Birds are like flowers, magically named and reminders to look up from what it is that I'm grading or watching on television and remember that mercifully, life is not all humanity and computer-driven. It is spring in Tennessee and I am on a mission to make my Sibley Guide to Birds my constant companion, along with a book about trees and shrubbery in Knoxville that I haven't looked for yet in the library. Identifying birds I am unfamiliar with is challenging. I can narrow things down somewhat, but the Sibley Guide, for all its richness, needs a section for bird-ignorant people like me that says things like "Can often be found in your yard, pulling worms from the ground until their guts are full of the slithery stuff." Then I would know, hey that gasoline-feathered bird is a starling! It is clear as I write this that a starling poem is nesting in my head. I will go sit on that soon.
There are plenty of robins in Knoxville, which makes me feel more at home as the state bird of Michigan is the robin. Also of Michigan is the state motto, circumspice, meaning "look about you." And since I miss my beautiful state that is calling for me from my Tennessee television with travel ads filled with water and fishtowns and deep sunsets, I'll do the next best thing: I'll look about Tennessee and try to make this place more familiar by learning that starlings are nuisances here and are warned off by cannons in the summer and the Bradford Pear tree, the first flowering tree of spring with its acrid, lovely aroma and appearance of snow falling everywhere, is a fast friend with that starling, made for each other, attracted by the very nature of their nature. Soon Tennessee will not seem so foreign. I hardly recognize the accents anymore.
And do the tomatoes here grow slower and speak liltingly like all other southern things? Soon I will know as I will be planting tomatoes, green beans (with their delicate white flowers), basil, mint, and whatever else looks nice and like something I would like to eat. Since Michael and I are committing to Tennessee and to one house for the next three years, I can finally plant something and watch it come out of the ground anxiously, impatiently, fearful for its strength and liveliness.
Not unlike I am waiting for this baby, anxiously, impatiently, fearful. It is that time in the pregnancy where bargains are struck with God. Let my baby be healthy and smart and I will go to Mass every Sunday. Let my baby love the outdoors and be friendly to strangers and I will teach him the importance of the rosary and daily prayer.
We must name him, a task far too big even for us whose vocabularies and student rosters are full of minglings of letters and vowel sounds and alliterations. We cannot name him wrong. We will never have a dog and we might not have another child so this one has to count. His naming cannot be the first pancake. My husband and I are stubborn, he far more than me. For us to agree on something that is perfect and whole and right will be quite a task.
The naming has to be like a bird's or a flower's, just right, individual, not silly, not too strange, not susceptible to shorthands we do not like. It has to be a series of letters flying through the sky that speak to who and what our baby is. Maybe we should wait until he's five to name him. Maybe then we'll know him better after I've learned his birds and his flowers and when his seasons come - when his accent to me is as familiar as Michigan.