Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Grace's Warbler

Grace's Warbler by Carl Jackson

to Carl

My love, my Bird Photographer, is a black man and not a day goes by that I don't think about the danger of his being a black man, filing it away the worry in the dark with my night vision honed by twenty-five years of worry about Sophie. I am nothing if not good with this kind of coping. But is it coping or is it complacency? Is there something more to think about, to do, to work towards, something beyond the obvious? How to be scrupulously honest with ourselves, we white women? We white people? How to begin how to continue and how to do so despite the cacophony.

Carl wrote this on his social media page, where he generally posts some of the most gorgeous photos of birds you'll ever see: 
A Memorial Day reminder of just how risky it is to be a black photographer. I’ve got too many stories from my time out alone shooting in Southern California, as well as every state I’ve gone to observe/photograph wildlife or birds. The systemic racism based upon skin color by the police and the justice system could turn a birding trip into an arrest or even death, not even accounting for the threat of others who hate based on skin color. “Birding while black” has many layers of risk.

We can pass along memes and express our outrage. We can talk about privilege and supremacy, inner and systemic racism. We can defend dogs and debate endlessly whether Ms. Cooper should will when how much is enough receive the punishment she deserves. The word opprobrium. How much energy is wasted even in this the writing the need to wrestle meaning to string together in what direction? What direction? 

When I first met Carl he took me out for a walk in a park. He walked so slowly that if I hadn't been falling in love with him, I would have felt irritated. He is so very very quiet. He stopped periodically and pointed. I'd look where he'd point and see nothing. I'd tilt my head and gaze down the long line of his finger, one eye closed struggling to see. To see what he saw. And then I did see what he saw a brilliant blue bird so blue that I couldn't possibly miss it, yet I had. In the days and months and now years that followed then, I saw them everywhere, these birds, all sizes and colors their markings intricate and startling even as they blended in with the browns and greens of the trees and flowers and shrubs. Their calls, too, each distinct and something to remember -- a chirp, a warble (is there a more beautiful word than warble?), a low rumbling creak. They have always been there.

I had to slow down and look. 

I had to be quiet and listen.

And yet. 

I still walk fast. I'm impatient and blind, perhaps willfully so to what is in front of my eyes. I can't hear, don't listen and I forget the names.  

And yet. 

Carl still walks slowly. He points them out, these birds that are everywhere. 

He tells me their names.

Brown Violetear 

Summer Tanager

Cedar Waxwing

Vermilion Flycatcher

Grace's Warbler

You know where I'm going. 



Say the names. 



  1. What a beautiful post. What a loving post.

  2. Send this to WAPO or NYT. It's beautiful and perfect.

  3. Beautiful Elizabeth. I always love your words about Carl. What a special love you have. As for systemic racism and individual bigotry, I'm still baffled by what I can do that will make a difference. I will look-and listen- and remember names. I will join organizations. I will donate money. I've done all these things. It still goes on. How do we change darkened hearts, twisted souls, ignorant and hateful minds? Its daunting. But we sure as hell need to keep trying.

  4. I thought of Carl immediately upon hearing the story of the birder and the racist. This country is awful. Just terrible and I'm ashamed to even live in such a place. I'm ashamed of the white people who look the other way. I'm even ashamed of myself, sometimes, because I know I don't do enough (as a white person) to counter racism. If I knew how to help, I would, I swear to god. It all feels so hopeless. I cry for the families that have lost their sons, brothers, husbands, lovers, for no reason at all except hate and bigotry. I'm so sorry.

  5. I never thought that at this time in my life, I would encounter racism. It is ugly. Carl's birds are lovely!


  6. You know I thought of Carl at once, and prayed him safe, when I heard about the the birder and the woman who so endangered his life in a fit of peevish privilege. I am so very tired of all of it. Just worn out. Sometimes I want to pretend it isn’t happening. But I dare not. I think about Carl in far flung fields, searching out grace and beauty. I am so glad you found each other. And this, what you wrote here, cracks me open in the most healing way.

  7. Beautiful! I thought of you and Carl as soon as I saw that horrific story. Glad you have each other.

  8. A beautiful post! I often feel uncomfortably conspicuous when I'm out with my camera, as if people are looking at me and thinking, "What is that guy up to? Why is he taking pictures on the streets? Is he a child molester? Is he casing a property to rob it?" I cannot imagine the added pressure that race (absurdly!) adds to that conspicuous feeling. Not to mention the real possibility of violence, which I generally do not face. Our society is seriously f*cked up. Not that we didn't know that already. And yes, what do we do? What do we DO?

  9. To be going about Life doing Beautiful things and yet still having to be so Mindful about the risks just because of something as superficial as your complexion must be exhausting thruout a Lifetime. The only point of reference I personally have is that my Dad was Native American and he had to always be Mindful of that when off the Reservation thruout his Life... we, as a Family had to be Mindful of it since our Mother and we Children by association could be targets or cause him to be further targeted if they didn't see us as a Family unit. There were some places we simply couldn't go safely and I remember the worry it caused. I've never understood Racism, ours being a multi-racial and multi-cultural Family it was just our Normal to have diversity within our own Families. After all these Years you always Pray it will get better and not worsen, trying to explain it to yet another Generation of my Loved Ones and giving them the Caution Speech for their Safety so they grow up and know their potential risks, just breaks my Heart.



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