Between bushtits, Chongquing trains, the sweetness of lobster and the scalloper Alone

LIKE A DICK’S BURGER OF THE MIND, the diagram of a single bushtit is simultaneously infinite and incomplete. Not that the tiny Pacific coast bird has the interiority of a soul. Not that one burger could ever describe the connectedness of all burgers. Not anything easy like that. Even if bushtits or burgers do have souls. But that a single bushtit – all point-one-five grams of it, about the heft of three crackers – has no end point of its own. A bushtit, in its tiny near weightlessness, approaches form without line. Being without edge. And this is not the contemporary wireless cloud network groovy metaphor. More the approach of an adaptive field. Rooted in soil and respiration. Granular swarm delineating time forest.

And so what?

On silver trains running through the Chinese country side, past blue grey bulls parting muddy streets of pedallers and walkers, cars and motorbikes, past concrete houses and heat without end, you will not meet any locals traveling alone. All are carrying a mother’s little helper. A label-less glass jar containing tea. Which bangs against a thigh, is tied to an arm, is ignored as one gazes through glass and self-administered cologne, pushed tight to the window, not annoyed at all, or disturbed, making room on a stool seat for the service person sweeping past with a broom of branches. And more than that, the students are together, chatting between bunk beds. Families are gathered in minimum tandems of three generations. They never understood the Western traveler. I was alone. But why? they said. How? Where is your wife? Where is your family?

Have you ever had lobster alone? No doubt some defiant iconoclast has. But do you know the secret, how is it that lobster meat is so sweet? It’s simple. Not the porcelain cup of butter soup to dip into. Not the briny broth. Not the soft, estuarine tomalley. It’s the company. Always lobster is a feast. Is had with family, some group united by bibs and sea stink. Maybe, too, it is so sweet, because you eat it with your hands, crushing the carapace with your own strength, the brain consumed by the tongue’s absorption of so much liquid fat direct from the bottom of the sea. You look up from your soupy din.  Lobster in your ears. Your loved ones all around you.

So feel good. So touchy. Maybe so. But there is science too. There is pain. There are numbers. Like living wages. For fast food workers. So maybe that is it – the living wages for the help – that makes Dick’s burgers more juicy, more communal, less just another corporate pod of solitary confinement. There once was a scallop boat Alone. Out of Portland harbor, Portland, Maine. White hull, red gunnels, rusty steel nets. I did not see it every day. But it always sucked the wind out of me, illuminated the approximate form of the ache of my interior, that physical ache we all sometimes feel. There was no sweetness or home port like with other boats. So many work boats named after wives and daughters. The pleasure boats, too, with the endless iterations of bombast scrawled across the transom. Instead, Alone. Of all names to take, of all ports to call home. Its lights defining a gulf around it, from prow to stern, from boom to deck. Alone. Unlike the late night crowd under the prow of Dick’s drive-in, drunken, eating standing up or at the wheel, connected by a swarm of burgers slipping from the counter windows. And the howl of the corrugated train, rounded square windows like a lateral airplane across the Chinese countryside, half a dozen dreamers per aperture, each related to at least one other, at least. And the bushtits in the thicket, weaving pendulous nests from moss, raising their young in groups. So small almost unseen. Always heard first. The brushed nasal peeps like blurry sonar, keeping track of one another, hurrying and fretting, flitting ahead, knowing the daily route, hanging upside down, gleaning mealworms, shaping a temporary forest.

Like all posts Around Back at birdloft, this is an offshoot of www.birdloft.etsy.com

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