Backyard Brief: Mystery Bird Unveiled

In my post last Monday about the wildlife in my backyard, I mentioned I was uncertain about the identity of one of the birds frequenting my feeders. As it turns out, it was neither a chipping sparrow nor a white-crowned sparrow, as I had conjectured. In fact, it wasn’t a sparrow at all–it was a female red-winged blackbird!

Using my bird guide books, I was able to sleuth it out and identify her. The books mentioned that female red-winged blackbirds are commonly mistaken for sparrows. Here’s what Mrs. Red-Winged Blackbird looks like in my backyard.

She’s the first of the 4 birds from top in the above group photo, followed by a mourning dove pair and a male house sparrow.

She was darker than I had remembered, with heavy brown streaking along breast and belly and a bright white eyebrow against that darkness. A buff or gray cheek and reddish shading on her throat also help to distinguish her. The beak is longer, narrower, and pointier than a sparrow’s, and the tail is longer and more fanned. There is also the distinctive tail bobbing behavior, and she is a larger bird.

Although of similar shape and behavior, her mate, in addition to being larger than his lady, looks rather different. . . .

Another male is hanging out with these two, but it is a duller black, almost brown, and without a prominent yellow wing stripe of maturity, so I think that’s a juvenile.

Mystery solved!

Five-Phrase Friday (28): Roots & Rivers

“Five English phrases” is the “name” of this game, but some day I’ll have to come up with a single word that means the same thing. Maybe quinque-Angli-phrasis. That’s Latin, Latin, and Greek. Nah, it should be something more rhythmic, more elegant–just better.

Both the complex and the simple can be graceful, and at least they’re both usually interesting to us linguaphiles. Complex single words derived from other languages often translate into simpler descriptive phrases in English. Native American peoples and other indigenous cultures have created many such words, and we see it in the Latin-based scientific names of plant and animal species.

English word roots, parts, or loan words may be Greek, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Native American, Gaelic, Zulu, Egyptian, Persian, Hebrew, Urdu, Hindi, Swahili, Japanese, Chinese, Slavic, Fijian, or some combination of these or others.

No language that one can learn across cultures, continents, and oceans can ever remain pure in itself. No country made so culturally rich and economically strong by the influx of so many immigrants can claim an authentically singular native tongue. Thus, English reaching out from its origins remains multi-lingual, just as America collecting its masses and individuals has always been so.

In the grand scheme of global language development, the difference between word and phrase dwindles in significance, and in comparing how different languages are constructed, the division of linguistic units may begin to seem rather arbitrary.

Still, while my series fixates on the phrasal unit in English, I might as well enjoy the poetry, mysticism, and general creativity of the descriptive wildlife phrases that equate to the single words naming animals we know.

Certain one-word mammal names have quite appropriate phrasal meanings.

  1. aardvark means “earth-pig” in Afrikaans
  2. elephant – “The Zulu, Tswana and Tsonga names for the elephant all mean ‘the forceful one’, ‘the unstoppable one’.” – source: http://www.krugerpark.co.za/krugerpark-times-2-1-animals-name-18978.html
  3. hippopotamus – Its common name is “river horse,” from the Greek, because it spends most of its time in lakes. The pygmy hippopotamus likes forest streams.
  4. orangutan – “‘Orang’ and ‘utan’ are the Malay words meaning ‘person’ and ‘forest’; the orangutan is literally a ‘person of the forest’.” – source: http://ypte.org.uk/topics/animal-facts
  5. The rhinoceros gets its name through Latin from Ancient Greek: “nose horn”

As you may gather from the examples, words that name less common wild animals stem from a core concept that takes more familiar things and specializes them based on the unique animal’s appearance or behavior. For instance, someone may not be familiar with a hippopotamus outside of Africa, but a horse is a much more common sight and, so, a concept we can use as a foundation for meaning. The complete phrases can seem either fitting or odd depending on one’s frame of reference, but the core concept penetrates.

Even if you don’t know the proper label for an unusual animal, if you start with its most unique features, you may just hit upon a phrase that means the same thing. Close is often close enough. After all, if communication can truly bring about human harmony, and if language’s best purpose is communication, then a shared sense is the key to shared meaning.

pygmy hippopotamus mother and baby. source: pinterest.com via duckduckgo.com.

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Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 10 of 10

To conclude my Wild Verses series, I circle back to the sea again (and to a bit more coral, which appeared in the first sample of this series). “Green Turtle Picture” is an unfinished poem I first drafted in April 2009 and revised in August 2014 for writing group. This excerpt begins with stanza two and ends toward the poem’s second half.

