together to the Eucs and different individuals shot up and down over the building.  I noticed the birds in the tree were gobbling the red holly berries. Now it registered: a migrating flock of Cedar Waxwings  drunk on fermented fruit.  I had seen such a flock seven or eight years ago on the sycamores where Via Carta crosses Brizzolara Creek, but they were sitting at rest, illuminated by the morning sun, their chamois-smooth bodies glowing, their graceful crests  and eye masks on stately display.

I begged them to stay  for another ten minutes.  As the students assembled in the classroom, I googled “Cedar Waxwing Drunk” and put up this webpage on the screen.

After the’d all arrived, I led them through the long corridor of building 10 and out the door on a sixty second hike. The party was still in full swing.

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