I love nomenclature like this. A “drift” of quail. A “siege” of herons. A “charm” of goldfinches. A “murder” of crows.
It all points to a time when people had a different connection with place, a complex knowledge of and taxonomy for describing flora and fauna.
For a great dictionary of these kinds of terms, not for birds but for general terrain, check Home Ground edited by Barry Lopez.
The following is taken from Wikipedia:
The standard collective noun for a group of birds of any type is a flock.
For a number of individual birds, there exist collective nouns particular to the type of bird. Many of these collective nouns are fanciful and not in common use in English. The book A Mess of Iguanas… A Whoop of Gorillas by Alon Shulman is a good reference for the collective nouns and their etymology. James Lipton’s book An Exaltation of Larks is devoted to these collective nouns, many of which originated as hunters’ terms and have been in the language for centuries.
You can’t walk through a door in Latin America without greeting the place itself. You’ve decoded this the same way you’ve decoded the language. It’s a process that feels subtractive, as if removing certain parts of your consciousness, so that as you step into the internet cafe in Todos Santos, it’s only your 29 year-old body saying (to nobody in particular) “buenas” - and what feels like a much younger, almost toddler-age version of yourself listening for cues, some kind of validation that you’ve said it right.
Each event, thought, impression, or idea is isolated or localized in a way that to me seemed unprecedented in this exact form. It’s like each moment or situation noted is, to some degree, broken free from any overarching metanarrative, belief system, culture (except for pop culture), history, place, or other abstractions. I get a similar feeling when I’m on Twitter in that all points of reference are more or less assumed. A person tweeting doesn’t explain why he’s doing something, or even necessarily the context. He or she just says it. There’s a kind of freedom in that, and in Megan’s case it feels very reflective of the way people often seem to think, but up until now haven’t really expressed in written form beyond Twitter. I believe over time however that more people will begin writing this way.
A 24-hr bus ride, the “Tutto Letto” full 180 degree reclining seat service from Buenos Aires.
The three rearmost seats that sway and pitch boat-like, worse after dinner (porkchops, polenta, a 375 ml bottle of malbec / syrah) when we’ve finally reached the open pampa and no lights anywhere, the Ruta 5 all potholed and the diesel motor on the other side of the firewall reverberating 2 feet from your head.
Some movie on, a mainstream flick with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, but mostly ignoring it, holding Micael, feeling a sense of claustrophobia, or not so much fear of being closed in but something parallel to it that no music selection from Neon Indian to Nas to finally Brian Eno can put a dent into, this general sense of not traveling but being conveyed, trapped within this particular vehicle / set of musical options / familial situation, the last of which creates an ancillary sense of guilt to the point where I feel Micael’s tiny body against my chest and wonder about the two of us actually being trapped in this situation together, which activates a paternal instinct to protect him, diminishing the fear somewhat, but then as I think about the fact that we’re heading back to where he was born, our “home” for now, and how loose of a term that is in our situation – it’s more where we’re “based out of” – I begin feeling it again, and think about getting there, if only we could just fucking get there, if we could just make, if I can just stay here lying down in the tutto letto without my heart exploding from a massive infarction – and if, in the meantime, I can just deflect the horrible looping scenarios / visualizations of having to alert my wife that I’m having a heart attack or whatever, as everyone else is asleep, the monitors dark now, Micael on my chest but still shifting positions constantly, unable to fully get comfortable, and probably affected by the constant engine noise, Brian Eno’s same riff now having looped for at least the 40th cycle, and then Micael awakening, passing him across the swaying aisle to Lau who has suddenly awoken, asking her for water to take a xanax which, as soon as I have it down my esophagus, is already creating a placebo effect of slightly diminished anxiety that then kind of stretches and spins into a taxonomy of panic attacks and factors, particularly the timing, the very first one having occurred the eve of traveling back from California (where I’d bee “based out of” Huntington Beach) back to Atlanta and this sense of not really knowing what awaited there.
I check the iPod then and it’s just turning 3 AM.
Within an hour I’ll fall asleep and dream that I’m in some kind of van that won’t crank so we neede to roll-start it (somehow it’s manual transmission) – when Lau will shake me awake saying “mira.”
The first thing I’ll notice is that the bus engine is idling but there’s no movement.
We have stopped.
Outside, the broad expanse of meseta, the hillocks and shrubby coirón will all be covered in snow. A light snow drifts down from the sky as well. The dawn just breaking over the eastern plains.
