Saturday, September 13, 2008

Potato Rocks, House Sparrows, Hobos

I was sitting in front of The Ladybird Bakery recently trying to get a picture of a House Sparrow for a post but the opportunity eluded me even if my left hand was full of blueberry muffin crumbs. I thought I might get lucky since I'd just been lucky enough to receive the full benefit of a hot, wet cloacal kiss on the inner elbow of my right arm.

As I walked to Ladybird where I hoped to clean up, I passed cutie John Hodgman who seemed to give me a completely justifiable hairy eyeball. For me, this brush with a local celebrity who might resent me for a post I wrote in the spring, was seeing the elephant. Once Hodgman, an acquaintance of my husband's, tried to help me shop around a children's book - this about 11 years ago when he was a literary agent. So I bought Hodgman's book recently as a way of karmically making amends, and also because I have a keen interest in reading about matters hobo, that is, hobo matters. And all sorts of other matters of his expertise, which include but are not limited to squirrels, lobsters, eels, and haircuts. I seemed to neglect my own areas of expertise however, or I would have had babywipes with me when my arm became the bird's toilet. Once at Ladybird, I had to explain the problem of my arm's profanation to the man at the counter, who kindly gave me a bunch of napkins moistened with very hot water to clean up with. What relief! A hobo's shower, or rather, a sushi douche.

I also found relief in the fact that rocks are much easier to photograph than Sparrows, especially this one harvested behind the Bandshell in Prospect Park, which my son's little friend and her mother called a potato rock. It is uniquely talented at impersonating potatoes, but what work went into the costuming?

I'm told it takes eons for a rock to get over as a potato. But of course rocks turn into other things all the time. Once when I dozed off for a second while nursing my youngest I saw a friend of mine quickly and silently approach me and put a rock in my left hand. Before I knew it, the rock turned into a Sparrow. These dreams had while still conscious in that liminal state are compelling. Later I came across a discussion of the Sparrow's symbolism in a book called The Bestiary of Christ, and from it learned that Sparrows are often thought to represent the soul. And indeed, I'm so grateful to this friend of mine who has helped to restore my soul to me, a soul that I lived for a long time with only a meager connection to. But still, I have to work hard to keep it happy and make it stick around. Like a hobo, it's fickle, completely self-directed and hard to tie down. It's impractical, difficult and likes to get messy. Sometimes she's in direct opposition to the good girl I try to be. Thank goodness my little one is such a good harmonica player, by the sweetness of her breath, she causes the soul to linger.

According to A Natural History of New York City by John Kieran, (Natural History Press, published in 1959 and 1971), all the House Sparrows in our country can be traced back to a group released in Greenwood Cemetery in 1852.

The first successful crossing of the Atlantic by House Sparrows occurred in 1852. Those that survived the voyage and a winter in captivity here were liberated in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn the following spring. In something less than a century their descendants, and those of later introduced groups, spread all the way across the continent. p. 222

Here's more on the House Sparrow. Consider the little beard under the male's beak, which ornithologist call a bib. That's so infantilizing! I'll call it a soul patch.

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