Of Birds, and of a Particular Pomological Fruit

Seed of magnetite tucked deep in the robin’s brain: built-in compass?

Last night I dreamed a pear. The distinct flavor enraptured the sleeping mind. Pear. From the Latin pirum (plural, pira), source not known. Waking, I yearn for a taste, the luscious fruit waiting only a few feet away in my kitchen, but I’ll save them for later. Some days, I can practice delayed gratification.

Birds often navigate by the stars, particularly the North Star. The Indigo Bunting, for instance. Sailor of the sky.

In the Garden stood a fruit tree. Some say apple; some say pomegranate. Some say pear. Maybe Eve wanted a little taste of heaven. We’re always wanting more; balanced on two unsteady legs, we reach out insatiable hands.

When migrating birds first moved over radar screens, operators called them angels.

Look! Angels passing.

Old-time Greeks and Romans delighted in the pear. In “The Odyssey,” Homer’s pear is a gift from the gods. According to the windy Palladius, writing in the fifth century, Romans were partial to perry. His instructions for brewing the liquor are explicit, including particular hours to harvest the fruit, where to store it (underground by a stream) and so on, until the pears are suspended, salted, in earthen vessels for at least three months.

If I’m not careful, I take fruit for granted. A strawberry is bliss if properly grown and savored. And pear. O pomological delight! I bought a box of pear tea that tastes exactly like the fruit, unlike most fruit teas, which taste exactly like each other––blends of citrus or berry. If brewed too long, it becomes bitter; two minutes does the trick. When pears are out of season, the tea reminds me what I’m missing.

Though nothing seems to be out of season anymore, I pretend and buy fruit at the proper times––pears in the fall (except the Bartlett, which is a summer fruit).

Feathered angels are swarming at all the wrong times, compasses overruled by temperature. Who fiddled with the thermostat? Everything is skewing, thrown off.

With the apple, the loquat, quince, peach, plum, cherry, the Pyrus belongs to the Rosaceae family.

A rose is a rose.

Bird watchers aim telescopes at the moon. During migration, you can watch the angels going and going for hours, hear their murmurings drifting earthward.

Listen!

Bosc is the aristocratic pear, European in origin, also known as Kaiser Alexander.

Falco amurensis migrates from China all the way to Africa’s chin, winging it over India and the Indian Ocean. In 2008, an Amur Falcon ended up in Yorkshire, delivered by an anticyclone. The raptor puzzled birders for a month, then vamoosed.

Here in the fridge, I have two Kaisers. They are hard, but they are ripe. I lay the fruit out on the counter to bring them to room temperature.

I used to dream of flying; the swooping thrill was addicting. Like smack the first time, I imagine. Only I couldn’t control it, couldn’t conjure flight if I wanted to. Eventually, the addict is jilted by her sweet chemical. The dreams stopped; I was grounded. I began dreaming teeth crumbling to bits in my mouth.

I tried to spit them out when I woke. My tongue carefully assessing the buccal state of affairs, the so-called dental consonants seemed particularly precious all morning. Not for naught did I tell you to delineate the tender nuts’ needs. Don’t think to don the nudist’s anti-tithing tone. Down with thin; donate to the doughnut kitty!

Even a commoner might partake of an aristocratic fruit these days. I saw a sweet pitaya, dragon fruit, at the market not long ago. And Buddha’s hand (aka fingered citron) just yesterday. The Bosc/Kaiser I buy in scads.

Like other songbirds, the Purple Martin, of handsome plumage and persistent chirp, migrates at night, soaring from Brazil to Pennsylvania in just a couple of weeks.

Hail, fair winged one! Hail!

Georgia O’Keeffe’s breasts were longish, pyriform. Everybody knows this. Stieglitz photographed them again and again. We all partake of Georgia’s fruit.

Migratory birds’ wings are especially long and pointed. Their pecs are powerful. Even their blood is special, with extra erythrocytes that hoard oxygen, compen-sating for days spent at high altitudes.

O’Keeffe painted a pair of pears in 1921––stubby, angular, of lengthy stem. Coppery. Inedible.

An albatross can live 80 years. She spends year after year at sea, running aground only to mate and laying only one egg every two years. Numenius tahitiensis, the Bristle-thighed Curlew of the sandpiper family, relishes the precious albatross egg, cracking it with a stone clutched in its unlikely sickle-shaped beak, an implement more than twice the length of its neck.

