Following up on last week’s post about the red-tailed hawks of 185 Fresh Pond Parkway, I stopped by the Hawks “R” Us strip mall on Tuesday to get a progress report. Turns out that the middle hawk, Larry, took his first flight over the Memorial Day weekend (no doubt he was compelled off the nest by the holiday furniture sale at a nearby retailer. Nothing says “Honor the War Dead” like buying a new sofabed at 40% off.) I asked one of the omnipresent onlookers if she had managed to get a picture of the big event. She growled, “No. I was being harassed by a goddamn religious zealot who kept saying I should have my camera focused on the heavens, and not on a bird’s nest.”
Yes, well, do go on! She then told me that Larry is surprisingly good at flying but he hasn’t gotten the hang of landing. His inability to stick the landing has kept him from returning to the nest, which he apparently wants to do. On one of his early flights, he landed on the point of the office building, just above the nest, and because there was nothing to dig his talons into, he slid halfway down, a la Charlie Chaplin, before taking off again. If you click on the photo to the right, you’ll go to a very cool photo gallery that documents some of Larry’s first flying adventures.
A local nature blogger has been posting fairly regularly on the progress of the hawk chicks and the phenomenon of the human circus that has gathered around these birds. I love his post from June 2, which you can read if you click here. In particular, I love his account of Larry’s meet-up with his dad, Buzz, who gave Larry the chipmunk he had been carrying back to the youngsters still in the nest. I love it so much I stole one of the lines from it for the title of this entry.
All week I’ve been thinking about these birds learning to fly, and how flying seems to be easier than landing, at least at first. It makes me wonder if animals can curse. Surely, if there were reason to let fly with a string of obscenities, it would be when you’ve landed on the point of a roof, and you begin to slide down awkwardly and unintentionally, all while being photographed and ogled as though you’re on the red carpet at the Oscars.
There’s a reason that sports commentators gush about someone “sticking the landing” – it’s hard to do. When Sheerah and Lulu were learning to walk, whenever they lost their balance and toppled over, their dad would go into baseball umpire mode and say “Safe!” while making the accompanying “Safe!” signal with his arms. I always thought that was a brilliant strategy – way better than rushing over, picking the kid up and saying, “It’s okay honey, try it again!” The “Safe!” signal is, generally speaking, a true statement to a kid learning to walk that she is safe, in a “no blood, no foul” type of way. And it’s an entertaining diversion from whatever minor pain or embarrassment a kid who’s learning to walk might feel at falling down for no apparent reason. And today I’m thinking it’s the hawk equivalent of being given a complete chipmunk. Just forget about how you look while you’re learning to do this hard thing. Get out there, try it again, and whenever you manage to land, no matter how it looks, you might just get a complete chipmunk!
Maybe there ought to be a Complete Chipmunk Award for trying something new, where you may (or may not) end up like looking like a complete idiot, but at least you had the guts to move outside your comfort zone. Heyyyy, wait a minute…I’m a writer, I hereby declare such an award! I’ll have to figure out the criteria for earning the award. Or maybe I’ll keep the criteria a secret, so they can change over time to suit my whimsies. For now, the Complete Chipmunk Award does not come with any golden statuette or cash prize. Fercryinoutloud, folks, I’m a writer not a financier.
I’ve been listening a lot this week to songs from Peter Gabriel’s “Scratch My Back” project. I’ve been a huge Peter Gabriel fan since my teens when he was with the band Genesis (the first incarnation of it.) I love all sorts of things about this project. Mostly, I love the variety of songs Gabriel covers, his self-imposed restriction of no guitars and no drums, and his idea of asking the artists he covers to cover one of his songs in return. Initially, Gabriel’s plan was to release both albums simultaneously, but there have been delays in completing the album of others covering his songs. The idea of making so much more than a covers album, of using the project as a springboard to collaborate with the artists he’s covering, even if the project doesn’t quite unfold the way he had originally hoped – that is what wins Peter Gabriel my inaugural Complete Chipmunk Award. Well, that and I got all tickled at the possibility of mentioning Peter Gabriel and the word chipmunk in the same sentence.
I highly recommend you go here to read Gabriel reflecting on each of track of “Scratch My Back.” Compare this project to Renée Fleming’s new album “Dark Hope”, of the renowned opera singer recording cover tunes from the so-called “indie rock” world. Or don’t compare the projects. I have, and I gotta tell you, Renée, Peter Gabriel makes your project look like a bald-faced attempt to make a record that appeals to a bunch of different demographics (and by “demographics” we mean “wallets,” don’t we?) Renée might be eligible for a Complete Chipmunk Award if she took my blogging buddy James Primosch’s advice and recorded an album of contemporary composers such as George Crumb and John Harbison. I love Renée Fleming’s work, but, really, does the world need yet another cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”? This hot-head says no. No chipmunk for you.
Here are two videos about the “Scratch My Back” project. This first one is about Peter Gabriel’s recording of Bon Iver’s mysterious song “Flume,” and of Justin Vernon’s (a.k.a. Bon Iver’s) recording of Gabriel’s “Come Talk to Me.” I love that Vernon included a banjo in his instrumentation for “Come Talk to Me.” I’ve never thought of a banjo as an instrument that conjures up yearning, but I think it works here, the way he uses it. If these songs were on vinyl, I would have worn the record out by now, just from the last week alone.
This next video is about Peter Gabriel’s recording of Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble” from the “Graceland” album, and of Simon’s recording of Gabriel’s anti-apartheid anthem “Biko.” I love how Gabriel’s take on “Boy in the Bubble” plumbs the depths of the terror in the lyrics, and how Simon’s recording of “Biko” uses the slackly-tuned 12-string guitar to echo the clicking language of Stephen Biko’s Xhosa people. Goosebumps.
Speaking of hot-heads, it pains me to send you to iTunes, because Apple’s proprietary approach to music distribution pisses me off, but sometimes you have to suck it up to support Chipmunk-worthy art. Here’s where you can download “Flume” and “Come Talk to Me.” And here’s where you can download “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Biko.” I recommend you listen to them with the volume turned up to 11.