Joy, Birds, and Barium

Last night, sitting on the deck in darkness, drinking wine, we heard the distinctive sound. Mi novia launched the Merlin app on her phone. The phone listened and informed her of the bird’s identity: a Great Horned Owl.  We have not seen the bird…well, maybe we have. Sometimes, especially in the evening hours, a large unidentified bird swoops down close to us, but its sudden appearance and its speed make impossible even a cursory guess as to its identity. We have heard it, though. Many times. This time, though, technology at the ready, we could tell who was producing those soft but piercing sounds. It is hard—perhaps impossible—to adequately describe a sound so that the listener (to the description, not the sound) can accurately imagine the noise. But that is another post. Identifying the Great Horned Owl as the bird responsible for the sound that we had earlier correctly identified as an owl, but not what kind, added to our recently-developed “current-location life list” of birds seen and/or heard. The list would be considerably longer if experiences in other places at other times were included; but, then, the “current-location” modifier would be invalid. At any rate, the “current-location life list” now includes the following:

  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • American crow
  • Blue jay
  • Carolina wren
  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Summer tanager
  • Ruby-throated hummingbird
  • Tufted titmouse
  • Carolina chickadee
  • Pine warbler
  • White-eyed vireo
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Mallard
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Great Horned Owl

I do not know why each word in the owl’s name is capitalized; that is the way I see it in print, so that is the way I show it here.

If I were to add to my “life-list” experience by documenting all of the mammals—and all the reptiles—I have seen in my lifetime, I suspect I would surprise myself with the size and the diversity of the list. Add insects and the list would be overwhelmingly long; I doubt I would have enough strength in my fingers to type the entire list.

We share the planet with so many types of other creatures. It boggles the mind. With the remarkable diversity of life on Earth, I can only begin to imagine the possible diversity of life in our own galaxy. Or the entire universe. Stunning. Mind-boggling. Breath-taking.


This morning, I return to my oncologist’s radiology lab to have a follow-up CT scan. The procedure this time requires me to drink a large bottle of mocha-flavored barium in advance of the scan; half two hours beforehand and half one hour before. I just finished the first roughly eight ounces of delicious, filling barium. In half an hour, I’ll drink the other. I am not quite sure why I was asked to drink the barium (though I have done it before, I did not ask), inasmuch as the cancer I hope I have defeated was in my lung, not my gastrointestinal track. Perhaps I’ll ask the technician this morning. But he/she may not know. So I’ll ask the oncologist next week, when I go in for the follow-up visit to learn the results of the CT scan. Though almost five years have passed since my lung cancer surgery, I get a bit on edge sometimes, thinking about the possibility of a recurrence. My intent always is not to worry when there is nothing I can do about the situation—either I remain cancer-free or it returns—but remaining worry-free about the issue is close to impossible. I do not worry a lot; but on occasion I worry. Worry seems to blossom in connection with follow-up visits involving tests. That is natural, I suppose.


Phaedra is yowling. She is locked away in the laundry room, where I feed her and where I lock her away in the mornings so she does not wander the house making noise. At least the sounds are muted behind the door. But when they become loud enough, I tend to let her out. I realize, of course, by letting her out when the sound becomes almost deafening, I am teaching her how to get free from her prison cell. I know it, but I continue doing it, nonetheless. Insanity, personified. Right here. In my head.


Joy. Does everyone feel joy? Would they all admit it, if they did? I am thinking of a guy— a high-school dropout who has reached early middle-age and is employed as a laborer in a rural area. Even if he experiences joy, would he admit it? Is admitting feelings of joy something only “wussies” do? That’s the sense I get, though I may be entirely wrong. I try to keep my biases out of certain of my writings, but I just cannot control them sometimes. Ach! Time is scooting past apace. I have to stop and drink my second glass of delicious mocha-flavored barium, then take a shower. I might as well end this post now. And so I do.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Joy, Birds, and Barium

  1. Dave, cats are designed to be spoiled, I think. That may be their raison d’être. Mine certainly is spoiled. I spoil her at the same time she perfects her ability to annoy her human companions. The annoyance, I think, is a tool intended the level of love the humans feel for their feline companions. And joy…I am delighted to know you and I share the same philosophy about it. You are right and you expressed it perfectly. It can be re-lived. Reminiscing brings earlier joy into the present. One’s mind stores the good times to be re-played when it suits the moment. I had to catch my breath when I read about your bringing happiness into the life of your terminally ill wife. We’re all different in how we experience such things, but I think I completely understand how you experience joy in bringing happiness to her.

    I love the sounds owls make. They remind me that the forest belongs to them, not to me.

    Thanks for reading and for commenting, Dave. I am glad today’s post prompted you to think and to reminisce!

  2. Dave Legan says:

    Couple of things. First, I’m not sure I want to live in a world where one is not allowed to spoil THEIR CAT. As for joy…damn right I feel it. Not for myself any longer, but in SPOILING MY CATS, in watching my adult children achieve their goals and continue developing their own lives, in bringing some happiness into the life of my terminally ill wife. And I can look back at 74 years of motorcycles, guitar, pre-AIDS dating, a rewarding career and a comfortable retirement. Unlike the exciting times in my life, I now find joy in reminiscing.

    As for owls, the home I left behind in Louisiana was three acres of hardwood. A nesting pair of owls whooed their location at night, and occasionally they could be seen swooping through the forest in the back. Their enormous wingspan made them look like 747s navigating a windmill farm. And, as David Attenborough would point out, they skillfully pulled their wings in at JUST the right moment, as at home in their forest as I am in my den.

    There is a lot of joy out there. The GREAT thing about it is that it can be re-lived.
    All the best,

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