2021 Grateful 26: The gift of boredom and birds

A couple of things happened today that distracted me from the heat.

A message in my inbox assured me that

A bored mind can be the canvas upon which innovation is painted, and the womb in which novelty is nourished.

It went on to say

When you identify boredom as a signal that you need to test your boundaries, it can be the force that presses you to strive for opportunities you thought were beyond your reach and to indulge your desire for adventure.

Inspired, I decided to test the heat-induced boundaries and brave the outside world to go to the local hardware shop to get some flypaper. Swatting flies has long since lost its novelty appeal. The Facebook meme saying that Irish Spring soap was a great fly deterrent is a load of codswallop so it was time to return to the tried and tested truth of sticky paper.

On the way, we passed the local airfield and saw the planes lined on display. I have a few friends who know how to fly small planes or are learning to fly, and I envy them. I don’t have many regrets in life; not learning to fly when living in Alaska is one of them. But that’s a boundary I won’t be pushing any time soon – it’s a tad too expensive. It’s still on the list, just a lot lower down the spending order.

From those birds to these…

Katherine Rundell, in April’s London Review of Books, has a lovely piece on storks and flying and storks and food and storks and luck.

That flight – effortless, barely flapping – could be credited with bringing us human aviation, since the great 19th-century aeronaut Otto Lilienthal built his experimental gliders based on the movements of storks. He studied the way their wings moved, how easily they soared on thermals, how they took off into the wind, the way their wings tapered to a point and were exquisitely cambered in cross-section. ‘The impression could be given,’ Lilienthal wrote, ‘that the only reason for the creation of the stork was to awake in us the desire to fly, to act as a teacher to us in this art.’ Leaping off the Rhinow Hills in his stork-like plane in 1893, he was able to travel 820 feet: enough truly to know flight.

Dawdling on the way home, I stopped a couple of times to look at some of the many stork nests that abound this time of year. They start showing up in March to make their babies and generally head off again in September or so.

Himself came in from t’other house the other day telling me that a stork had been flying over his head for a while, circling, as if considering whether to make a delivery. Ye gads! It doesn’t bear thinking about. The origins of that particular legend vary but make for interesting reading. Thankfully, all he brought home was a few kilos of peas.

It’s said in this part of the world that if a stork nests on the roof of your house, you’re in for some good luck. Luck must be in short supply around here though as I’ve only ever seen them on the top of telephone poles.

They’re magnificent birds. Our one is the European White Stork, one of 17 species. It typically winters in Africa, a 12 000 mile journey that takes up to 49 days. That said, they’re beginning to winter in Portugal, too. Climate change is changing the habits of many lifetimes.

Most of them have no voice box so they communicate by clacking their beaks. Some can grunt or hiss but that’s about it. Apparently, when they’re in full voice, they can sound like machine guns in the distance.

And their wingspan is massive.

Certain stork species have wings that extend over eight feet long. When it stretches its great wings, the Marabou stork of Sub-Saharan Africa can cover over ten feet – that’s almost twice the size of a black rhinoceros, which stands just a little over five feet.

Symbolic of parenting and family and protection, storks are equal opportunity birds. Both mam and dad share the parenting, the incubation, and the feeding equally. Nice, isn’t it?

They’re the stuff of legend. Stories about them abound. One inspiring one I came across is about a group of Indian women known as the Hargila Army that is looking out for the endangered greater adjutant stork in the state of Assam.

Even Aesop had something to say.

Aesop, or the unnamed scribe who gathered the tales attributed to that name, tells the tale of the bird catcher and the stork. The bird catcher has set his nets for cranes, and he watches from a distance. A stork lands amid the cranes and the bird catcher captures her. She begs him to release her, saying that far from harming men, she is very useful, for she eats snakes and other reptiles. The bird catcher replies, ‘If you are really harmless, then you deserve punishment anyway for landing among the wicked.’ The moral: ‘We, too, ought to flee from the company of wicked people so that no one takes us for the accomplice of their wrongdoing.’

After some 600+ years of no storks being born in the UK, five eggs were hatched last year. That’s cause for celebration. I read this and the fable in a delightful post on storks by Terri Windling.

And finally, after all these years, I got around to reading Hans Christian Andersen’s story, The Storks. 

Am grateful to my mother for never reading it to me as a child.




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