Elouise Bell, a well-known force to be reckoned with in Mormon letters, has accepted our invitation to guest blog at BCC. While celebrated as a Mormon humorist and godmother to those aspiring to that calling, her essays cannot be constrained by any category other than extraordinary writing.
When asked why she left Utah in 1999, Bell explained, “Even for Moses, 40 years of wandering in the desert was enough.” She loves Utah deeply, however, and agrees with Judge Monroe Paxman that “Utah is a great place to try and live.”
During most of those 40 years, Bell taught English at BYU. At various times she also wrote columns for three newspapers, did entirely too much public speaking, served on the Young Women’s General Board under Ruth H. Funk, wrote and performed a one-woman play based on the life of Mormon pioneer midwife Patty Bartlett Sessions, had two collections of light essays published by Signature Books, and otherwise frittered away her time. In 1999, she moved to South Carolina for a spell, which she had. Last year she moved out under the glorious wide skies of Oklahoma, where among other things, she reads books onto tape for the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and is learning the tango. Her first BCC posting follows below.
SNOWBIRDS IN TRANSITION
For countless centuries, the sight of migrating geese has stirred deep feelings in human beings. Those lovely V’s, arrowing high in a wind-blown autumn sky or honking through a freshening spring morning, can bring deep thoughts about the cycles of life, about change, adventure. (What might these graceful creatures have seen in their long flights?) And about the inevitable passage of time. Scottish singer Jean Redpath (regular guest artist on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” some seasons ago) has recorded a moving folk ballad in which an expatriate Scotsman asks a countryman to recount his impressions when last among the hills and heather. When the traveler mentions a long, wavering skein of geese flying north, the homesick Scot breaks down, imploring him to stop: “Have ye no mercy then?”
But apparently even geese, despite ancient instinct, can conquer tradition and sink into the ease and softness of modern life.
Twice a week I attend a water-exercise class at a nearby fitness center. It is located on the handsome grounds of a retirement community. Among the permanent retirees from the north, Colonial Gardens now counts a large flock of Canada geese. Just as our neighbors, former Ohioans and New Yorkers, no longer qualify as snowbirds (who come to warmer climes only for the winter), so the Canadian honkers have settled here for good. They have moved in all over Oklahoma, and probably in other southern states as well. Methinks it’s the avian version of “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”
And dinner has been quite the feast, it seems. The geese find more than enough to eat, month in, month out, which is why they no longer pack up each spring and head for Thunder Bay or Banff. The pickings are so good here that the geese have become truly heroic specimens. Many are the size of collie dogs. I expect them to waddle into the Fitness Center any day now and sign up for a Slim ‘n Trim class.
And yes, yes indeed, they are a nuisance to have on the grounds. But apparently the community has decided to put up with the droppings (cleaned up every day, and not by the feathered residents) for the sake of the picturesque backdrop the birds provide as they paddle around the decorative pond or pose rotundly on the well-kept grass. More than this, I think, many frail and invalid residents from the Assisted Living building enjoy watching the geese out their windows, or rolling out in their wheelchairs to scatter corn and breadcrumbs before the great, omnivorous creatures. (The other day, having nothing else to give them, I broke up a couple of very hard dog biscuits and offered the pieces to a pair of geese that had managed to waddle the thirty yards over to the fitness center. I think they were startled, but reluctant to give up on the chunks and finally got them down.)
These Canada defectors no longer traverse the flyways of North America.
But every now and then, perhaps to make sure their young still know how to fly, or possibly in one of those fits of self-improvement that overcome all of us on occasion, the gaggle takes to the skies overhead, at least those who aren’t too Wagnerian to get themselves airborne. They don’t go anywhere, of course; they just attempt a few maneuvers, still keeping sight of the land of milk and honey below. The other day, as I watched, they performed a few straggling formations, They did not attempt the time-honored V; perhaps their V-license has expired. But they did make a somewhat shaky X, then a figure that you might charitably call a necklace, and finally, with a lot of intra-squadron checking of signals and several false starts, a rather nice circle.
Apparently, fifteen minutes worth of drill satisfied the flight commander; and with much showy honking and embarrassingly labored flapping, the Top Guns made their landings onto the lush lawn and the quiet pond. They were just in time to preen for two women from Assisted Living who were stumping out on their walkers, each clutching a bag of tasty offerings for the immigrants. Quid pro quo: no green card needed.