But in the early 1970s, we were not birdwatching. We were birding, and that made all the difference. We were out to seek, to discover, to chase, to learn, to find as many different kinds of birds as possible — and, in friendly competition, to try to find more of them than the next birder. We became a community of birders, with the complications that human societies always have; and although it was the birds that had brought us together, our story became a human story after all.
I paid the taxi driver, got out with my suitcase, surveyed my surroundings, and just as I was turning to ask the driver something or get back into the taxi and return forthwith to Chillán and then to Santiago, it sped off without warning, as if the somewhat ominous solitude of the place had unleashed atavistic fears in the driver's mind. For a moment I too was afraid. I must have been a sorry sight standing there helplessly with my suitcase from the seminary, holding a copy of Farewell's Anthology in one hand. Some birds flew out from behind a clump of trees. They seemed to be screaming the name of that forsaken village, Querquén, but they also seemed to be enquiring who: quién, quién, quién. I said a hasty prayer and headed for a wooden bench, there to recover a composure more in keeping with what I was, or what at the time I considered myself to be. Our Lady, do not abandon your servant, I murmured, while the black birds, about twenty-five centimetres in length, cried quién, quién, quién. Our Lady of Lourdes, do not abandon your poor priest, I murmured, while other birds, about ten centimetres long, brown in colour, or brownish, rather, with white breasts, called out, but not as loudly, quién, quién, quién, Our Lady of Suffering, Our Lady of Insight, Our Lady of Poetry, do not leave your devoted subject at the mercy of the elements, I murmured, while several tiny birds, magenta, black, fuchsia, yellow and blue in colour, wailed quién, quién, quién, at which point a cold wind sprang up suddenly, chilling me to the bone.
You do not have to be good.You do not have to walk on your kneesfor a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.Meanwhile the world goes on.Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rainare moving across the landscapes,over the prairies and the deep trees,the mountains and the rivers.Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,are heading home again.Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,the world offers itself to your imagination,calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –over and over announcing your placein the family of things.
We have a friend, and Anglophile American city-dweller in his eighties, whose main ambition, now, is to hear a cuckoo call, for he never has, and perhaps he never will, for he is rather deaf. But, if he came and sat under the magic apple tree for an afternoon in May, it would be quiet enough, and then he might listen to the cuckoo-cuckoo-cuckoo until he had his fill.
If about a dozen genera of birds had become extinct or were unknown, who would have ventured to have surmised that birds might have existed which used their wings solely as flappers, like the logger-headed duck (Micropterus of Eyton); as fins in the water and front legs on the land, like the penguin; as sails, like the ostrich; and functionally for no purpose, like the Apteryx. Yet the structure of each of these birds is good for it, under the conditions of life to which it is exposed, for each has to live by a struggle; but it is not necessarily the best possible under all possible conditions. It must not be inferred from these remarks that any of the grades of wing-structure here alluded to, which perhaps may all have resulted from disuse, indicate the natural steps by which birds have acquired their perfect power of flight; but they serve, at least, to show what diversified means of transition are possible.