In 1511, long-faced Dürer, master of the engraver’s burin, etched the Madonna, baby on her lap and, in her right hand, a largish pear. He went on to make two paintings of Virgin and pear; in one, she holds the fruit upside down. The pear represents sweetness (i.e., the Madonna and child), or the Fall, or, some say, masculinity. Sweetness is too obvious––what kind of allegory is that? Symbolism for preschoolers. Temptation and Fall? Maybe. Topsy-turvy, might the pear then stand for Christ’s turning the damning incident in the Garden on its head? Or, it is meant to be Christ himself: a child-man-god come to turn the world upside down (the last shall be first, and the first last). An hourglass in the flesh.

The albatross is dancing and clapping his beak to win a mate. She mirrors his moves back at him. His beak touches hers; parrying and feinting, they play swords. En garde! Beaks clatter, wings spread and close, spread and close. Beaks tap. Click clack.

En garde!

In these days of travel-consumerism, middle- and upper-class citizens journey to exotic sites, looking to partake of nature’s wonders before they’re gone. The Galapagos, where albatrosses come ashore to breed, is a popular destination for ecoconsumer-tourists. One Web site declares: “A Galapagos cruise is waiting for you, Live your dreams, travel to Galapagos, take one of many Galapagos tours, experience evolution first hand.” And: “Watching albatrosses birds [sic] on Hood Island is certainly a highlight.”

Dürer’s Flemish contemporary Ambrosius Benson also painted the Madonna, child in lap, upended pear in hand, though his proportions are sloppy compared to the Nuremberger’s.

Dürer spent his whole life investigating beauty, defining symmetry.

Puffinus tenuirostris—the Short-tailed Shearwater, or muttonbird—departs Australia, fleeing the austral winter for a boreal summer, traveling over the Pacific all the way to Alaska. Hundreds of thousands of Short-tailed Shearwater chicks are collected every year in Tasmania for feathers, meat, oil. The muttonbird season runs annually from late March through late April.

Bellini, too, painted the Madonna with child, and a pear resting on a wall in the foreground. All three Europeans portray a white, fleshy Jesus.

Sterna paradisaea, the Arctic Tern, is familiar with both the top and the bottom of Earth, migrating over thousands and thousands of miles of deep ocean twice a year, experiencing summer year round. A true snowbird, the paradisical tern was named by Erik Ludvigsen Pontoppidan from a specimen collected at Christmas Island, north of Australia. Pontoppidan was an industrious 18th-century Danish bishop-preacher-teacher-economist-theologian-historian-naturalist from Jutland. (I’m intrigued and can’t help but wonder what he would’ve made of this story: In 1934, Thakur Deshraj, Rajasthani historian-politician-activist, published a history of the Jat people in India, in which he stated that Scandinavians came from India and that Jutland itself was settled in 500 BCE by the Jat moving out of India and across Europe.)

French composer and pianist Erik Satie, reacting against critics who denounced his work as formless, named a composition completed in 1903 “3 morceaux en forme de poire”––3 pieces in the form of a pear––though the composition has seven parts. Perhaps I’ll write a poem in the shape of a pear à la George Herbert. On second thought . . . you, Madam, are no Herbert. . . . It will have to be an imaginary pear.

Venturing out to check the mail, I find two Collared Doves sauntering about on my roof. Last spring, every morning and every afternoon, a male dove called and called from a walnut tree outside my window until he was hoarse. More delicate in appearance than the ubiquitous Mourning Dove, with a dusky ring around the neck, which contrasts with its pale pink plumage, the Eurasian Collared Dove is a monogamous immigrant seemingly suited to Colorado, though sometimes in winter, I can’t help but wonder about its choice of state, and mine.

My 5-year-old neighbor tells me I will always have good luck because doves landed on my house.

Amen. May it be so.

Cézanne, Gauguin—each portrayed his own poire voluptueuse. Van Gogh painted his throughout 1887 and 1888, with sunflowers, with other fruit, piled on blue or gold cloth, or in a bowl, or—most famously—as nascent promise on a twisting tree in bloom.

The Royal Ontario Museum exhibited birds found dead over the course of three months in Toronto: lined up all the corpses in rows, organized by size and color. The yellows stood out like beacons.

Here I am! Here I am!

Indigenous to coastal and temperate regions, the pear thrives in a mild clime, as do I.

