Sunday, March 17, 2013

Not Zen 50: The Bird Watchers

John, a long-time student of religion went to visit his friend who had risen to the Dean of Academics at a rather young age. This friend, both pleased and concerned by John's lack of concern for worldly matters, offered to take him on a research expedition deep into an old, great forest.

"You'll love it," he said. "It's a fascinating place full of things you'll never see anywhere else. And our staff is impressive. Professor Whitt knows more about birds than anyone else you'll ever meet."

So the expedition traveled to the forest and John, as a manual laborer, accompanied  them. After they set up camp the first day, John noticed the elderly professor was missing. An inquiry lent him knowledge of the man's probable whereabouts and, hoping to learn from the professor's vast experience with birds, he followed. In a little while, he found the shelter where the old man had secluded himself.  John joined him. They sat in silence for a moment.

"What are you doing?" John whispered.

"Listening to the birds," said the professor.

"What do you hear?"

The professor replied that he had heard several types of birds. He mentioned them by name and went into detail about their distinctive songs. Right now, he said, he was listening to a mating call. The professor knew the difference between the territorial and the merely amorous, between a reassuring coo and wary squawk, between the sound of a hunter and a cry of alarm. This particular male bird was trying to attract a mate and the professor was waiting for a female to answer.

John stayed a while and listened. The professor seemed a bit agitated to have someone else nearby. So John left. A few yards down the trail back to camp, he came across the professor's wife. She was sitting on a blanket, reading. She smiled and nodded at John.

"Do you listen to birds, too?" he said.

"Only when I'm not reading," the old woman replied. Just then, the male bird cried out loudly. "Ah, poor thing."

"Poor thing? You mean because it has no mate?"

"No, because it's sick."

John listened. He couldn't tell. "How do you know? Do you know a lot about birds?"

She shook her head. "Oh no, I don't know anything. But listen and you'll hear it. It sounds different from the others of it's kind. It's much weaker."

They sat and listened for a while. Then the old woman smiled and went back to her book.

When John got back to camp, his friend asked him, "Well, what did you think of the professor?"

"He certainly knows a lot about birds," John allowed. "But I think his wife is enlightened."

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