Walking with pirates

A week or so before the winter solstice, the bright sunshine lured me out for a long walk, despite the cold air. I took a trail along the edge of the water, and as I passed an alder tree growing out of the rocky bank, I spotted some small birds among the twigs on its far side. I looked through my binoculars and was thrilled to see several American Goldfinches picking the tiny seeds out of the alder cones, which were so thick on the branches that the tree was as festive as any holiday-minded person could desire, at least in my opinion. The little finches were in their winter plumage, which is a soft pale yellowy tan, with wings striped dark brown and light tan, and soft white undersides, and they were clinging on upside-down, or sideways, or whatever it took to get to the seeds, outlined by the shine of the water beyond. And as I was standing there watching them, a little kid on a little bike came riding along, followed by a watchful dad on foot. Just as the kid passed behind me, they said to their dad, “Are they watching birds or pirates?”

I just loved this! Kids and their imaginations! And who knows, I could have been watching pirates! I certainly was after that, at any rate! (Until I got distracted by a kingfisher.)

Not real pirates. If there had been real pirates, I would have run fast. Real fast. But the pirates of my imagination are not violent and ruthless and destructive. They may be wild and self-willed and uninhibited and yes, they may be a bit fierce and dangerous at times, but who hasn’t felt this would be an advantage when confronted with bureaucratic bullying or an unfair attitude or a tedious social restriction? My pirates carry flashy old-fashioned swords, and spout outrageous minced oaths, and wear flamboyant clothes. They are loud and quirky and nonconformist and sometimes even rude. They are the embodiment not of the real political and economic forces that spawn real pirates, but instead of the persistent inner quest for freedom, and self-determination, and independence, and personal authenticity, that I believe we all have at heart.

Yes, I did make the pirates in The Scarlet Tortoise Expedition a little, um, fearsome. Even a little nasty. And they do pose a threat to the non-piratical characters. But mostly they are not really like real pirates. They are something more.

And that’s why I like writing about them. I’m interested in exploring the something more, the strange things that lie beyond the realm of the ordinary. The stuff of the imagination. The place where the world opens up to the great dark mystery of all the things we don’t know. So yes, I am watching pirates. I am keeping a real close eye on them. Because who knows what they might get up to next?

Arrr, matey!

Here is a male American Goldfinch in summer plumage, perched on the edge of a previous incarnation of my feeder. Photo copyright © Mark B. Gibson 2010.