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Friday Open Thread (with Names of Birds)

Friday Open Thread (with Names of Birds)

Dear Friends,

What's the first bird you remember learning to name?

I don't mean names of birds in the abstract – I mean, names of birds you were likely to encounter in your days. There's a small complement of birds I associate with my childhood – backyard birds that were distinctive enough in voice or appearance and common enough that they were neighbours. Sparrows, blue jays, cardinals (rare and wondrous to see), mourning doves, starlings.

But I think the first one I learned by name was a robin. I remember my grand-mother rescuing a baby bird fallen from a nest and nursing it into fledglinghood – something she did on more than one occasion, as the neighbourhood cats were outdoorsy and plentiful. I associate "robin" with that bird, and with the word bulbul in Arabic, even though I think that's supposed to be a nightingale; robins were the ones who'd serenade us with long liquid songs of an evening. I can't remember who it was who taught us as kids to make a wish on the first robin we glimpsed in spring, but it's something I've done my whole life.

This is the American Robin, of course – I wouldn't meet the name's European original until much later, and be startled to find it associated in Britain with Christmas cards and winter more generally. In Ojibwe the bird is called apichi.

I'm thinking a lot about names and the inflections and resonances words have across space and time, lately, as I inch my way towards novel-writing in earnest, and I mean to start small: what makes a bitter leafy green "arugula" in Canada but "rocket" in Britain, or a glossy purple nightshade "eggplant" instead of "aubergine," before moving into the more painful territory of colonial erasures that project "robin" on to a bird that bears no resemblance to it in shape, call, or habit, in order to make "apichi" disappear.

All to say – I'd love to know about your birds.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend,


Postscripts of News:

Nothing I'm allowed to report, except having turned in some work, but! A week ago today Stu and I sat on a restaurant patio to celebrate our second vaccine doses and I got a bit dressed up for the occasion; later, as we walked around the neighbourhood, I saw this extraordinary clematis and had to stop for a photo in front of it.

Selfie: I'm wearing glasses and a blue blazer with a geometric pattern over a bright yellow t-shirt against a backdrop of spectacularly purple-blue clematis flowers. I have two silk flowers in my pinned-up dark hair: one bright yellow and one dark blue. I'm wearing a tiny pearl necklace on a short delicate chain and larger freshwater-pearl earrings in a rose-gold setting.