One day in spring, I find a small bird with a band of the most brilliant yellow––an awing yellow––brushing the edge of its tail. The migrator is dead, laid out on my porch, killed by a neighbor’s cat or a run-in with my window. A waxwing. Still life.

Difficult to picture, but doable, I’m sure: In “The Merchant’s Tale,”Chaucer’s May and Damian wind up copulating in a pear tree. Quelleimagination, and more comfy than a spruce!

Dürer painted the bluebird on its back, head turned and eye clamped shut, beak open in a final hopeless cry. Maybe his neighbor’s cat did in the feathered beauty. He also painted a European Roller’s wing in vivid blue, green, red, russet—unfurled, detached from its body. Nearly 400 years later, such vivid feathers would’ve served another purpose. On two walks through Manhattan in 1886, Frank Chapman, ornithologist with the American Museum of Natural History, enumerated 40 species of bird—wings, heads, tails, whole bodies—all on hats. Though women were assured otherwise by the millinery industry, plumes were generally collected by nefarious means: robbing nests, killing the creatures. Most vulnerable were herons with their fancy feathers, especially the Snowy Egret; they fell easy prey to two-legged hunters.

A pear’s gritty texture is owed to lignified cells in the meat called sclerenchyma. When you bake the fruit, these cells soften and dissolve gently into the flesh.

Climbers find carcasses of migrating birds high up on Everest and sometimes spot geese winging it over the peak. It’s calmer high up, the vicissitudes of weather less likely to slow a fast-traveling avian.

Tonight, I’ll bake my Bosc in a cake with ginger and cardamom. I’ll close my eyes and savor melding flavors. The spices will play up the fruit’s distinctive sweetness, harmonizing subtly but flawlessly––the Raelettes to Ray. Lovebird to her mate. I’ll serve it with moscato.

Cheers!

The doldrums, at the equator, create a hard-to-fly zone with a nearly windless climate, hindering migrating birds reliant on wind for a boost as they make their way over improbable distances. In a climatic feast or famine, when not too calm, the doldrums throw up monstrous storms.

The Pyrus is a long-living tree, thus a Chinese symbol for longevity; however, the blossoms are white, the color of mourning.

The albatross was hailed, was companion and luck-bearer. Was shot and killed by the mariner. He paid a heavy price, the seaman––he paid for his arrow. Young S.T. knew what he was saying.

Pay heed!

A lush pastel painting of a d’Anjou pear, an orange and a papaya, hangs by my kitchen. My daughter created it before she left for university; the deep terracotta and russet background contrasts pleasingly with my yellow wall. I look at it, and I miss her. I miss her, and I look at it. How much more satisfyingly a piece of art shares a personality than the unfaithful photograph.

Birds’ migration patterns are changing, timing and destinations thrown off as the earth warms. Some species are moving hundreds of miles northward. Who knows where the Whooping Crane, reintroduced to Wisconsin, will go next? The Arctic?

Hello, Santa!

The Passe-Crassane is a gourmet’s delight, a winter pear grown in the south of France: a luscious orb of life, round and golden, offering an exquisite balance of sugar and acid. A celestial, botanical joy. Edible sun.

A dove perches in a laden tree, enjoying the prize pear of matchless form––ideal hue, not quite ripe––just in the process of maturing to its glorious peak.

What luck!

In his “Confessions,” Augustine obsesses over a fruit-thieving incident. As a teen, he and his buddies snuck into a neighbor’s orchard at night to gather pears. They tossed them to the pigs. I imagine a nightingale singing full-thrust, witness to adolescent folly. Augustine imagined much more, elaborating, chapter after chapter, on the event’s sinful meaning. I understand the temptation, being of an obsessive nature myself.

Outside my window in mid-November, the neighbor’s feeders attract non-migrators: finches, sparrows, chickadees. Doves. Mesmerized by the wing-shadows playing over these walls like gusting leaves, I decide the account of the Garden is wrong. We never were kicked out. The chickadee, with its black cap and bib, snowy cheeks; the Collared Dove and its oblivious grace; the pear; the cake; Dürer’s Madonna; Van Gogh’s twisty tree; my daughter’s painting; even the albatross swinging around our necks while we reach for the fruit: They all prove it.

About the Author

Christina Manweller

Christina Manweller lives in Colorado, where she writes poetry and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in various journals.

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