Waiting outside the window

2006 October 21
by David J. Ringer

UKARUMPA, PNG — The sun came out between downpours, and a familiar, insistent call pulled me out the door. I sat on the decaying concrete steps while mannikins swept like a small chestnut cloud through the kunai.

I have a only few days left here, whether I can believe it or not. I’ve solved so many mysteries with patience and time, but some of them remain, gnawing at my mind.

That is why I went outside — or at least, that was one of the reasons. The call has become quite familiar, but I never saw the body that produced it, not properly. I knew it was the grassbird though, so I suppose it was no longer a mystery. It was instead an unattained challenge.

The grassbirds called at intervals while the jittery mannikins fretted. Brush Cuckoos sang mournfully, and they are another challenge, but a challenge for another day.

The brisk call sounded close, and again I studied the grasses. Then, there, at the edge of a tangle my eyes caught the slightest stirring. Was it …?

Yes, and for the next few moments, I peered as if through a window into the private world of the grassbird. I watched it slipping through the stalks and blades, long tail often cocked a bit, crown red-brown in sun.

The window closed as suddenly as it had opened, as if the dense green growth had absorbed the bird like water into a sponge.

Whether the bird’s first name is Tawny, or Papuan, or something else again, the people who wear labcoats have not made up their minds.

And if the grassbird knows its name, it didn’t tell me this day. It gave me a glimpse of its world instead, and for that gift I’m grateful.

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  2. Birding from the window
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  4. Swiftlet situation worsens
  5. Pipits without a name
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