Archives For Seabeck

My wife and I love birds. Perhaps we enjoy them too much.

I say that because our backyard includes four different feeders. They are different types, and appeal to a variety of species. (We also have a hummingbird feeder on the other side of the house, just outside my office window.)

Blessed as we are to live in the Puget Sound area, we see a variety of avifauna.* Nearly every day we see doves, robins, sparrows, chickadees, juncos, finches, Steller’s jays, thrushes, flickers, towhees, red-winged blackbirds and hummingbirds. Oh, and starlings too, that are the only birds our border collie chases (because of their darting taunts, I suppose).

Occasionally we have goldfinches, quail, band-tailed pigeons, woodpeckers, and various other guests I’m not quite positive about. In the sky, and on the nearby shoreline, we see many seagulls, mallards, great blue herons, Canadian geese, and—particularly during the current season—bald eagles.

As I said, we are definitely blessed to enjoy so many lovely creatures surrounding us. But this post isn’t really about birds; it concerns a particular bird who has recently joined our community. It is (I’m pretty confident) a Brewer’s blackbird.

He boasts magnificent sheen on his jet black plumage. Sadly, though, he appears to be quite unhappy.

His unhappiness is due to unrequited love. A tragic condition shared by many human beings. You see, each morning he comes to a bird bath near our bedroom window where he can perch and view his own reflection on the glass.

Seeing a potential companion, he does a sort of courting dance, which the reflection presumably imitates. He bumps into the glass, often repeatedly. Despite his zealous efforts, he inevitably ends up disappointed. And yet, there he is, the next morning, delighted that his friend is willing to give him another chance.

We Are Like the Blackbird

One recent morning I awoke to his antics, and it struck my waking mind that that poor bird’s futile efforts are a metaphor of our lives.

We perceive idealized reflections of ourselves, so flawless we become enraptured. We think of ourselves as the most important thing in the world. In a sense, we begin to believe the universe revolves around us.

I remembered the Greek story of Narcissus. It is a myth offering many insights, not solely the dangers of unbridled self-love. It was because of his contempt for others that Narcissus was cursed to see in a pool a reflection of the only person he considered worthy of his attention. At first, when he fell “in love,” he did not recognize the image as being himself. The tragedy leads to his destruction.⁑

We too, I think as a I watch that small bird vainly striving to find fulfillment in an illusion, experience only disappointment and ultimate despair.

For days Narcissus knelt by the pool, hopelessly in love with the beauty of his own reflection. Before his eyes he saw the image grow pale and thin, weep tears, stretch out its arms, and look at him. Still he could not hear it, could not touch it, no matter how he implored.

While reflecting on this subject, I found a couple of articles I recommend to those desiring to ponder it further. And, next week we will consider other birds, from another perspective—their use in a Renaissance work of fiction, included by C.S. Lewis in his volume from Oxford History of English Literature.

C.S. Lewis on the Bible: Myth, Truth, Fact, and Genesis” explores C.S. Lewis’ contribution to comprehending the complexity inherent in mythology. He cites the simplistic interpretation of the story of Narcissus as a misleading reduction of the myth’s deeper message.

Understanding and Dealing with Today’s Culture of Narcissism” notes how C.S. Lewis offered a non-narcissian prescription for addressing the “hungry soul.”

Self-Centeredness Isn’t Narcissism’s Central Problem,” discusses the myth and the culture of Narcissism in which we are immersed. Author Angela Franks, a professor at St. John’s Seminary, then moves into a brilliant discussion of Till We Have Faces, which C.S. Lewis considered his finest book.

C. S. Lewis’s unjustly neglected rewriting of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, in his novel Till We Have Faces, provides a profound insight into the narcissistic spectrum. . . .

So it appears [in Lewis’ myth] that the beloved of the gods is not only the beautiful and wise Psyche, but also the tormented and ugly Orual. In the divine plan, the hideous older half-sister suffers in order to aid the beautiful maiden, but the beautiful maiden also goes through the greatest trials in order to purify Orual. The god, it appears, is willing to sacrifice his beloved in order to be united to the one who hates him. “What’s mine is yours!” Psyche and the god proclaim to Orual, but this time not in vengeance; in Lewis’s new myth, just retribution gives way to undeserved love.

To discourage our obsidian-feathered friend from squandering his brief life in pursuit of his own reflection, my wife and I just placed some decals on the window. It appears to have worked.

Would that our own echoes of Narcissus were addressed so simply.


* Don’t feel bad if this word is unfamiliar to you, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know it before I wrote this post. It means “the birds of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.”

⁑ The versions of this myth end in different ways, ranging from his divine transformation into a flower, to his despair and suicide.

Our Eagle Allies

May 30, 2012 — 3 Comments

Eagles are majestic creatures. Living in the midst of a large bald eagle nesting area is something my wife and I don’t take for granted. Each year we see scores of the graceful raptors courting and then raising their young right here on Hood Canal.

