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Tikal Dreaming

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It was a bird I had always dreamt of. The ocellated turkey. A jungle turkey, a turkey not of dry upland hardwoods or pine flatwoods, but of humid tropical lowland forest. Not only that, but it was colorful, extravagantly beautiful, every inch of it a masterwork. I had seen a few poor images of it over the decades, but nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful the ocellated turkey is in life. I saw my first ones in 2006 at Tikal, when I was working with my little Olympus point-and-shoot. On the 2007 trip, I was ready for them with the Canon digital SLR."Ocellated" means "having eyes."

I'm posting about beautiful exotic birds today because it's still only 48 degrees, spitting rain, and I just read that the entire apple and peach crop in our area has been destroyed by freezing temperatures. I am thinking about a late summer and fall without sweet, snappy Honeycrisp apples from Grimm's Green Acres, without local peaches. I am thinking about the irrevocability of night after night of temperatures in the low 20's. I'm thinking about the people who have spent years cultivating these fruit trees, seeing all their effort go to nothing in a single cruel April week. I am thinking about five bluebird eggs, due to hatch tomorrow, in a box in my front yard. I am thinking that I should be able to help somehow, and knowing that I can't.

I went to find my asparagus today and the tips of the fat shoots are squishy and brown. My bleeding heart is a flaccid pile of limp yellow spaghetti, dotted with pink. Daffodils are prostrate, their flowers deflated like used Kleenex. The lilac is wearing a limp greenish-black shroud, when it should be opening its first sweet blue blossoms. The birches and willows are clothed in hanging, weird-smelling forest- green scrappets that used to be new leaves. Daylilies are translucent, deflated. The Russian prune hedge, once snow-white, is khaki brown, as is the old gnarly pear. I took pictures of them in their glory, which lasted exactly two days. April 11: There is not a flower or butterfly in the yard. Sometimes it hurts to be tuned into nature.

And so, tropical turkeys. Turkeys who know no season, who are beautiful year-round, who have never felt frost or even chill. Turkeys who wake up to day after warm, sunny day, who give a throbbing love song that sounds like a lawnmower starting up, who toss their electric-blue heads and strut around the ruins. Who sort through thousands of ornate feathers, rearranging them, beautiful and unconscious as Degas' preening dancers.
I was on a quick trip to the restroom (they are few and far-flung at Tikal), getting ready to head down a long trail with Bill and Jeff Gordon. I was hurrying. They were waiting for me. But so was grace. There, walking slowly through deep shadow, were four ocellated turkeys. On the trajectory they were taking, they would emerge into sunlight in a few minutes. Time stood still. I forgot the trail, the guys, the restroom, everything but the turkeys on their slow march toward sunlit glory. I hunkered down and waited, following them at a respectful distance, wallowing in their beauty, "spirit open to the thrust of grace," as Bruce Cockburn wrote.

We should be able to linger, able to stop and gape for awhile, no matter what we are doing, no matter where we are supposed to be. It is the essence of living well. We think our plans and schedules are what matter. I am sure now that it is everything else that happens around our plans that really matters. John Lennon knew it. "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." You don't "take a second" to cuddle your child. You cuddle your child, and let everything else wait. You don't "wait until I have time" to call your mom, your husband or your wife. Bruce again: Life's short. Call now. And from Zick: Stop. Gape. Take beauty in when and wherever you find it. Like the lilacs, it could be gone tomorrow.


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