“Isn’t there something deeply wrong with this picture? Yes, because it’s probably true. Those of us who take scientists like Guy McPherson seriously, we know the days of Happiness by Worm are on their way out. It’s enough to turn you into a raving maniac, into a person who comes out to yell at robins and then goes inside again, laughing. If this were the right movie, I might be whispering up to the raven, ‘And What Will the Robin Do Then, Poor Thing?’ as the lights come up on the piano at the front of the stage.”—Anita Sullivan
On The Other Hand
By Anita Sullivan
“Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—Tell me—/tell me, I implore!/Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore.’”—Edgar Allan Poe
EUGENE Oregon—(Weekly Hubris)—April 2019—In March, pretty much all across the country, robins start showing up anywhere there is a bit of grass newly bared by melting snow and likely to be soggy enough to get a beak into. The birds simply appear from wherever they’ve been hanging out during the winter, moving in squadrons across any available green expanse, eager to resume their favorite diet of earthworms after a long winter of (ugh!) berries.
Meticulously, these groups—(unlike geese, larks and crows, robins have yet to commandeer their own noun of venery. A bobbin of robins, perhaps? A fund? The birds do seem a bit like bankers, each one with its plump tummy leading the way—the most stolid of all the thrushes.)—meticulously, I say, they work the territory, scanning the ground for any signs of recent worm activity. We have all seen the classic pictures of the persistent bird struggling to pull what looks like a piece of elastic out of a tiny hole, bowing its neck, hunching its shoulders as it yanks and yanks—until the final “Boing!” of victory!
Gazing absentmindedly out the window at a working crew of robins recently, I watched one suddenly break loose from the regiment and take off, rather rapidly for a robin, a worm dangling so long from her beak that it was bouncing onto the heads of some of her fellow laborers as she skimmed past. I heard a kind of collective “Yawp!” from the other birds. One or two of them halfheartedly raised their heads and made as if to pursue her, but it never amounted to real sabotage. The triumphant bird sailed off with her lunch-to-go firmly in her control.
This made me feel good, because I was witnessing an example of raw, unadulterated sufficiency tipping into joy. This robin was healthy and soon going to become even more so. She was about to affirm the rightful order of things by peacefully partaking of a meal she had earned, thus assuring the survival of herself, her progeny, and the entire robin clan into the near future.
But inside my head a nasty little alarm bell began to ring, and I felt a subversive urge to open the door and shout to this bird: “Enjoy it while you can, Honeychile, because There Will Be No Worms in Gilead!” (After which I would rub my hands in an evil fashion and mutter, “Heh! Heh!” in my best wicked witch voice.)
And voila! Here is just one more small example of what we are about to lose in the Sixth Extinction. Such examples are all around us, and can drive us nuts if we allow it. We can become so traumatized by the inevitability of our demise that everything we try to enjoy turns out to be pre-soaked in the vile brine of this portending event. Yes, indeed, there is a murder of ravens heading our way, one for every single one of our doorways, each to torture us for the rest of our short spell on Earth by continually croaking “Nevermore!” *
Isn’t there something deeply wrong with this picture? Yes, because it’s probably true. Those of us who take scientists like Guy McPherson seriously, we know the days of Happiness by Worm are on their way out. It’s enough to turn you into a raving maniac, into a person who comes out to yell at robins and then goes inside again, laughing. If this were the right movie, I might be whispering up to the raven, “And What Will the Robin Do Then, Poor Thing?” as the lights come up on the piano at the front of the stage.
*I can’t help but point out a huge flaw in Poe’s gothic and depressing poem. Over and over again, like a rookie journalist in a press conference, the poet keeps asking essentially the same question, “Will life get back to normal; is there anything to look forward to?” and the answer is always the same, “No! It’s too late! Nothing is going to improve, it’s all downhill from here.” But why can’t the poor duffer figure out the obvious: This bird knows only one word, so he’s not really answering a question, he’s just repeating his entire vocabulary.” So, want your lover back? Use a little imagination, ask a question to which “Nevermore” is a positive answer. And with that, I leave it up to you to figure out what that question might be. (Heh! Heh!)
To order Anita Sullivan’s book, The Bird That Swallowed the Music Box, click on the book cover below.