Friday, September 26, 2008

Flickers of Awareness

As I walk, I try to engage all the senses, though as a person with Asperger's Syndrome, (a mild form of autism), this is a challenge. Like many people with autism and other sensory processing problems, it's difficult for me to operate on the visual and audial channels at the same time. So, if my seeing function is "on," my hearing function is muted, and vice versa. Nevertheless, when walking at this time of autumn, my seeing and hearing are both alerted by the flash and cry of the flicker. Though yellow-shafted flickers are found almost year-round in Michigan, our local residents are going south, while their Canadian cousins are also moving through. Because their activities are intensified, I am noticing their noisy presence in my neighbor's oak tree, and I sometimes see them partying along the road, in trios or quartets. I never see them in large flocks, because they fan out as they travel.

The flicker's exhortation to seeing and hearing is a theme in the works of Gary Snyder, who likens its cry to the zen master's exclamation, "This! This! This!" This is a reminder to see things as they really are, independent of the images and notions we form about them. Because "Whimsy Walks" has to do with ways we can project our imaginations into the things we encounter, this may seem like a contradictory point to be bringing up. However, I think it's possible to maintain a dual consciousness, acknowledging that other beings have their own realities, while entertaining our own little fantasies about them--as long as we remain respectful. After all, who is to know whether some of our imaginings engage reality on another level?

Because flickers are Michigan's most common woodpecker and have such distinctive markings, they were among the first birds I learned to identify, beyond the obvious robins, cardinals, jays, et al. (In those days I was more into my seeing function, as the only bird call I ever noticed was the mourning dove's; I didn't start paying attention to sounds until I was in my 40s.) Nowadays, the recognition of different birds revives memories of my first sightings, which in the case of flickers, was on a walk in the autumn-yellow woods. Also, there is something about the way a flicker flashes his big white spot during a sudden take-off that can be just a little bit startling--not unlike the flash of insight.

p.s., the flicker pic is by F.C. Hennessey, circa 1919.

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