Under water, 
a green turtle looks at the camera.

The inanimate, animal expression
accuses. The cold stare—
framed by cold, clear-blue water,
and clustered blue-green coral,
locked within the same 

space as its cold-blooded frown and 
terrible, wrinkled neck, 
its hunched, armored back 
an echo of my subluxation and chronic dorsal 
inflammation—that look, rising above 
the shadows on its flippers, belly, tail,
imposes, penetrates, disturbs. I want
 
to look away, bury 
head into body like it can,
retract the mind down 
into the heart
and let the two mingle, and educate each other. 
Give purpose 
to small humps below necks.
But I can’t. I am out in the picture 

of reality, exposed
to the danger of capture, of shocking
spotlight ogling a creature as it faces 
the unfamiliar.

copyright C. L. Tangenberg

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this 10-post showcase of my nature verse writing, begun last month. To start from the beginning, go here.

My post about Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush” featured the first sample I plan to build on for a series of favorite bits of nature poetry by famous poets.

The full series:

  1. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 1 of 10 – ice and coral
  2. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 2 of 10 – the lizard
  3. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 3 of 10 – competition
  4. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 4 of 10 – lightning
  5. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 5 of 10 – danger
  6. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 6 of 10 – in the soil
  7. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 7 of 10 – under sea
  8. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 8 of 10 – feeble competition
  9. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 9 of 10 – the hawk
  10. Wild Verses: Bits of Nature Poetry, 10 of 10 – the turtle

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Dog Blog: Don’t. Move.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Here I am again, and it’s barely still morning, as I slept until 11:00am. That was basically my plan, but I did not expect it to be quite this late. A high of 78 today, and it has already sprinkled a bit. The house sparrows are quite chatty, but Elyse has fallen asleep–almost–on the family room floor.

This dog has an internal mechanism connected to her ears whereby she wakes within split seconds of any movement either of us makes that has any, even remote chance of indicating departure from the room where up to that moment we were still. The signal travels the short distances from ear to brain to eyes whereupon the eyes open to investigate the potential for movement to which she should be alert.

Elyse decided, long ago, ever to walk in anyone’s shadow that shifts by more than four inches.

The sounds she is conditioned to open her eyes to include: joints cracking; chairs, couches, or tables creaking; heavy sighs sighing; groans accompanied by stretching; coffee mugs with spoons in them clinking; glasses with the ice in them clanking; noses, sneezes, and coughs blowing (of course); footfalls falling; doors opening or closing; floor boards squeaking; a volume of noise indicating more than one person’s movement, however small; kisses smooching (Jason’s fault because he started using kissing sounds to get her to come); glasses resting back upon the surface from whence they were lifted; phones chiming or ringing with reminder bells, text signals, or calls; doorbells gonging; toilets flushing; pantry doors opening; pill bottles snapping and rattling; peanut butter jar lids unscrewing and snapping onto the counter top; plastic treat or Pill Pocket bags crackling; dogs barking nearby; heavy rain showering down on the roof and/or windows and siding; thunder rumbling; car doors opening and closing; cars pulling up; garage doors opening (inner and outer); trash bins grumbling against the north side of the house, whether ours or the neighbors’; and, sometimes, the television’s muting or unmuting, but certainly its turning on or off.

Elyse starts from deep sleep whenever the TV suddenly contracts after having been off and cooling for several minutes–just long enough for her to relax. She lies upright, bewildered for a few seconds as to the source of the sound, and then recommences her relaxation process.

She also responds to throat clearing, page turning, and pen clicking, but less so to computer key typing and other minor electronic noises. Vocalizations of excitement, hilarity, imitation, or yelling of any sort naturally tend to wake the dog even from deeper sleep.

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Pre-Phase 1 (eyes still open)

During daylight hours, one can assess the risk of waking the dog and, thus, triggering her pursuit of said individual, into whatever portion of the house or yard to which one travels, by the position in which Elyse finds herself just prior to human stirring.

Phase 1: If she rests her chin flat on the floor, belly doing the same, it is a tad too soon to budge oneself; Elyse is just teetering on the line between deciding to rise, saunter off, invent birds to spy on and sliding into greater relaxation and settlement in place. Best to wait for her to choose. See photographic illustration.

