I used to believe I was crazy as a loon. So I would sit very still so as to calm myself, push the crazy down under the dark water till it stopped bubbling. I would sit very still on my porch because fresh air is better for that than indoor air. It was winter and everything was the way it was with no embellishment and then it was spring. I sat still outside on the porch through a good portion of that time and watched the world fill itself in gradually like a painting done with just a few brush strokes a day. Things turned greener and a few flowers bloomed. Mostly though, I noticed the birds. I had never done that before, which is strange because, trust me, once you start looking, the birds are everywhere. I didn't know much about them. I knew cardinals, robins, sparrows. What I mean to say is that I recognized these birds, but I didn't know them at all. I had never tried.
Early spring there came to the yard a mockingbird. Drab gray in color, but "conspicuous in flight," as Roger Tory Peterson wrote, this mocker was flashy and aggressive. After awhile, it seemed to greet me when I came outside. He had a way of swooping down onto a branch of tangled honeysuckle, greening but not yet in bloom, and checking me out whenever it heard the screen door slam behind me. Eventually, it began to speak to me. Not that I knew what it meant. Mockingbirds, I have since learned, are very vocal. They are the ones you hear on moonlit nights in the South, singing 20 different songs in almost an autistic rotation of exuberance and compulsion. They make a lot of noise, no doubt, but this bird -- this bird would swoop down mere feet from where I sat, look me straight in the eye and begin talking.
I entered a phase where I was putting a lot of thought into what this bird was trying to tell me. I still don't know. Those things aren't knowable. What happened, however, is that I became very interested in birds. By the next winter, I had gotten myself some binoculars and some field guides and I studied up on birdlife and went out into the woods and the marshes and the fields every chance I got. I went out in the cold and went out in the rain. I found an eagle's living-room sized nest and I now know where the wood ducks parade their ducklings on the backside of Roosevelt Island just across from the Kennedy Center. I have stood in forests so still you could anticipate a wren appearing on a log seconds before you would actually see it. I learned to look at the world a different way. I also learned a thing or two about birds. I learned that a loon isn't crazy at all. It just makes a crazy noise.