Every species on earth survives where it can. Sometimes, to ensure survival in that place, a living thing may defend its territory with tooth, claw, or song. To ensure the future of its kind, a mother may defend her young or a father defend his mate. These actions are primal and understood with or without any kind of scientific reasoning. Where my scientific mind hits the wall, however, is how to understand the violence that humans inflict upon each other in the name of ideology and greed. We build fortresses around our beliefs and values, bombs and explosives to destroy the lands and homes of others, and pound our chests with indignant righteousness while destroying our own kind. Meanwhile my winter mockingbird sings from the holly tree belting out his summer songs no longer useful for protecting territory but just for the fun of it, I think.
I had breakfast with dear friends over the weekend, the kind of late morning affair that lasts long into the afternoon. They are citizens of the world. We talked about the fortresses of the heart. Their daughter lives in Paris, just down the street from the concert venue in which so many lost their lives and loves. They told me the story their daughter relayed to them, shaking voice over the phone, long silent moments to catch breath and stifle long sobs aching to come. "He laid in pools of blood for three hours until someone could come get them, both the living and the dead. He leaked blood for three hours." Mockingbird chats it up outside the kitchen window. Look at this day! Here is my song! I picked this little ditty up while staying Maine, can you tell? I spent time learning the calls of murres and brought them here to you for the winter. The mockingbird declared ah-gla-ergggg-ow-ow while I listened to stories of the utmost pain and unimaginable loss.
There are these fortresses along the Atlantic Coast, these big imposing cement hulks that once held huge coastal guns, towers that stand in the dunes where men would watch for the conning towers of enemy submarines, bunkers built deep into the ground that held shells, powder, radio equipment, men. I used to sneak into the bunkers and towers when I was young, flashlight in hand. Nowadays you can pay for a tour. Someday, I hope, the rising seas will sweep them away, tours and all. "What do you think will happen next?" I ask. My old friend grew up in London during the war, bombs and all. Never did make it to the country with the other kids. He saw a lot. "Oh, I suppose we'll visit Turkey again this year - it is the most beautiful country. The people are the most beautiful people. You should see the mosques!" The mockingbird keeps singing songs of the coast of Maine and throws in a red-shouldered hawk - maybe to warn of something he sees overhead?
"Listen to that bird!" my friends say. The conversation ends. No more talk of Paris bombings or trips to places too beautiful to imagine. It's us and the mockingbird. He cries "Hawk!" and feeder birds dive for cover in the mountain laurel. He flies to the corner of the house, just beyond our line of sight and says nothing. A long while passes. We waited. The juncos waited. Then as if defending the house and yard and forest and the breakfast plates he starts with a most heart-warming song of summers on the coast of Maine and winters in the Maryland hills and assures us he's there to protect and defend it all from hawks.