A Confluence of Birds

I still haven't found the right words for it yet: serendipity is too ... ordinary and not entirely accurate. If I were religious, I might describe it as a manifestation of the glory and beauty of God's work (inspired, I came home and read Gerald Manley Hopkins, seeing in his words something I had never truly felt before).

It was beautiful, a marvel, a extraordinary confluence of the complex and the simple, the technical and the primitive, the power and palette of nature. All this over the paved suburbia of Northern Virginia, mocking the six lanes of traffic threading in and out and around, below.

Four flocks of birds converged over the extraordinarily ugly mini-subdivision at Route 7 and the beginning of Sterling Boulevard. The flew through each other, joining paths, splitting up, flying above, below, around, and away from each other.

They formed fluid ovals of black and brown against the blue-grey sky, shifting dimensions and growing darker and lighter as the flocks moved and merged. They swooped around each other, and then one by one, each group set out southwards, each on different projectories, at different speeds, and in different formations.

My words don't even begin to capture the beauty and captivation of the instant. I was transfixed (and grateful for the red light); it was one of those rare moments where I was entirely transported to a moment - and the first one that didn't involve some great piece of art, or music, or something made by man or woman.

A billion things rushed through my head, all cloaked in shadows and vague wisps, lurking in the deepest depths and most hidden crannies of my mind, saving themselves for a later moment when they'd jump out, fully realized.

I felt a certain inferiority: that natural precision, that glorious confluence, the way colors were formed and muted away, the shapes created, the graceful arcs, the gorgeous choreography of the birds, these are the things I want to produce in my work.

This inferiority was without the shame, or self-deprecation, or bitter feelings of inferiority in regards to another person can. Inferiority is probably the wrong word, as it was more a case of being awed by nature and knowing that I can not be so extraordinary, that my work can not be of that ilk.

The inferiority to nature wasn't painful at all; it was a realization of the order of life, of the extraordinary aspects of the world around us, and the reminder that I am not only not the center of the world, but that life is full of small moments of earth-shattering joy.

That moment when the birds converged and diverged left me with an amazing sense of renewal, and gratitude that I had gotten to see so beautiful a thing.

This document was originally written on January 15, 1998. An edited version of this appeared in the Journal of the Delaware Audobon Society.