Within the general sense of disorientation, concerns about the road status, and a stoke for the terrain in the predawn colors, there will be this sense of: I made it through.
This was a section cut from the recent 3k word narrative at Matador about this summer’s travels through the US.
Terrain notes:Cinquefoil, Aspen, Douglas Fir, Ponderosa, Limber Pine, Lodgepole, Wallflower, Penstemon, Pussywillow, Wild Currant, Wild Rose, Bear Berry, Lupine, Scorpio, Juniper, Columbine, Indian Paitbrush, Golden Banner, James Creek at Bankfull, Osha, Prairie Dogs, Fireweed
4th of July Parade, Wind*
Segundo drove one of the fire trucks. We sat on top of coiled hoses and rescue gear. The truck in front was testing its sound system. A loop of Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner.” The truck behind tested a water cannon. Becca walked around passing out squirt guns. Everyone in some sort of costume. Dano with buckskin leggings and a chainmail shirt. Some sort of Gaelic war paint. A broadsword on his belt. This one kid with skate shoes and surf trunks, but then a leather vest ( no shirt underneath) and a miner’s hat, carryiung a small radio that played Dead Prez. The squirt gun war began. One kid weaved around the fire trucks on a trail bike, taking direct squirt gun shots to the face as he stood up skillfully, breaking off in to the aspens. Segundo called Damo over and asked if the chainmail really worked. Damo pulled out a dagger from his belt (beside the broadsword) and started stabbing himself in the chest and stomach, the blade making a click-click-click sound as the point got caught in the metal rings. A snow-like drift of “cotton” floated across from all the aspen catkins. Fireworks went off at random intervals. Beside the fire trucks an old man with a grey beard and a Crested Butte fire dept. hat stood with several people passing a bowl, occasionally shooting their squirt guns.
Jacob, shirtless and wearing a kilt, jumped into the fire truck playing Hendrix. As we started moving forward, a huge rockcrawler rolled down from the dirt road and got in front of us. The huge exposed wheels, springs, roll-cage, and fuel-tank strangely reminiscent of Mad Max. Two school age kids with stripes shaved into their heads (one a reverse Mohawk, the other a double Mohawk) setting off bottle rockets from the fire truck in front.
Japhy, Kieran, and some other kids were waiting in a kind of bunker by Utica. As we approached they ran out with water balloons. The guys behind us completely doused them with the water cannon, setting off a loud cheer as cyclists from Boulder scurried away holding their road bikes.
Traffic was stopped on Lefthand at the last turn up to the library. In the main meadow, as we all rolled past, Dano’s brother Derek was swinging a kind of long-handled bludgeon or tomahawk-looking weapon in big circles reminiscent of guys directing airplanes into the gate.
*name changed for privacy
On Friday, July 22nd at 8PM, Juanele AR will host a Matador Meetup in Buenos Aires. I’ll be reading* along with Matador Nights editor Kate Sedgwick. There will also be a drawing for a $100 peso gift certificate to Walrus Books in San Telmo.
On the night of the event, Juanele AR will be selling cheap drinks, the proceeds of which will go to Juanele editor Rick Powell‘s cancer treatment. Juanele AR HQ is located at 1011 Montevideo.
*my first official public reading ever
Micael: 4 months old now. Sick all last week. The antibodies built up so much he had this skin eruption. Still kept smiling mostly. Smiling with red splotches all over his face. Today in the shower I held him on my shoulder and we had a serious beat-boxing session. This kind of victory dance when you see and feel whatever sickness it is going away. Later putting him in the baby-carrier and walking out with Layla. A couple horses loose in the barrio. Should we go look at them nena? It’s a mare and her foal. They’re feeding on Adela’s fallen apples. They broke free, see? See that cut rope on the horse’s bridle? Layla stays back. She’s been scared since we were up on Piltri a week ago, ran into a small herd of cows, one approaching, mooing loudly, wanting us away from her calf. See their tails, all full of briers? They’ve been left out in fields. Nobody’s taking care of them. The way they flip the apples around with their lips. I approach the foal but she’s heads down in the apples, hungry. Working around the dead leaves. Later Micael will fall asleep as we walk in the woods near the airstrip. Layla and I take turns with her dolls, showing each other where they live, their houses in the rocks and brambles. 3:38 am now and I can’t sleep. Feeling this sickness coming on. Maybe Micael’s. Adela’s dogs barking outside my window. Probably at the horses, still feeding out there somewhere. The mare dragging along her rope.