Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Given the incorrigible nature of everything else of late, 60-degree mornings in mid-June should not have come as a surprise. And, yet, they did. Dressed in a fleece and leggings, I kept my appointment with the world and walked east toward the sun.
The morning glories, misunderstanding the temperature, remained open, vines spreading over the edge of the ditch and white faces thrust toward the light from a reclining position. They reminded me of untended children – eager and vulnerable. It was a revelatory moment the first time I realized that morning glories and passion flowers grow in roughly the same place, just on opposite ends of the day, as if they were estranged relatives sharing the same house.
Not a mile up the road I started hearing songbirds, lots o
f them, their voices floating through the cooler air in cleanly clipped notes, nothing like the thick hum that moves wave-like in the heat, a choir of indistinguishable voices. I noticed one bird, in particular, balanced on a power line just above my head and realized that he was singing three completely different songs, one after the other.
I watched until he flew away and as he spread his tail feathers I identified him. A mockingbird. The impressionist of the avian world. It struck me in that moment that he carried a most unfortunate and, in fact, incorrect name. The talented chorister was not mocking at all, not in the sense of making fun, teasing, insinuating that there was something inferior about the songs of the other birds that he so blithely performed. Mimicking, yes, but not mocking. Engaging, I decided, in what we call the sincerest form of flattery – imitation.
Imitation, of course, has its own issues. In a world where branding is the goal, imitation becomes an adjective that means artificial, fake, inferior in some serious way to that which is labeled natural, genuine and/or authentic. In a world where true communication is the goal, imitation is a noun and its primary definition is the action of using someone or something as a model. My mockingbird was using the latter, finding her fellow forest dwellers as creatures worth modeling, singing songs deserving of sharing.
I confess that I am probably guilty of anthropomorphizing. I tend to do that when I’m trying to make sense of human behavior. I look at the world around me – animals, plants, weather – and, in observing the manner in which it manages to keep turning and giving us seasons (admittedly a little less predictably than in the past) and sunrises and sunsets, I wonder if there isn’t something there for us. Some creature worth modeling. Some lesson worth learning that will finally ... finally ... finally enable us, each and all of us, to work in sync to save both the world and ourselves.
There will always be Democrats and Republicans, mask wearers and mask haters, morning glories and passion flowers. And we will always share the same fence rows on this small planet in this large universe. When we learn to appreciate the song regardless of which bird sings it, when we learn to model instead of mock, we will also have learned that saving the world is saving ourselves.