2002.06.19 The blue jay never sleeps

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I feel like I’ve been asleep at the couch all my life. Or asleep at the Rex or even asleep at the lovely Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. The spacious Michigan seems like a very nice place to sleep, but the movie is always too good to miss.

How could I so carelessly watch movie after movie after movie and never pay close attention to the sound of the birds? Birds are often present in soundtracks and I notice their appearance, but I don’t think too much about how a particular species fits in.

When I talk about movie after movie after movie, I’m talking about recent history. College provided a fertile movie-watching time, and then it ended.

I read a lot when I lived in Saginaw, there was no movie theatre where I lived in Maine, and it was back to the wonderful library when I was in Portland, Ore.

By the time I returned to Morenci, people were starting to buy VCRs, but I never owned a television until a couple of years ago. Now I’m a thoroughly modern man with a DVD player, and between the local rental store and a rental service via the mail, I’m in movie heaven. I can get all the unusual films that can only be seen in Ann Arbor, the foreign films that seldom show anywhere, and I can make up for some of what I missed over the last two decades.

And starting now, I’m going to pay a lot more attention to the birds.

A NATURE writer from Connecticut by the name of Robert Winkler has awakened me from my slumber. He’s puzzled how Hollywood can place so much attention on all the little details of a movie and then do something stupid like having a blue jay sing at night.

The movie-makers will hire a slew of technical advisors—ranging from scientists to lawyers to soldiers—in an effort to make everything plausible, but then they’ll remain, as Winkler puts it, tone deaf to the songs of birds.

That blue jay episode, he says, is in a scene from “Eyes Wide Shut.” Tom Cruise is walking up to the Long Island mansion at night when a blue jay calls three times. It must be an insomniac.

An eastern screech owl helps set the scene in the opening of “E.T.” Owls can have an eerie sound to their voice and it adds a touch of mystery to the movie. To an ornithologist, it adds a lot of mystery, because that species of bird has no business hanging out in the suburbs of California.

Winkler says the biggest geographic gaffe might go to the latest adaptation of “Lord of the Flies.” The boys are marooned on a deserted island in the South Pacific and a red-tailed hawk cries over and over. It’s often used to portray isolation and vulnerability, Winkler says, which would be all right in this part of the world, but that hawk is lost by thousands of miles.

Winkler thought about the caged cardinal that Ichabod Crane releases in “Sleepy Hollow.” That’s New York state of 1799. Later in the film, Christina Ricci identifies a cardinal song in the wild.

Cardinals were kept as caged pets in the past, but they didn’t live in New York as they do now. It’s only in the past 60 years that they’ve migrated into this area. By the way, says Winkler, Washington Irving’s story that inspired the movie never mentions the cardinal.

Winkler also gets a kick out of scenes where the sound editor creates a hot spot that would attract bird watchers from across the country. The sound track will feature species after species without a repeat. Winkler once watched a scene that contained several species of owls, a chuck-will’s widow, a whippoorwill and the often present, frequently out of place, common loon.

Each species performed on cue without intruding on another’s song. Nature at its most harmonious.

Just the opposite is often true. A film might show a lovely summer morning, the lush forests and green hillsides, and a complete absence of birds. An environmentalist’s nightmare.

I’m going to start listening to movies much more carefully now, but I think I’ll start off with something easy. How about “The Birds”?

    – June 19, 2002 
  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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