Until recently Amy Hooper's blog (she's the editor of WildBird) featured an intriguing monthly contest: write a piece of short fiction (500-word limit) about birding. There were a few ground rules: the birds could not be anthropomorphized, and the stories needed to have a narrative arc and some kind of resolution.
I haven't written any fiction since grade school, but this seemed like too interesting a challenge to pass up. Unfortunately by the time I got my act together and submitted a story, the contest had been discontinued. Sigh.
But the great (or horrible) thing about blogging is that one gets to be totally me-centric. So here is my modest contribution to the world of birding-related micro-fiction. Enjoy!
The Real World
Jake still hasn’t returned my call, my mother won’t stop calling, and for some stupid reason I promised my roommate that I would spend the day with her—get this—looking at birds. Does my life suck or what?
“Come on Jen, it’s almost 7:30.”
“And grab that binocular—it’s my spare, you’ll need it.”
If I had known that Morgan always, freaking ALWAYS, said ‘binocular’ without the ‘s’, I swear I would never have moved in here.
We got into Morgan’s dusty Prius. I didn’t ask where we were going, and I didn’t care. Probably one of her favorite hangouts, like the Bolsa Chica wetlands. Morgan is always going on about how birding is such as rush because it’s so real, life at its most basic. Once I got fed up with her touchy-feely BS and asked her if all those warblers were such an important part of the Real World, why didn’t they band together and get her that promotion.
She didn’t get mad. She just gave me that look of hers.
“Jen, look, I promise you’ll like this. Trust me. At least it’ll get your mind off Jake.” She pulled a hard right and turned into a tiny parking lot. Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. No surprise here.
We followed a path overlooking a lagoon filled with sandpipers and seagulls. She tried to tell me what they were all called, but the names—willet? whimbrel?— all blurred together.
“Wait, I thought of something I think you’ll like. This way–“
A short while later, we were at another lagoon.
“Check out that Mallard—she’s got really cute babies.”
I put Morgan’s binoculars up to my eyes. The ducklings were downy and mottled, and made little beeping noises as they swam after their mother. They weren’t that cute—not like the bright yellow ones they sell at Easter. But it was seriously weird how babies that tiny could swim in cold water and feed themselves. Mama Duck didn’t seem to be really helping them.
It must suck to be a duckling.
“The other birds to look out for here are —oh my god, LOOK!!”
Morgan shot a finger at the sky. “It’s a Peregrine Falcon! Look, he’s diving!”
I barely managed to spot it in mid-descent when I heard a splash and a bunch of ducks quacking and beeping.
“Jen, he caught something! Now he’s —wait—yeah, he’s in that tree. Check it out.”
I aimed my binoculars at the tree. Holy crap.
“Morgan, what are we going to do?”
“He’s got one of the baby ducks!”
“Well, yeah, Peregrines eat other birds.”
“But that baby—“
“Already dead. Besides, Peregrines are endangered around here; Mallards are really common.”
On the drive home, I didn’t feel like talking. Morgan had that blissed-out look she always has when she’s been birdwatching.
Instead, I pulled out my phone. No call from Jake, but for some reason, I didn’t care. But there was a message from Mom. I guess it’s about time we touched base again.