Sunday, December 14, 2008


I have reached that age in my life where people
generally understand that it is rude to ask of me
how long I have been riding the commuter train to
work. It is that age where there are still a few lights
who can laugh about seeing my ID when I go to buy rum.

For quite long enough, thank you, I have been
living close to the tracks in an old railroad town. For
many years I observed the derelicts of the town
walk the streets, waiting patiently for their steam-
fitting or wheel-replacement jobs to return. The
other day I learned that the last of the familiars had
died. To my mixed horror and bemusement I suddenly
realized that I myself, stubbornly walking while all the
younger folk insist on their fleeting creature comforts,
have become the icon of the town.

Up in the hills even in town, and much more out in
the countryside, one can see and hear all manner of
songbird, thrush, dove, and finch. I have not caught
sight of the eagles nesting in a sycamore high above
the water in several years, but there is a new family
of blue heron who were not here before.

But over the parking lots, around the church spires,
and above the sidings, one has always had the troop
of starlings to watch. Hither and yon they fly in lockstep,
almost like the armies which come and go on this planet.
Now and then one chooses to pass in my yard and I
get a good look. From the outside, they are covered
in long jet-black finery, with bright gold tips much
like the chevrons of self-important officers. Turn
one over, however, as you go to dispose of its carcasse,
and you find a dirty beige belly covered in dark spots
like mud. If you study them, you find out that they
are garbage-collectors, living in town because humans
produce so much of that commodity.

Watching them is tireless. The flock seems to vary
in size with the weather, some days as thin as a large
family, other days as large as the gathering waiting for
the morning train. They fly together in formation,
resembling gnats, equidistant from each other. They
fly in exactly the same direction, for as far as a hundred
yards, before turning all at exactly the same instant,
as if they had all received some invisible electronic signal,
and heading on a different course. This they hold for
some agreed-upon distance til they all make another
turn. Continuing watching them for many minutes, you
will very soon come to the conclusion that the ultimate
achievement which this action achieves is, that they
get nowhere and do nothing.

I read somewhere some scientific study which showed
how each single bird watches over the seven nearest
neighbors and this is how their unity is achieved, since
there is no leader. I read that this action serves to
protect the individual since he is never alone.
But in contemplating this scientific article, I realized
how devastatingly easy "stareling hunting" could be.
One could sit or stand out in the open because they
act fearlessly. One could simply wait for the whole flock
to come close. Every time they are within range, one merely
must pick out one or two to aim at and bring down,
and tame the impulse to want all of them. Then,
when they go off distant, one just reloads and waits.

The stock market, lately, has been just so. The
media bewails the "volatility", the "uncertainty", the
failure to adopt some long-term direction or goal.
But the hunting has been very, very good for me.
I keep my portfolio loaded with different items with
different erratic behavior. When any of them get too close,
I pick out one or two and take profits. When they all
go off elsewhere, I reload. I love starlings!

No comments: