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The Secret Language of Birds

Posted on Wednesday, 23rd November 2011 @ 10:38 AM by Text Size A | A | A

I had a tiresome task that day — since I am responsible for maintenance tasks at a local strip mall, I frequently remove grafitti, do minor painting jobs, etc. Behind this strip mall is a “natural area” within the City of Eureka — basically a densely overgrown area which is supposed to provide habitat for migrating birds and other animals.

However, this urban wasteland is frequently a campground for homeless people, and my duty today was to remove all the fast food cups, discarded clothing, cardboard bedding, etc. from the area. In Eliot’s “Wasteland” he uses the term in the medieval sense — of an uninhabited area, hence a wilderness. Eliot’s Wasteland also refers to the isolation of modern human beings from each other.

There weren’t any people camping when I made my visit: it had been raining, and I am sure that most of them find somewhere with better shelter if they can. The refuse left by Mother Nature — all the dead blackberry canes, the piles of leaves, even the remains of an old house that once stood in the area of the thicket — all was vastly more pleasant than the products of human civilization — fast food cups, dishes, and bags everywhere — most of the mess was caused by campers, but you had to get angry with the many fast food restaurants in the area — they could give people a discount for dining in. Not very nutritious food either — I was looking at recipies for raw food recently,  and it seems that a person could eat better than 99 percent of the American people if they ate only raw food. Of course, cooking makes it a lot easier to get your minimum caloric intake. And I’m sure that almost any intelligent person, let alone one of the mentally ill homeless, could abide with uncooked food for any length of time.

I had been listening to a Jethro Tull album entitled “The Secret Language of Birds”. Actually, it’s only Ian Anderson messing around in his home studio — but the music is as appealing as any of the albums put out by the band. It seems to me that most of his music is about people who are destitute or the victims of alcoholism or addiction ( such as Aqualung. ) THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF BIRDS — this had me thinking about the messages of what the homeless had left behind. I found a toy mirror for Barbie, a coloring book, a personal journal, a homeschooling text, several campfires. Bunny holes in the bushes going off to hidden warrens. I had painted over the graffitti several weeks previous to this — there were only several graffiti, by SEAN who had a black marker and wrote his name several places in balloon letters. One mystery — someone bought packages of small light bulbs, apparently just to enjoy throwing them against the wall. Maybe some symbolism at work here. Lots of discarded clothing — maybe when it’s going to be wet, you can buy clothing the day before, and discard it in the morning if it rains when you are asleep. I remember one trip when I was eighteen years old — I had a sleeping bag, and I slept in the groundcover near the freeway while hitchiking — it rained during the night, but the leaves covered me and somehow my sleeping bag didn’t get wet. As dismal as the place looked with all the debris and graffiti, this urban natural area probably provided a lot in the way of shelter that most people wouldn’t see, unless they stayed there.

I surely wouldn’t go there at all if I wasn’t being paid the princely sum of fifteen dollars an hour. I found some clothing that I recognized — I’ll call him the demon — from the brand name on his knee high laced shoes. He is quite a noticable person, wearing a Napoleonic three cornered hat, and sartorial black and reds. Tall, extremely thin, taking long strides, with the aid of a cane. I’ve seen him duck behind the building before several times. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while — he would go between Arcata and Eureka quite frequently. I wondered if anybody I know knew his name. I wanted to talk to him about the costume, but he was just too hard to approach. I am a habitue of Eureka coffee shops, and I do some volunteer work with the mental health system, so I frequently have conversations with people who refer to themselves as homeless. Most of them aren’t hard to relate to, but this guy has me terrified. I guess Ronald Reagan, when he abolished the public mental health hospital system — he created nightmares like this. I guess there always will be hobo camps, but I wonder if during the Great Depression, anyone ever lived so furtively, shamed by their own misery.

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