New Home in the Ozarks Puts Pastoral Spin on Life

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Commentator Andrei Condrescu has a pastoral fantasy about birds and insects in his new home in the Ozarks.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator Andrei Codrescu calls several places home. There's his native Romanian city of Cebu, there's New Orleans and now there's a place in northern Arkansas.

ANDREI CODRESCU: When the cold front came through, the sunlight sat on the leaves of the trees like fall was just around the corner. One totally mistaken bird actually put out the news and some fool birds answered, spreading the misinformation. Last night the bats came out and modeled against the sky at sunset. We are bats, they said quite unequivocally. There are millions of us in your caves, master, and now we'll eat the insects. They swooped over the roof and ate 60,000 times their body weight in insects.

There was silent applause from small and big mammals in the valley. The stone walled valley above which my perch sits is an excellent conductor of sound and thus of news. The smallest bit of nonsense gets echoed from one bird to another in an instant. They're usually on the money otherwise. When the thunderstorm came through before the cold front, the whole valley fell silent. The insects quit at once. Then the frogs and you couldn't hear a squirrel, snake, deer or wildcat move. The sun was still shining and I didn't hear any thunder yet.

But sure enough, about two minutes into the silence that kept deepening by the second as if even the snails in the caves quit their slithering, there was a long rumble of thunder.

In the forest there is a constant chatter. It's like a bazaar full of coffee houses. Every crit yammers at its own kind and everybody else is listening even as they go on at the top of their voices with anything that comes to mind. Normally they are discussing forest and valley politics. Their greatest topic being who and what moved here recently and what's to be done about it.

The larger mammals are always the most radical. They lobby for either direct attack, which they don't really want, or for invading other not so crowded areas. The birds are of every opinion, pro and con, except for the owls and the whippoorwills. They ponder everything and hold their counsel.

The latest rumor is that poets have moved in and nobody knows what these are, except human, and human in their experience uses boots and guns to crush eggs and kill. Then the word goes out from a migratory hummingbird just back from Mexico that poets are a different kind of human, one that doesn't kill even though it sometimes makes awful noises because of alcohol consumption.

This hummingbird had actually spoken to a poet who had drank the crazy wine and had established that among his kind, he was the most helpless and swayable creature. The hummingbird had been sufficiently amused to teach this poet some bird language, which may have been a mistake because he had taught it to other poets.

Ever since the poets have come to the valley and they've been hollering the few bird words they know without any sense of their meaning. They went about shouting so what, what am I, chopped worm. It's as if they picked up the end of a bird quarrel and imagined that it stood for the whole tamale.

Only the bats took the poets seriously. The two last night told me that they were at my service insect wise and I should fear no ticks or 'squitos. And then the cold front came and everybody is cool with everybody else for the moment.

SIEGEL: Andrei Codrescu spends some of his time these days at a retreat in the Ozarks. When he's not there, he is teaching English at Louisiana State University.

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