Wake Turdus!

Things have been pretty mellow among the Turdus Clan out back. Well, incubation is going on, which I guess is a big deal, but nothing much has changed that can be observed.

I just found a full-text copy of William John Burroughs' Wake Robin (1870ish) online; if you don't know the book, it is a classic both in natural history and when it comes to robin behavior. If you haven't seen Burroughs' dog, there is a great picture here.

Burroughs anthropomorphizes robins in ways that are pretty typical of the period: he explores their civility, domesticity, artistry, and citizenship. Basically, he tests them against 19th-century values and ideologies. I could bold a few lines in the passages below, but IMHO the whole thing is worth reading. Burroughs also uses the comma-dash, one of my favorite punctuation marks, but that's a topic for another post.

From the intro:

Robin is one of the most native and democratic of our birds; He is one of the family, and seems much nearer to us than those rare, exotic visitants, as the orchard starling or rose-breasted grosbeak, with their distant, high-bred ways. Hardy, noisy, frolicsome, neighborly, and domestic in his habits, strong of wing and bold in spirit, he is the pioneer of the thrush family, and well worthy of the finer artists whose coming he heralds and in a measure prepares us for.

I could wish Robin less native and plebeian in one respect,—the building of his nest. Its coarse material and rough masonry are creditable neither to his skill as a workman nor to his taste as an artist. I am the more forcibly reminded of his deficiency in this respect from observing yonder hummingbird's nest, which is a marvel of fitness and adaptation, a proper setting for this winged gem [...] Why need wings be afraid of falling? Why build only where boys can climb? After all, we must set it down to the account of Robin's democratic turn: he is no aristocrat, but one of the people; and therefore we should expect stability in his workmanship, rather than elegance.

I would add these things to Burroughs' list: Robin is also one of the worms, of the gaze-boo, and of the plastic bag. Now hatch already, will ya Turdus!


  1. I'm thinking you meant to type "John Burroughs" rather than "William Burroughs," although old William S. did certainly do some writing about eggs and birds. Let's hope your back yard's a long way from Hassan's Rumpus Room and the Interzone in general, though.

  2. Hah! Yeah, that's a funny mistake ... enter the interzone!

    Yesterday, I not only caught myself typing "their" for "there," but at one point typed out "which" instead of "why" -- and then just kind of stared at the screen, dumbfounded. It's as if I'm working with a built-in auto entry or something: weird. :)

  3. That's funny; when I clicked on the link and saw that it said "John Burroughs" I was all (to myself) "ha! ha! I accidentally thought Spencer was talking about William Burroughs!"

    Awesome dog!!