There are bird people. I wouldn’t consider myself one of them. Where I live, the birds are rats of the sky, teeming pigeons, sputtering their wings at my approaching bicycle wheel, pecking at scraps of lunch. They make their homes at window sills and peeling benches, in the shafts of subway platforms. They are friends with the neglected, with the sidewalk dwellers and tattered-robe wanderers. They are no friends of mine.
It is with this bias, this complete ignorance, inattention and disassociation to winged creatures that I sat down to read Erdrich’s collection of essays on motherhood: The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year. I sought the book out because I am in need of friendship and understanding and I search in the pages of women writers. Women writers who also mother. Because mothers who lawyer or doctor or teach or, or, or, etc. etc. probably look for their mentors in their own fields. So I search in mine.
Erdrich, unlike me, is a bird person. She follows them in rapt attention. The dancing and thievery, the water skimming and cloud swarms. She lives, at the time these essays were collected (1995), in New Hampshire. In a place of quiet. Where creatures burrow and thump beneath her floorboards and stare back at her between trees. She carries her children over roots and untrampled earth, not cement and subway stairs. I’m certain the air she breathes is cleaner than my air, the kind whipping in torrents from the wheeled traffic of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
Despite the differences in our environments, I found we shared a geography of the self. A self split in many twos, between who we were and who we are, between the child we carried and the child who takes his first steps away. We are both a collection of many women separated between floorboards and walls and veils.
In recent months, I have been reading a lot of written reflections by mothers and have found fellowship and understanding in the string of all their words. But it is Erdrich and, of all things, her birds that I think, perhaps, best understand me. It feels like they are all at my window, sharing what I see from here. I love when I find the books that know me as well as I come to know them.