Native Son: Dodo Days

Life gives us some truly fine moments every now and again, and this is one for me. Sitting in that chunky, Texas-sized rockin’ chair out on the back porch, watching the birds play in this magical, pre-dusk light. My back yard becomes a circus of sorts … scampering squirrels, jocular jays, rockin’ robins, bonny bunnies … and James Taylor gently strums and sings his songs while the breeze from the fan keeps any skeeters away.

“Don’t let me be lonely tonight …”

Spring fever brought with it an unusual symptom this year … a temporary obsession with the Dodo bird, inspired by the discovery of Erroll Fuller’s Dodo: A Brief Encounter … in my own library, no less.

“… but I always thought I’d see you again …”

The Dodo was actually a large pigeon … up to 50 pounds. Yep, bone structure and DNA confirm this. Sailors preferred the taste of other birds over the tough-textured Dodo. Ahem … several of them also went extinct.

“… so good night, moonlight ladies …”

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I try to imagine a Dodo out there in the yard, eating dewberries and picking away at everything, the way all birds are apt to do. That heavy beak … I wonder if they ever used it to break open nuts and hard seeds. I wonder if they could have cracked a Black Walnut…

“I feel fine anytime she is with me now …”

There’s a seedling Mimosa tree centered in the yard … I call it “The Hydra.” I decided to mow her down back in March and quite literally laid her flat with the riding mower more than 15 times … from all directions. I finally decided anything that resilient is destined to play a role in a plan that will likely come together long after I’m gone … and I’m just fine with that.

“And the walkin’ man walks …”

Carolina Wren, Paul Reeves Photography

Birds are interesting, if you take a few moments to truly watch them. Catbirds are elusive. Jays are raucous. Wrens always seem convinced I’m going to murder them. Now Robins … Robins definitely love worms. I purposely keep the fringes of the yard natural–others might choose the word “unkempt” — to create a little creature habitat and allow duff to collect. In mere months, a few inches of decaying leaves and whatnot creates a splendid environment for saprophytes (organisms which feed upon dead things), including mushrooms and earthworms. I have often read that it takes Mother Nature hundreds, if not thousands of years to create an inch of soil. Color me skeptical … from what I observe, there are too many variables for such a blanket statement.

“… I never really been but I’d sure like to go …”

To me, the duff is where the magic happens. In a nutshell, it’s the zone where dead things break down physically and chemically, eventually going through their own brand of metamorphosis before reassembling and being absorbed by and into living things once again. It’s like a little miracle that never stops happening, so no one thinks much about it.

“Ain’t no doubt in no one’s mind that love’s the finest thing around …”

Eastern cottontail rabbit, University of Florida

One of the rabbits wanders close to me now, perhaps 20 feet from where I am sitting. Obviously, she has not been talking with the wren, as she seems to have no fear of me, no reason to think that I might harm her. And I think of the Dodo, how she had no fear of people, no reason to think they would hurt her. And since I’m on a roll of sorts here, I think about Mother Earth … hmmm.

“How sweet it is to be loved by you …”

Sun’s down now, the moon is rising, and the frogs have started croaking. The night shift of critters will soon take the stage. It’s a fine moment; fleeting, like every other moment. A little miracle, of sorts. Like a little miracle that never stops happening, so no one thinks much about it.

“Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend …”


Just so you know … the Longview Arboretum & Nature Center is OPEN! Hours are 10am-5pm, Wednesday through Saturday; Sunday 12 noon-5pm. Come out and see us! And bring your own brand of Zen! 903-212-2181

I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town too small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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