I was fortunate enough to join a thought-provoking group of scientists, painters, photographers, and writers last week on Block Island. Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI, http://www.briloon.org/) gathered us all together along with The Nature Conservancy, The Ocean View Foundation (http://www.oceanviewfoundation.org/) –and others–to study, to learn, and to interpret bird migration. Raptors and songbirds who pass through Block Island on their way south in autumn were caught, tagged, and released much to my enchantment.
The passion emanating from the many people I met last week is evident in their work. I am humbled. The coming together of disciplines is more important today than at any time in history. We need each other to love this planet. However small a step you can take toward that goal, to love this planet, please do so with passion and purpose.
At week’s end we shared our research, our paintings and drawings, our photographs and written pieces. Below is what I chose to share with the group. As always, many thanks for checking in on my blog.
Grasping at Block Island
Sally Lucy Wright
We startle each other. Her cottony tail twitches staccato. She is fat and full of summer and gone in an instant springing on long legs into the bayberry stand. My heart races worrying I don’t have my camera ready but then I settle in to the thrill of “a moment.” Lessons from yesterday wash over me; to learn to see, to observe, and to remember.
Around the bend, the towering clay bluffs I have been in search of finally appear. They are a slice of carrot cake laid bare on the plate, ingredients playing out for me in the early obtuse light. Knubbly walnuts of scree and striations of cinnamon and allspice welcoming the birth of a new day. The cold Atlantic crashes up its creamy froth, allowing me to wash the experience down in a great gulp of gratitude.
I came to Block Island to grasp bird migration and to write about it. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly understand the how’s of this phenomenon. The need for food and nesting sites are clear. However, the message delivery system that is passed to a hatch–year bird is less evident. Does the mystery lie in the air sacs of her hollow bones, in the keratins of her feathers, in her keen cloudless eyes?
I believe Rick when he tells me the Peregrine Falcon, like all birds, has a compass in her head. And I believe Chris when he tells me the hatch-year Merlin will be okay after capture and tagging. And I do expect that many of these birds will make it to their final destinations in South America and the Caribbean. These are all facts of a process that inspires awe and deserve our greatest appreciation. But I find it hard to believe there’s a way through science alone to discern all the intricacies of something as complex as migration. Who will be bold enough to help the scientists uncover the mystery? Will it be an artist, a poet? Surely it is imagination that stirs the mind and pushes the wondering toward solutions. Perhaps a child born this year will grow up in a world where she believes she knows the answers—only to have more complex questions of her own.
This Island of the Little God is anchored in rock and sand leftover from an age of ice. Black cherry, bayberry and arrowwood cling to its surface while kettle ponds stud the landscape offering sanctuary for raptors and songbirds, for scientists, for photographers, painters and writers as well. Like the startled doe swallowed by the stand of bayberry this morning, I will be gone in an instant–off on another tangent enjoying the wonder of the planet. The lessons I’ll take away from Block Island are as sweet as a slice of cake and as lasting as the need of all creatures–winged and grounded–for refuge.