Flicker | Lauren Smith
Updated: Mar 30
Driving home from work, you see something in the middle of the road. You’re on your street, about five houses down, on the tiny little hill—downhill on the way home, uphill on the way to work, the uphill that now after living there in that same house for four years and regular biking feels, finally, as small as it is, one-two-three-four pedals and up and over, all in the cold morning shadow of Mount Jumbo—on that hill, going home but driving, because you met someone at the climbing gym that morning at 7 a.m. before work and were too lazy to put your shoes-harness-chalk bag in your big-enough backpack because sometimes when it’s too full it hits the back of your helmet—on that hill, driving your car, you see a small dark blob in the middle of the road, right there across from the nature preserve. You stop because you know, somehow, it was worth stopping for, and because the day before you had watched a video on Facebook of a mother duck leading her ducklings in an incohesive fuzzy blob through the intersection of Reserve and South, or at least that’s where you think that particular four-lane intersection is, right by the Rosauers Supermarket with the decent bulk section and the eh beer prices, one light down from the Goodwill where you find, every time, books like River Teeth by David James Duncan or all of the hiking guides to Montana or A Match To The Heart by Gretel Erlich, and you’re not quite sure what it says about the people that inhabit your adopted home, that they read but then discard these tomes, treasures for you to find scattered among the ubiquitous deliciously thick paperback romance and science fiction novels and outdated math textbooks. But as the ducks wandered through, at least three or four people got out of their cars and safely shepherded the family unit through the intersection and all the cars, everyone stopped, waiting, watching (or filming, and then sharing online). And being so primed, you knew that blob in the middle of your street was a fledgling northern flicker before you knew it was a fledgling northern flicker, though upon closer inspection you’d probably call it a nestling if it hadn’t escaped the cavity, all its flight feathers still in pin, as it’s called, only half-way grown out. But since it’s out of the nest cavity, either jumped or shoved by overzealous siblings, two of which you can see and hear clamoring and showing their necks out of a hole too high to reach even with the rickety ladder you keep behind the shed, since this partially-feathered fledgling blob is in the middle of the road, you pick it up in gentle hands and place it in the empty end of a partially rotten log underneath the cavity full of yelling flicker siblings, and watch it sit there a moment blinking in the partial shade from the bright late June sun. As you walk back to your blinkered car blocking the street, the driver waiting behind you applauds from behind their steering wheel. You stare for a moment, confused, because your hands are still cupped and light and full of the memory of the weight of a weightless baby flicker, the weight of the bright June sunlight in your hands, the sunlight for a moment that made you forget there was more to the world than a baby northern flicker placed gently in a rotten log.
Lauren Smith earned a M.S. in environmental studies from the University of Montana. She is a knowledge translator, a former field biologist, and someone who spends a great deal of time thinking about birds. Her writing has appeared in Alpinist, Bird’s Thumb, and Entropy, among others. She lives in Montana where she spends as much time as possible outside, mainly climbing on rocks and sharing unsolicited bird information. Her writing can be found at TalesFromAWanderingAlbatross.com.