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Field Note: "Oh, Say Can You See?": Kingfisher on Long Island Sound

Published: June 30, 2023

By Mark Seth Lender

A kingfisher with prize in beak. (Photo: (c) Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth's Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender provides some context for his essay, "Oh, Say Can You See?" about a kingfisher on Long Island Sound.

This story was written on the Fourth of July. Kingfisher had been around for several days, his visits as always brief. Images, sound, the feel of the day percolating in the deep wellspring of the mind. What makes artesian words pour out of that dark pre-verbal place the way they do? Can’t explain. Except when you are really lucky that’s the way it is. But of course, consciously or not the writing is going on all the time. Case in point this story’s last line:

Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria, Piscare!

Thinking about flag, patriotism and its inescapable concomitant of war, that Wilfred Owen came to me was almost a given. His justly famous poem is about the incomprehensible horror of men being gassed in the trenches of WWI (in Woodrow Wilson’s hollow phrase, The War to End All Wars). Owen’s last line, Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria, Mori was meant in irony: Sweet and Proper to Die For Ones Country. “To Fish For One’s Country” retains the irony and redacts the bitterness. Or at least, that was my intent.

Irony, when it comes to the kingfisher, is an intolerance of human presence greater than any bird I know including nesting male bald eagles who object to proximity of less than a tenth of a mile. After the nestlings fledge eagles relax. A little. Kingfisher? Never. All he has to do is see you and he will chatter in anger, that’s just the way he is. This despite that his territory is only of the moment – literally, fluid. And in its defense no kingfishers ever die.

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