An Alaskan in Alabama (continued…)

February –
I’m feeling a bit gloomy, and the Alabaman weather certainly isn’t helping: coolish, often overcast, or sunny but with an edge of wind. Most of the trees still lack leaves, making the landscape a bit bleak, but buds are forming, and spring will be here soon. The birds are much more active: warbling in the trees, swooping from wire to wire, and obviously thinking about mating. I enjoy the sight of birds that are new to me, particularly the brilliant cardinals, improbably red against the few green leaves or in the middle of the brown-pebbled sidewalk. I’m still searching for the confirmation that one of the most common birds I see, thin gray-brown birds with white flashes on their wings, are indeed mockingbirds, or mockers as they are also called. I love the way they stand, very tall and erect, then move forward with a kind of bow, swooping forward along the ground. I’ve also seen Steller’s Jays, which I haven’t seen since I was a child living in southeast Alaska. The jays would come by in the morning and knock on the windows with their wings if we didn’t leave them some food. One of my first memories is being startled by that sound and falling down the stairs: landing, luckily, quite softly at the bottom.

We also have doves here: lovely soft pink-gray-brown birds that make a wonderfully soft and soothing cooing sound. I remember the sound of doves in Yorkshire, particularly early in the morning, and the sound makes me both glad and sad, missing those days. Chatting with a colleague, sharing my avian discoveries and how good these small moments of bird-watching, some connection with nature, make me feel, I tell him about the doves. “Oh, we shoot them here,” he says. “You shoot doves?” I ask. “Yes, there’s dove season.” I take a moment to absorb this. “So, you shoot the bird of peace?” “Well,” he says, “when you put it like that, I guess it’s a bit strange.” I try not to think about those soft feathery shapes being blasted into splashes of blood and splintered bone.

Killing doves seems rather strange on several counts, so I’m still trying to process what he said. Practically, I can’t imagine that anyone besides a bird of prey or a neighborhood cat could get much of a meal out of dove. Alaskans tend to pursue large animals for their meat: for instance, you can feed a family for much of a winter with a moose. Ethically/morally, it is a bit of surprise to me given what a religious, particularly Christian, place Alabama seems to be, at least given the crosses and the signs with messages of peace, brotherhood, and love, many of them decorated with images of doves, to be found in so many stores. For example, isn’t the dove associated with Noah’s discovery of land, as well as with Jesus Christ? I’ve heard that people enjoy hunting as a sport, although it seems more sporting to go after game that has, at least, a chance of hurting, even hunting, you in return. Unless doves have a secret cache of weapons of which I am unaware, aside from their ability, like all birds, to decorate one’s hat with something not-so-pleasant, I don’t think that they would fit those criteria. I suppose that dove season is just one more thing for me to puzzle over as I try to understand my new home.

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