Saturday, July 12, 2014

The truthful nest

The bottom quarter of Sammy’s sweatpants were stained dark with dew and mottled with mud. He trudged ahead, cold, head scrunched into his hood, left hand pocketed, right hand cradling the GPS that guides us on our transect. A slender Red Maple branch, waylaid by his shoulder, sprang back and stung my cheek. “Ouch!” I cried.
            “Sorry, dude,” he mumbled. We walked on, pushing past brambles, cracking branches like bones, scuffling the leaf litter. My eyes slouched. Four hours of sleep is not enough…
            A feathered pinwheel erupted from the leaves underfoot. “Oh shit!” I hissed, flinching backwards. The olive pinwheel flopped away with exaggerated wing beats, chipping angrily.
            “Wait for it, wait for it,” said Sammy. He walked ahead and stooped, bending back some seedlings. “Ah-HA!” he yelled triumphantly. I walked up, bent over, and saw the nest—a straw-y cereal bowl submerged in leaves, invisible from overhead view. The three small eggs looked like someone had systematically sneezed fine brown snot all over them.
            I had never seen an Ovenbird nest before. I squinted at it and realized that it looks nothing like a Dutch oven. For over fifteen years I had blithely believed it looks like one. The reality of the nest at my feet confronted years of blind faith in the books. My heart sank. What other false facts are lurking in the literature? What other misguided analogies masquerade as truth?
            When I returned to my room, I gathered my collection of field guides and scientific journals and carried them to the fire pit. As the lying pages curled and blackened, I chuckled with glee at the incineration of falsehood. Take that, charlatans!

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