Mack Williams column: Feathered friend visits museum
By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Every once in a while, we have a different sort of “two-legged” visitor to the natural history museum housed in the old Danville train station. This unexpected and uninvited “guest” has much in common with our taxidermied avian residents therein, except that beneath its feathers, the pulse of life still beats.
Amtrak uses our lobby, and during the time preceding the train’s arrival, the security guard blocks open the lobby doors for prospective passengers. I suspect that the culprit in all of this is the security guard’s good-mannered propping of those difficult, century-plus doors in an attempt to aid the rail-riding public while they are yet on foot.
The particular species of feathered visitor to our museum always seems to be that of the European starling. I don’t know whether or not its brand of inquisitiveness is superior to that of our native species of birds, but it seems to always be the most common variety choosing to come inside and have a “look around.” This most recent starling seemed to have stayed somewhat longer than intended, becoming as fidgety as a guest who knows when he has overstayed and is anxious to be elsewhere.
In one gallery, I have an “animal tree” which I decorated with taxidermied birds, bird nests and a hornet’s nest (unoccupied). Appropriately distributed turkey feathers assume the role played by icicles on my year-round, animal version of a Christmas tree. I saw the starling light there, but finding neither a sympathetic ear nor eye from the other birds already “at rest” there, it flew back to the lobby. I’m glad that I had seen it land among its taxidermied brethren before the initiation of take-off, or else I would have been given quite a start.
One day, one of the school children asked me if I would be afraid if our full-body mount, taxidermied Bengal tiger were to come to life and come crashing through the front glass of its diorama. I told the child that I would definitely be afraid in the event of that occurrence, but another happening, on a much smaller scale, would frighten me equally as much as the tiger’s resurrection, leap, and pounce. I told him that if just the smallest of feathers on one of the least of our taxidermied warblers from the 1940s were to initiate the slightest “tick,” with that “tick” being transformed to the faintest “flutter” in the waking from its 70-year sleep, then long before the little bird had again become fully aware and airborne, I myself would have taken flight.
After winging its way from the animal tree to the lobby, the starling came to rest upon the old wooden speaker high above the train station’s doors which open to the tracks. In years past, this speaker was used to announce the arrival and departure of a number of Southern Railway passenger trains, but they are all gone now, with only Amtrak’s version of Southern’s Crescent remaining. Even the Amtrak Crescent is not announced by that speaker, its heralding only coming from the nighttime security guard (to the few prospective passengers assembled) only after she has first heard it “announce itself” in the distance with a Morse-like, “dash-dash-dot-dash.”
The starling sat atop the aged “intercom” making an excited “cheep-cheep” sound. It was a little reminiscent of another bird of literature which once sat upon a “pallid bust of Pallas,” but this starling was much too excited to say anything melancholy.
Sometime later, after I opened several windows and propped open the lobby doors again (with the nagging fear that another little feathered visitor might see that as a sign of “welcome”), the starling found its way back outside, where birds don’t “sit” rigidly, never to move again, with eyes forever “fixed.”
Before it left, the starling had flown the full length of our taxidermied galleries a number of times, getting much more for its “money’s worth” than the other “two-legged visitors” who traverse that path. I can’t say exactly as to the depth of its appreciation for our collection of “once-lived” life, but as the starling excitedly exited the building, my innate feelings of anthropomorphism imparted to it the emotion of being glad to be outside among the living again after having become acquainted with our museum’s particular version of “immortality.”
By David Freeze For the Salisbury Post Dr. Myron Goodman of Salisbury was the first Rowan County runner to complete... read more