Old Roads, New Stories: Seven Birds, by Rob Carney

Seven Birds

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

for Scott Pruitt

Northeast of Salt Lake City:

Higher up the Wasatch, just outside of Heber, you can see these fledgling eagles learning to fly. They take turns swooping, landing in the meadow, letting loose an eagle shriek or Amen. And no, I can’t do impressions, can’t name each bone in their wings, but I can tell you for certain that the grassland below them has mice, and a few more years before it’s gone. Become in-fill. The suburbs covering the valley. The suburbs like a new sort of glacier made of plastic and cul-de-sac tar.

The Outskirts of Sydney:

I’ll admit it was 30 years ago, so by now things might have changed, but the only McDonald’s I remember is this one in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Their hamburgers didn’t come with ketchup—you had to buy that extra—and they didn’t call it ketchup: “Oh, you mean sauce?” “Yeah, sure. Tomato sauce. How much for that?” The rest was the usual—the uniforms, the furniture, even the straws—despite the Date Line and the upside-downness of the hemisphere and the alien patterns of the constellations, and we’d driven on the wrong side to get there, and I was the one with the accent, and the teenage guys called the teen girls “birds.” But McDonald’s was the same.

In Our Garden:

I was out weeding the garden. My wife Jen was cleaning the garage. “Hey, you might want to see this,” I said. “There are quail.” The male was nearby, just a couple feet away, calling out and ignoring me, and the female was three plots behind me, ignoring him. “She’s got chicks,” Jen said. They were chittering under the sunflowers, probably eating the seeds since there are lots, more and more each year, more than the birds can finish, so some take root, grow back, the first green action in April… volunteers—that’s what it’s called when they do that: plants that you don’t have to plant. Look around: sunflowers everywhere, leaning over the fence between the daycare playground and the vacant lot, and jumping from front yards to medians, then on down the block… a take-over, sure, but with waving. And never that same kind of yellow as parking lot stripes.

Purdy, Washington:

I, too, would like a cabin there, with a footpath down to the oyster-shell beach, where some days, looking for hermit crabs, I might see herons come gliding…. Great Blue, their eight-foot wingspans, taking fish or not from this narrow end of the inlet; either way. What an arrangement of angles. Who can beat that?

Next Door to My House:

My neighbor tells me there are people who still eat doves. I don’t know if I believe him. He’s got a box in his tree for kestrels, though, so probably.


There’s that scene—remember?—at the end of Jurassic Park, where the ones not eaten are rescued, and Dr. Grant looks out the helicopter window, smiling at a flight-line of pelicans, his hypothesis confirmed: Dinosaurs aren’t extinct. They just escaped into adaptation. And so could we. At least I think so, because I’m not Scott Pruitt. I didn’t drop in from Oklahoma to mismanage the EPA.

The Kitchen Counter Where I’m Writing This:

It’s almost time for Thanksgiving, when the President will pardon a turkey; it’s tradition. Another is saying what you’re thankful for, so here goes: To the birds who make our neighborhoods their neighborhoods as well, who lend their songs and ya-honks to the morning; to the crows in Seattle who befriended a girl, adding proof to our stories of angels; and to seagulls, what good is a shoreline without you?—the sky would be missing its dancers, and the wind a one-note orchestra. To the blue jays yelling at people from fence posts; to roosters doing your farm-strut; to the childhood robins of my Washington, constant as the rain. To you hawks above our freeways who leave the roadkill-picking to magpies—you don’t wait for an after-life, you soar right now, seeing much further than we do. To peacocks forever looking Mardi Gras; and to owls, you Ministers of Silence; and to you, the birds in my future, let me say thanks…

and thanks yesterday,

and thanks again tomorrow.        

May all of you be well.



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.

Header photo of blue jay by videopromolyn, courtesy Pixabay.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.