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Brodi Ashton: Drawing inspiration (and fear) from the birds (and Alfred Hitchcock)

Brodi Ashton

Growing up, I had a fear of birds. I know they seem all innocent and harmless, but there were two things that developed my anxiety to the feathery balls of fluff. One time, while feeding geese at Liberty Park, a cantankerous goose tried to attack me. I barely escaped.

The other was Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I was raised on Hitchcock, and if he taught us anything, it was that birds will peck your eyes out. And they don’t go south. They go North by Northwest. Oh, and don’t shower. Or trust single motel owners who still live with their mother. Oh, and don’t use the phone in the dark, and especially not if you have to dial M. And avoid heights with mysterious blonde women and strangers on trains, and now that I’m looking at it, Mom, what were you thinking letting me watch all of this?

I didn’t shower for weeks. But I promise, eventually, hygiene found a place in my life.

Anyway, there’s a reason I’m writing about birds. I’ve had a rough week with my lungs, an ongoing problem after I got the coronavirus. Sometimes it makes me despair. So I called on two of my best friends to take me in. They did. I am grateful for friends who would do this. As I was struggling to breathe at their house, one of my friends told me to sit on the couch and look out the window at her bird feeder, which had attracted a pair of chickadees. The tiny birds braved the snow to sit in the bowl of bird food and delicately eat away. In essence, they ate like birds.

I watched them. They balanced on the edge of the bowl, flapping their wings and focusing on the feed. They seemed to be breathing just fine. I stared at them and pictured my lungs working like theirs.

It reminded me of what Emily Dickinson wrote to a friend. “I hope you love birds. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”

She continued: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers-

That perches in the soul-

And sings the tune without the words-

And never stops- at all”

Victor Hugo wrote: “Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she has wings.”

So, I made a decision then and there. My lungs will be feathers. (OK, not literal feathers, because that might inhibit more breathing. I’d hate to see people start eating feathers in addition to injecting bleach.) But these lungs will be feathers and they will be light. The next time this happens, and my boughs are weak, I’ll surround myself with people who remind me I have wings. And even as I sit here writing this, I’m breathing, and I’m staring out my own backyard, with my new bird feeder, willing the chickadees to find it, and in return, asking them not to pluck my eyeballs out. Talk about hope.

Brodi Ashton is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in the Salt Lake City area. She’s also an occasional columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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