Birds of a feather

Two of my friends are in town for a wedding (whose reception is going on right now, in fact). Nearly five years ago, two of my other friends got married in that same church, and I was part of the ceremony. One of the things that I find interesting (and sometimes saddening) about weddings is that they leave me reflecting on my social continuity--or lack of it. Of all the people with whom I graduated, I have only maintained contact with one woman--my OhioanIowan friend with whom I drove 600 miles to see a prairie--and even with her, I have been doing a poor job of late. In fact, the past six months have seen me lose touch with many of my good friends, for no real reason other than a busyness that leaves me wan and wasted when I look up from my books. Somehow it seems as though I should be able to recognize that keeping up long-distance friendships will help keep me from getting so fatigued. And yet, like so many things, not being in touch becomes a vicious cycle.

The March before my OhioanIowan friend's wedding, I decided to make her a thousand paper cranes. She planned her wedding for a couple of years, in the interstices of her days as a high-powered consultant, and so she amassed a possibly unprecedentedly tall stack of bridal magazines. Perusing one of these magazines during my spring break visit that year, I discovered some picture of a woman standing under a tree hung with origami cranes, and inspiration hit. (Are you figuring out that I get smacked around by inspiration pretty regularly?) I had learned to make cranes the September before, on a trip to Japan to meet up with my father, who was finishing a six-week business stay in Hiroshima. And so I collected a few packs of paper and got to work. I folded while talking on the phone; while eating dinner; while visiting friends; (and this one is my favorite) even while flying on airplanes. I left the final step--folding down their wings and giving them a little tug so that they become discernible as birds--undone so that I could link them in lines of ten and pack them in boxes of 250. I finished the last ones about ten days before the wedding, by which time my mother had also gotten in on the act, cutting me a plethora of wrapping paper squares when I started to run out of raw materials. We hung the cranes everywhere at the reception hall. I was so proud--probably overproud, possessed of a little too much braggadoccio. I haven't yet figured out how to be at weddings (or a lot of other functions, for that matter) without drawing attention to myself in some dramatic way.

On the way back to Gambier yesterday, I saw my first Vs of geese this winter. At first, I didn't recognize them as geese: the first V I saw was in the process of reforming somewhere over the southbound lanes of the interstate, while I flew up the northbound about twenty minutes north of King's Island and still a good forty minutes south of the Hell Commandments billboards. As they rearranged themselves and slipped back into pattern, though, I knew what I was watching. Canada geese are my favorite
birds, hands down (to the point where one of my most excellent Gambier friends brought a terrific coffee mug, decorated with stylized Canada geese, back from Canada for me this summer). I love them even though they're overpopulating and becoming a nuisance in golf courses, parking lots, and subdivisions everywhere; I hardly blame the geese for this problem. In grad school, I used to love watching the geese track up and down and back and forth across the lake all winter long. One afternoon, after a seminar let out at 3:20, I was talking to some friends when the largest formation of geese I've ever seen flew overhead. It must have had at least a hundred geese in it. When I lived in Rochester, I loved the drive to Ithaca because of a twenty-minute span during which NY-89 tracks along the northwestern edge of Cayuga Lake. Not only was the lake always breathtaking--I think it will always be the lake against which I measure all other lakes--but often there were several gaggles of geese hanging out on or about the lake, up in that upper corner. I was never quite sure why they were all there, but I loved to see them.

My mother taught me that geese fly in a V because they pick up each other's slack; if on
e gets tired, it gets moved back in the formation so that it can rest up, and if one falls behind or gets injured, another drops out and stays with it. A few years ago, I watched geese stream by against a full moon, forming and reforming their V, with a person I thought I would be with for a lot longer than I was; the next day, he was picking up the sounds of migrating gaggles long before I, and I read this as a trustworthy sign. My active narrative imagination had gotten me into trouble before, has done it again since, and no doubt will do it again in the future, but at least now I grasp the myriad ways the pathetic fallacy really does fly my life.

This past October, visiting my Brooklynite friend, I walked in Prospect Park with her and her wonderful small person. She brought along a small tub of corn to feed to the geese who live on the pond, some of whom I had seen flying past me, at eye level and in close range, the previous afternoon as I walked home from some bookshopping and culture-gulping in the Slope. The geese were intrigued by the corn, but it sank too quickly to be of much use to them, alas. The baby, however, was delighted by what he saw. I have pictures where I can barely see his face and can still tell, from the position of his eyelids, that the hidden bottom half of his face is an enormous, baby-toothy grin, probably framing a chortle. Later, after climbing slides and swinging gates, we stopped to watch an Orthodox Jewish family feeding some other geese. This time, I took pictures: picture after picture, as though to make up for the Cayuga geese I was never able to catch, as I sped toward what still felt painfully like home, that winter I lived in Rochester. This picture might be my favorite, even though some of the others were framed more neatly, &c.:

The picture makes me think of lines from the end of Elizabeth Bishop's "At the Fishhouses"; I've quoted these lines elsewhere in the past month or so, which suggests to me that they're hovering not far from the surface of my mind:

The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.
My Brooklynite friend sent me a Christmas present that must have arrived just after I left town; appropriately, it's another picture of the small person, smiling as though he knows something's coming just around the corner. She also sent a scarf that marries my two favorite things--a silky print and a stripey knit--and a new thinking cap, replete with sequins, but if she's reading I want her to know that the picture is the real present, and I am so lucky. She's only one of the people I'm wanting to make more contact with as this new year takes off.

And now, speaking of getting in touch, I'm about to videoIM with my father. Tres exciting!

sources for today's images: 1) How to fold a paper crane; 2) News-Medical.Net; 3) a trainspotter's online journal; 4) yours truly.