Phase 2: If Elyse has shifted to lie on her side but keeps her front and/or back legs curled, tucked, or otherwise contracted, one may wish, depending on the necessity one judges in ensuring she remains immobile, to wait further for Phase 3 before either rising or ambulating.  See photographic illustration.

If the task is of sufficient importance, the human may succeed in safely travelling a short distance before waking the dog, accomplishing the task before prompting her to follow, and returning  before alarming her into believing herself abandoned.

Phase 2 (with Chinese foot-binding effect)

Phase 2 (with Chinese foot-binding effect)

However, one may not escape reassurance-seeking attention upon return. As a result, one may feel obligated either to instruct the pet to return to her bed–whereupon a wave of guilt born of perceived cruelty is likely to wash over the human during the period of watching Elyse slink sheepishly back to her place–or to succumb to the greater temptation to reward the animal for her sheer, drowsy adorableness. Ignoring the dog only delays the required action and fails in the mean time to relieve the pressure to act.

Phase 3: Side position, full limb extension, belly exposure, neck and head tilted slightly back. One may now freely, provided one’s bones do not crack loudly from use, rise from a seated position with nonagenarian speed yet ninja stealth and dexterity, tiptoe or heel-toe in a slow-motion race walking style until well away from the room of doggy rest, and achieve whatever aim was so important as to merit these elaborate efforts. Avoid clumsiness. Breathe.

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Phase 3, Wooden Horse

An adjunct to Phase 3 is Phase 3.1, in which the canine has reached the equivalent of human R.E.M. or delta-wave, deep-sleep stages, most clearly indicated by an involuntary twitching, galloping, foot flapping, and/or occasional growling, barking that sounds like half-hearted yelping, or anthropo-snoring.

Exception: Sometimes the snoring sound is a false indicator providing an equally false sense of safety in the human. In such a case, the dog is in fact just about primed to wake due to insufficient air intake.

Additional signs of deeper rest and decreased risk of disturbance, freeing one to go about one’s business unencumbered and unconcerned, include (1) the Wooden Horse position, created by light-sleep  stretching that resolves in front and back leg pairs lying parallel to each other and a full 90 degrees perpendicular to the animal’s torso, and

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Phase 3, Hog tied

(2) the Hog-tied position, in which the once-fully extended limbs, promising radiation out into eternity without touching, suddenly become crossed at the foot, though still straightened in such a way as would easily enable hog-tying and roasting of the pig-bellied pup (a trait aided by the well-used, hairless pink teats bordered by groin and bottom set of ribs–mmm, I’m getting hungry!). See photographic illustrations.

Said roasting would, of course, by necessity occur on a fiery spit in the backyard, though we would be forced first to move to the country, out of this cop-and-firefighter-rich neighborhood, before attempting the succulent preparations.

Another quirk of the sleeping Elyse is the tendency during Phase 2, and sometimes Phase 3, to grip the carpet fibers with the uppermost, extended forelimb’s claw (as she does lie on both sides of the body), as if bracing herself for a turbulent somnolence. Her wildest dreams.

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Phase 3, Praying mantis

Other Phase 3 positions include the (3) Praying Mantis and what we call (4) her Grace Position, when she goes belly up, hips relaxed, and front paws curled. Out of respect for a dog with such a dignified name as “Elyse” (named by her foster family), I refrain from photographic demonstration of the latter. See photographic illustrations (partial, censored Grace Position).

Phase 3, Grace Position (censored)

Her lower limbs also present with the curious quality of resembling rabbits’ feet, an ironic characteristic for her breeding as a hunting dog with a preference for this very type of prey. See photographic illustration: (5) Bounding Rabbit.

Without children or other pets to tend to, it is by no means difficult to obsess about this special needs, high-maintenance, anxious, clingy, and rather mischievous puppy dog.

It is quite impossible, when one adds to these features the many parts of her man-made, athletic and innate canine beauty, to ignore her for any significant length of time while in her charismatic presence.

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Phase 3, Bounding rabbit

Elyse is often inquisitive, insistent, attention seeking, and enamored of physical touch and affectionate human energy.

She becomes highly concerned about her owners’ locations when no one remains on the floor of the house on which she is allowed or in the house proper where she stays during most occasions of human exit.

Thus, I do not remotely exaggerate the case when I declare this dog, Elyse–rescued over two years ago and racking up the veterinary bills for us ever since–to be the true, effective center of at least my own life, while I work part-time from home, and to a degree, of my husband’s life as well.

She certainly is the object of great love, admiration, appreciation, care, and intervention in our home lives. . . .

And she wakes as he re-enters the room.