Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fear of Flocks

I used to work in an old grain silo building in Portland. It had been converted to office space, and so behind my cubicle was a hallway to nowhere with rounded walls where the grain used to be stored. It was a place of great echoes, but no useful purpose. This is the kind of office space that technology companies pay extra to rent, and it's the kind of office space that makes working for a technology company slightly more palatable. Yeah, I'm a cubicle drone, and no one talks in my office, ever, but I work in that pretty old grain elevator off of the Broadway bridge. You know the old Albers Mill building.

Part of my commute every day, because I didn't have a car in Portland, involved walking up a giant red staircase to the pedestrian level of the bridge. I tell people that I'm afraid of birds. It's slightly inaccurate. I recognize that a single, nondescript LBJ (little brown job) isn't going to hurt me. If I see a first robin of spring bobbing along in the park, I don't detour around it or anything. Even a lonely pigeon isn't all that frightening to me, despite its unnecessarily large size. The thing about my daily commute up that giant red staircase, was that the Broadway Bridge was just covered in flocks and flocks of birds.

What was terrifying to me was the sheer number of those birds, perched on the bridge, covering it in their crap, and looking at me with their cocked heads as I climbed my endless red staircase to work. What made my heart skip a beat was when something (and it wasn't me, because they were far too jaded to be frightened by a lone human) set those birds off, and then, as one, the flock would rise from their perches on the bridge and swarm, as if instead of being a multitude of birds with separate hearts, brains, and bodies, they were a single organism stretching out to the edge of the flock, moving as one, out away from the bridge and then back again, before darting off again in some direction all together.

They never did anything to me, those birds. They just frightened me with their single-mindedness and their group-think and the sheer number of them. I was reminded of this near daily experience in Portland today on my evening run, because just as I arrived at Lake Nokomis at dusk, something set off the murder of crows that had hidden themselves in the branches of the trees, and as I ran, each tree came alive with caws and flapping of wings and a lifting of big, black bodies moving together towards nothing and away from something, with what must have been crow-logic, but which looked to me like a chaos of wings and claws and beaks and shrieks. Beautiful in a way, but only in the way that dark, frightening paintings can be beautiful.

It's like snakes. I can tolerate just one of just about any kind of snake. But when I see a whole mess of them slithering together, I just can't talk myself out of the shivers running down my back.

1 comment:

Alex said...