Ron Sakolsky and Jason Abdelhadi
Of course we still put our hopes in birds. Absolute freedom is birdlike absolutely. But if, according to the Audobon Society, 2018 is in fact the Year of the Bird, we still see through our binoculars precious little evidence of civilization becoming more fundamentally birdlike. How could it, given its present obsession with such terrestrial fixations as border fences, walls, and pipelines? So in place of any real bird watching we are treated to a bizarre counter-spectacle: a fervent avianonationalism being promulgated by certain unhinged Canadian ornithologists.
The misappropriation of the wilderness by nationalist concerns is nothing new, is an ancient tradition even, but this case is so specifically egregious that we felt compelled to draw attention to some of its more ridiculous aspects. Along with the noise around Canada’s 150th unbirthday in 2017 came a flurry of symbolic diorama-thinking, hoping to cover up the 400 years of indigenous genocide, exploitation and ecological destruction with, as is de rigeur in such cases, a vague and whitewashed image of wildlife deprived of all essential wilderness: more or less the kind that makes for a wholesome desktop background image.
As for the birds, they’re in for it too. Long the undeserved favourite of powers of conquest and imperialism since antiquity. But the Bald eagle doesn’t even sound like the propagandists’ want you to think it does (in fact, that sound is the Red-tailed hawk). Likewise in Canada, a parallel campaign has been ongoing promoting and clamoring for Canada to declare its “official bird”, an honorary post as yet not filled, despite our penchant for monetizing wildlife in every possible way—culminating in the supreme irony of our fauna-themed currency.
The unlucky avian chosen for this dubious honour is the Whiskey jack or Gray jay. It’s a bird long at play in indigenous tradition and northeastern woodsmen folklore alike. The name Whiskey jack is actually derived from the Cree trickster figure Wisakedjak. According to the Tlingit, the bird is also known as the “camp robber” for its bold behaviour and has earned a variety of other very beautiful heteronyms over its history: “lumberjack”, “meat-bird”, “venison-hawk”, “moose-bird” “gorby”, and in French, the “mésangeai”.
All of this makes the recent official reversion of its name back to the bland and jingoistic “Canada jay” all the more undignified. We cite it as just another example of the now classic Canadian erasure of indigenous identity, and the smothering of myriad folk traditions under the homogenizing banner of a national pseudomyth. Unlike an open and poetic engagement with a wild thing, they once again reduce something strange and convulsive to a postage stamp mascot. We here see the worst possible permutation of humanizing anthropomophics: the animal as, not just human, but the concrete symbol for the sad state of existence that humanity currently has on offer.
But besides this obvious lack of respect for both indigenous traditions and wildness itself, we have to wonder if the promotion for NATIONAL bird of a creature which is known as a “trickster” could nevertheless be read in spite of its stated intentions. Perhaps it is a sly political commentary on the hypocrisy of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party, or more pointedly, on their featherbrained prank to ram a pipeline down the throats of BC birdlovers in spite of widespread indigenous and environmental activist opposition.
Furthermore, the campaign management itself is noteworthy in many ways, not the least of which is that the BC ornithologist spearheading the initiative is actually named Professor David BIRD. As for us, we’re all aflutter…We had no idea that 2018 was the Year of the Bird, but now we have to ask, which bird are we celebrating, the aforementioned Gray Jay of the woods, or the Professor who seems to have a sizeable woody for it?
We defer to Loplop, Bird-Superior, about this Dr. David, Bird-Inferior. Just who is this Avian Apostle? A bit of research reveals that Dr. Bird was originally a pulp fiction identity from the 1930s, appearing in Amazing Stories by the equally bizarrely named author Sterner St. Paul Meeks (both stern and meek, it seems…):
Meet Dr. Bird, a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Nikola Tesla. Dr. Bird, of the Bureau of Standards, along with his faithful sidekick Operative Carnes, travels the world solving mysteries and crimes using scientific methods and pure, cold logic.
Not unsurprising that such a bland take on pulp fiction crimefighting with such a positivist focus on “pure, cold logic” would result in a supervillain as obsessed with taxonomic pillaging as his current incarnation seems to indicate.
A man of simple deductions. We discover that one of the key reasons that Professor Bird in particular has championed this bird is because “the jay doesn’t migrate in the winter”. To us, this might as well be a subconscious critique of those Canadians who go south for weather, known as “snowbirds”, as being insufficiently nationalistic to stay put for the winter. Perhaps even more likely it is a coded xenophobic attack on the growing “immigrant crisis”; it’s no coincidence that the biggest abuse of wildlife imagery comes from the anti-immigrant neo-nazi gangs springing up here and there with their usual banners of wolves and eagles.
Interestingly, it seems that in northeastern superstition, whatever you do to a Gray Jay is done right back to you in an act of cosmic reprisal. One cruel woodsman who plucked off a gorby’s feathers woke up the next day without any hair. One only shivers at the kind of revenge that will be exacted on Dr. Bird for his smear campaign. Maybe he’ll wake up one day covered in birdshit?
“If the Canada jay doesn’t become the national bird by the end of 2018, Dr. Bird says he will walk across the country to raise support for the cause.”
It seems Dr. Bird wants to “walk” across Canada…
Shouldn’t he be flying?