Jim Gurley

Field Guide

Ted Parker, Ornithologist and Conservationist, 1953 -- 1993

Above the canopy in Ecuador, Parker's
single-engine Cessna flies into a cloud,
the jungle erupting with orchids and bird song.
I read his newspaper obituary over breakfast,
while starlings land in my backyard,
alighting on the summer-dried grass
vying for seeds, insects, or whatever
tempts them to this patch of lawn
and what it yields. I imagine Ted Parker
patiently coaxing some exotic flycatcher
out of a thicket, one hand poised
over a tape recorder, the other pointing
his microphone into the profusion of vines
and flowers. No wonder he chose this devotion,
hiked days for a glimpse of some unseen bird
as it flies overhead, reverberant in the gathering
moisture, enlightening the air with its song.
Parker is lulled into a trance while he waits.
What of his panic? His flight low over the jungle,
scouting out places to rescue before bulldozers,
backhoes, scrape the earth clean for farms.
The canopy so close below, the plane's wings
snag on branches that appear and then disappear,
safely. The newspaper photo shows me nothing of this,
or the opulent country he's fallen into.
From the stillness of birds he emerges.
A random element in that untenable urge to save
what's vanishing, a horizon no longer
blurring into the cities or houses like mine.
He's given himself to his task, low clouds
cling to his body, emptiness now closes in on him,
in a flash of color, of wings. Which is never
enough. For his urgency. Or the one
starling who leads an exodus
to my neighbor's lawn. On cue they descend
to cries like their cries. Wind or instinct
pushes them. Whatever I expect, the birds,
their song --- I'm lost between Ted Parker's photo
and a map color-coded with the earth's wild places.

Copyright 1995, James Gurley

James Gurley is an editor for Salmon Bay Review. "Field Guide" is part of a
manuscript, Temple of Science, for which he received a 1993 GAP grant from the
Washington Artist Trust and a 1994 research and development grant from the
Seattle Arts Commission. "Field Guide" also appears in his recent chapbook
Transformations (Reference West, Victoria, B.C., 1995). His poetry has appeared in
Poetry Northwest, Quarterly West, and Prism International.