What nepenthe cannot stall

The birds are the first ones to make an impression on me each day — they are the first creatures I encounter since I’m often the first in our family to wake and rise — and so these near countless varieties of friends make morning what it is to me.

  • There was the eagle I saw at Lake Champion as I sat on a dock with coffee; again, before anyone was up. Just after sunrise. This bird — “bird”? …that word seems too simple for such a majestic creature — swooped from its nest across the water, about 100 yards away. With one near-effortless beat of its considerable wings — wings alone that are almost frightening, not to mention the talons below them or the eyes that lead them — it glided across to my side, about 75 feet to my right, and then circled back, dropping to the water’s surface, and cleanly fished an unwitting prey from its morning swim. Causing barely a ripple and with maybe another three or four (at most) beats, it returned home with breakfast for all. It took me more effort in New York City to go to the corner bodega for toasted bagels.
  • New York City… from our terrace on 84th Street, especially during summer mornings with coffee under the umbrella, I’d hear catbirds, towhees, blue jays, sparrows and robins of course, the occasional red-tailed hawk, the annoying chicken next door during our final two years there, and — perhaps a couple times — the elusive raven.
    • It was not a crow — for Poe did not get a tapping from a crow, because he could have easily ignored that; no, it was a raven about which he wrote on that very street 150 years prior to my sitting on the terrace. The rapping and tapping came to him during a cold December and was made known to the world on January 29, 1845. Likely the raven wanted to be somewhere warm, at least somewhere warmer than perched on a window ledge between Riverside and Broadway. It was a “visitor,” the poet surmised. But the raven wanted more than warmth; it had wisdom, and it perched on Poe’s bust of the goddess. The two of them — bird and Pallas — offered only silence about the demise of the beloved Lenore.
  • Only silence. It was on a bright morning at Point O’Woods, a gated, exclusive beach community that I summered in from age 3 to 40, when my mother taught me to hear the bird that sang, “Drink your TEA!” We stood on the front step of that small white house — probably the most affordable in the community — stood there before the tennis players clad in white bicycled past for their early court times and listened. When the towhee called, Mom would look down at me and chirp, “Drink your TEEEEA!” Then she’d crinkle her nose conspiratorially, and I’m sure I smiled back. Who wouldn’t?

Here in Ruidoso it is the ravens that greet me each morning.

It’s said that they have wisdom to impart. Was it wisdom that Poe’s Raven — “that prophet…that bird or devil!” — was offering, or was it prompting in Poe an unanswerable question. “Where is Lenore? Do the angels speak her name? I must know!”

The question I have for the stately ravens here in Ruidoso is, “What is it you have to say? Is there any message for me? Are you even aware that I am here? Yes, I had a ‘Lenore’ whose fate was a mystery to me for 56 years, and now I know. That’s been answered. The angels have not begun speaking her name, but they will before long. Surely you’re not here for that. So why do you appear each morning here and throughout the day? I’m beginning to feel both trapped and unwelcome by your presence.”

As I write, I hear more of the bird’s gargled and cryptic wisdom. Unlike the towhee, whose song was a greeting; unlike the eagle, who merely let me admire her, not considering me at all; the raven calls me yet holds me at a distance. He offers me knowledge of my future in a language I can never know. He asks me to consider and decide on a path without telling me all the facts. Indeed, without giving me a single one. He poses only new questions.

Unlike the others of his breed, his presence — as Poe sadly knew — brings no blessing.

Wisdom rarely does.

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