Hood Canal is actually an 80 kilometer long fjord, which lies just to the east of the Olympic National Forest. It features deep blue waters at the foot of an impressive mountain range.

Eagles make a significant impression on nearly everyone fortunate enough to see them. Even though they are birds of prey, they look extremely noble. In light of that fact, it’s no accident many nations include an eagle as part of their coat of arms or national seal. These include: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Nigeria, Panama, Russia, the United States and at least ten additional countries.

Eagles have also figured prominently in literature. For example, both of the preeminent Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, featured eagles as heroes in their fictional classics.

Eagles in the Work of C.S. Lewis

Eagles are among those granted speech by Aslan at the dawn of Narnia’s creation. They reward their Creator’s gift by serving faithfully throughout the entire history of the land. Eagles play a role in virtually every battle that occurs in Narnia. They are always on the side of good.

In addition to fighting in the campaign against the White Witch, eagles are responsible for the rescue of Edmund from her camp. When Aslan calls his army to rush toward the climactic battle in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, he says:

And now! Those who can’t keep up—that is, children, dwarfs, and small animals—must ride on the backs of those who can—that is, lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, giants and eagles. Those who are good with their noses must come in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is.

The most noteworthy passages relate to Farsight, who is a prominent eagle during the final days of Narnia. He it is who brings to King Tirian the sad news that Narnia’s capital has fallen.

“Sire,” said the Eagle, “when you have heard my news you will be sorrier of my coming than of the greatest woe that ever befell you.” Tirian’s heart seemed to stop beating at these words, but he set his teeth and said, “Tell on.” “Two sights have I seen,” said Farsight. “One was Cair Paravel filled with dead Narnians and living Calormenes . . . And the other sight, five leagues nearer than Cair Paravel, was Roonwit the Centaur lying dead with a Calormene arrow in his side. I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.” “So,” said the King, after a long silence, “Narnia is no more.” (The Last Battle)

After this sad entrance, and following the “Last Battle,” Farsight is one of the leaders as the victor’s army enters into the foothills of heaven.

. . . the dogs barked, “Faster, faster!” So they ran faster and faster till it was more like flying than running, and even the Eagle overhead was going no faster than they. And they went through winding valley after winding valley and up the steep sides of hills and, faster than ever, down the other side, following the river and sometimes crossing it and skimming across mountain lakes as if they were living speedboats . . . “Further up and further in!” roared the Unicorn, and no one
held back. . . .

Only when they had reached the very top did they slow up; that was because they found themselves facing great golden gates. And for a moment none of them was bold enough to try if the gates would open. . . . “Dare we? Is it right? Can it be meant for us?” But while they were standing thus a great horn, wonderfully loud and sweet, blew from somewhere inside that walled garden and the gates swung open. (The Last Battle)

Eagles in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien

Similar to Lewis’ distinction between dumb and speaking eagles, Tolkien distinguishes between “common” and Great Eagles. In The Hobbit he writes, “Eagles are not kindly birds. Some are cowardly and cruel. But the ancient race of the northern mountains were the greatest of all birds; they were proud and strong and noble-hearted.”

It is these noble mountain eagles who populate the six books (three volumes) of the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other fiction.

At the end of the First Age, eagles fight alongside the Valar, Elves and Men in the War of Wrath. They especially contend against the dragons of Morgoth as recounted in The Silmarillion. The eagles emerge victorious, destroying most of their enemy during an aerial battle.

Near the end of the Third Age, the eagles from the Misty Mountains rescue Thorin’s troop from goblins and wargs, as related in The Hobbit. Without their aid, the Dwarves, Elves and Humans would likely have met defeat at the Battle of Five Armies.

In The Lord of the Rings (including the cinematic version) the eagles feature prominently. They are even capable of clashing head-to-head with the fearsome Nazgûl-mounted dragons.

And, of course, several of them rescued Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee following the destruction of the One Ring.

Two named eagles should be mentioned. Thorondor was the initial Lord of Eagles and according to The Silmarillion was the “mightiest of all birds that have ever been.”

His descendant Gwaihir is the leader of those who aid Gandalf throughout the events of The Lord of the Rings. Not only does he rescue the wizard from the tower, but he returns him after his “resurrection” which followed the battle with the Balrog.

“Naked I was sent back—for a brief time, until my task is done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. . . . I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. . . . And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away. ‘Ever am I fated to be your burden, friend at need,’ I said.”

“A burden you have been,” the Eagle answered, “but not so now. Light as a swan’s feather in my claw you are. The Sun shines through you. Indeed I do not think you need me any more: were I to let you fall, you would float upon the wind.” (The Two Towers)

It may be that for this life we must remain content with seeing only the common and mute eagles that populate this mortal world. But even they, are glorious to behold.