Was oddly restless and fey after work, so I went for a walk by the river. I need to walk more: there is something to be said about disconnecting from all intermediary forms and immersing my direct senses into the immediate moment without mediation. And then to let my thoughts run wild.
Run wild they did, mostly in the existential direction today, and I found myself praying an undercurrent without really being aware of it. The sky was bruised with deep blue clouds, and the setting sun cast a last gasp of gold and radiant white upon the oncoming storm. It was surely going to rain tonight.
I ended up at the boathouse, on the pontoons the rowers used to lower their boats into the river. I love this pontoon, because it gets me right on the level of the water at some distance from shore, and gives me the impression of walking upon the river itself. Nearby was a power line that stretched across the short span between the banks.
On the power line hung the carcass of a bird.
Or I thought it was. It was a bit too distant, and the light was a bit too dark to see, but I saw the shape of half folded wings, the arch of a bird’s back, and perhaps a head, perhaps tied by a noose to the power line. It might’ve been an actual carcass long desiccated, or it might’ve been some welter of scrap materials that somehow acquired the shape of a bird from this angle and in this light.
It was uncanny. It eluded my categories. It was neither this nor that.
So my mind tried to explain it… but in my fey mood I bypassed “What is it?” right into “why is it?” Why? What is the meaning of this? Is there some sign being given? Is there a purpose for hanging a bird’s carcass over the middle of the river? I don’t care what it is (because it’s the figment of a dead bird, that IS what it is), but why is it there?
Meaning, meaning! Why am I, and why am I so restless today?
No answer came to all the questions, and but in the lack itself was the answer. Ah, Vega! You are so small, and the world and God are so large! To scrabble and dig for answers you can comprehend only reveals the smallness of your mind and the inanity of your priorities. But perhaps the figment of a bird’s carcass is there so that you reach the limits of your understanding, in order to behold wonder and embrace mystery: wonder and mystery that is found a mere walking distance from all that is familiar and homely. Your inability to categorize the world only reveals how marvellous and fell the world is, and to embrace the strangeness of things is to expand yourself into realms unknown.
Perhaps there is no reason for the bird’s carcass to be hanging there. Perhaps it just IS.
So embrace the unanswered “why?” and marvel that you yourself have the mind and the bent to stand wondering about life at the sight of a dead body’s metaphorical echo.
So I did. And I remembered that earlier, I was wondering about the reason for my life, and about this feeling I had, of being upon the edge of something unknown.
I passed by the stormwater drain I’d seen some time ago. All three of them were closed, but nearby was a sign I hadn’t seen before and looked newly erected. “Beware of snakes.”
I knew it. I knew something awful had crawled out of stygian depths and is now loose in the city. Clearly the city knew it too, but couldn’t stop that horror, and so put out a last feeble warning to us. Beware of snakes, indeed. When a Lovecraftian serpent drags the city into the abyss, I know where it all began.
On the way home, as I was approaching the bridge that spanned the river, I heard the sound of a flock of birds. Raucous and boisterous chirps and calls, the sounds of a whole community shouting and gossiping to each other on their evening commute home. So naturally, I looked around for the flock.
It was not until I walked under the bridge and the din became loudest, that I realized that the flock wasn’t in the trees or in the sky, but underneath the bridge. While all around came the incessant rumble of passing traffic, the birds were themselves creating the loudest din.
Birds! Roosting under a bridge! Why are they there when they should be in trees and forests? Once again came the uncanny: a colony of birds roosting under a bridge, in the midst of one of the busiest roads in this neighbourhood. It didn’t fit into any category I knew.
I stood there and looked into the darkness of the bridge’s underside, covered in a maze of girders and cantilevers. I couldn’t see anything: no movement, no life. The flock must be further away from my side, either over the river or near the other end of the bridge. How strange it was to hear the sounds of life but see no sign. In fact, I wondered if these weren’t birds but bats — for I’d seen a flock bats flying around the neighbourhood before. I couldn’t tell from the sounds: they could’ve been either.
If I was bolder, I would’ve climbed onto the girders (the bridge was small and low enough for them to be within reach) and out over the river to see the colony. I would’ve dared to trespass. Perhaps, if I’d been younger.
I don’t know if they were birds or bats, but I chose to embrace that mystery. While humanity carried on oblivious overhead, a whole world of nature was thriving under a bridge. Two civilizations, living side by side and completely invisible to each other.
How strange is this world.