The Storm Petrel and the owl of Athena

Livre mythique, que je rêve de tenir en main depuis que j'ai lu un extrait dans un agenda ayant pour thème le voyage, il y a 7 ans... Grosse émotion.
D'emblée je retrouve cet anglais magnifique, ces phrases presque mytiques dans leur tranquille et assurée limpidité.
"Through all the years when I was pursuing my love-tracking local birds over field and meadow, through woods and swamps - the seabirds remained in my imagination as the parangons of nature."

"Guides to bird-identification say that, superficially, it is like a gull. The word "superficially" should be emphasized, however, because it is quite unlike a gull to the eye of any praticed observer. As a flying machine, especially, it belongs to an altogether different category. It is a projectile rather than a parachute, adapted to swift rather than drifting flight."

In the evolution of life on earth there has been a gradual separation of forms descended from common ancestors, and it is convenient to indicate degree of separation by some system of categories, necessarily arbitrary, such as orders, families, genera, and species. These categories, however, do not exist in nature ; they are the invention of man."

"One respect in which the Kittiwake differs from the Larus gull is that it is, presumably, hardly more associated with man than the Storm Petrel, and less than the Fulmar, since it has not come to depend for its food on man's harvesting of the sea. It is not a bird of the edge between land and water, not a scavenger, not (according to the literature) a frequenter of man's ports and harbors. It was therefore with surprise that, on July 17th, 1968, I found flocks of Kittiwakes scavenging alongside the Herring Gulls about the docks in the harbor of Aberdeen. Amid the activity of clanging machinery they circled about, dipping down between boats and barges to pluck prizes from the surface of the foul swirling waters. So delicate a bird in a setting so human, and so alien to it !"

"The Arctic Terns illustrates one of the most fascinating of mysteries associated with birds. As in the case of many other species on land and sea, the young of the year undertake the southward migration weels ahead of the adults. How do they know the traditionnal migration routes unless they inherit their ancestors' memory of the geography involved ? The notion, however, that they do inherit knowledge that their ancestors have learned surpasses the bounds of genetic orthodoxy.

Most species of tern, including the Arctic, are airy-fairy creatures. Their tapering and pointed wings, reaching forward to the joint and then raked back, each V-shaped in silhouette, are too sharply angled for sailing flight. Neverthless, they provide an even greater excess of surface than those of gulls, just as those of gulls are proportionately more surgace than those of the Fulmar. One could say that, in normal flight, these bent wings flick with the regularity of a pulse, except that the word "flick" does not suggest the depht of each stroke. The wings snap down in successives strokes that rock the relatively small body between them. The bird may remain hanging in the wind, whipping it with the regular downbeats of its wings, forked tail spread and outer tail-feathers streaming wide - until, seeing a fish below, it suddenly dives vertically to pierce the water, from which it emerges a flight a moment later, its bill holding crosswise a shaving of silver that shimmers in its final efforts to swim."

"A pair of Red-necked Phalaropes that had presumably started a nest here were conspicuously in evidence, small as they were, because their restless activity kept them constantly in a state of such active movement, whether on land, on the water, or on the air. The difficulty in observing them was not that of getting close enough, for they would repeatedly land on the water within twenty or thrity feet of the observer. But they did not stay. They flitted off again in darting flight over the grasses, down again and hidden from view, now up again, repeatedly uttering a single tone, a twit, often excitedly in rapid succession. Nothing could exceed their delicacy and elegance when on the water or on land. Obviously they were the aristocrats of some Lilliputian kingdom. On land they ran about with an agility one would have not expected in that, for three-quarters of every year, hardly have occasion to touch anything solid with their feet. On the water they rode high, their little heads on stalks, turning about this way and that, repeatedly, touching the surface on one side or another with the needle tips of their bills. Both wore a pattern of gray and white (bolder in the female) and both had an orange-red stain (brighter and more extensive in the female) than ran down from the back of the head over the throat, making each look like some flower of the marsh-weed through which it swam.

No Venetian ever blew anything as delicate in glass. No photograph can do justice to it ; no painter ever has. One needs the vast setting of sky and water to see how small the bird is. The daintiness of its hesitating and darting flight could never be reproduced."

"No less than the reader of these notes, Phalaropes and Snipe, Curlew and Oystercatch represent life on earth. One cannot even be sure that they are less important in whatever may be the great scheme of things."

"It is tempting to regard the hunters as evil men, which they are not. They are simply men like the rest of us who have not yet realized in their own minds that the revolutionary transformation that has taken place in the world. They are still responding to the obsolete impulse of ancestors who lived in the wild word and pitted them against it. They are still responding to this impulse at a time when what represents the wild word has been reduced to a disorganized remnant of refugees, like human refugees from a city struck by disaster."

"In the shrub-hollies that grow in the ravine toward the Persia spring there must have been Sardinian Warblers, birds that Clytemnestra may have admired (but not Electra, who was a serious girl).

Pendant des années, alors que mes voyages pouvaient être dangereux, je me suis répétée cette phrase que j'aimais par dessus tout. Je n'avais jamais lu le livre hormis ce passage pioché dans un agenda. Et tout au long de cette lecture, je le guettais, en ayant peur de le manquer. Mais je savais qu'il ne viendrait qu'en fin de livre, tout comme cette autre phrase du Rivage des Syrtes"Le monde, Aldo, fleurit par ceux qui cèdent à la tentation" qui m'a poursuivit depuis mes quinze ans jusqu'à ces dernières années, et qui n'arrive qu'à la fin :

"Travel is dangerous for birds and men. (Odysseus had shared the danger of the Hoopoe in the through of the wave) When I leave Geneva to go to Greece, when I leave my home in the twentieh century to visit Hellas, I hold my breath until the weeks of wandering are over, until home-life is restored, the family reunited. The Wood Warblers, even on Mykonos, can have no greater sense of the precariousness of this our life than I have I am one with Odysseus and the Hoopoe."

The Storm Petrel and the owl of Athena, Louis J. Halle

Et c'est maintenant que je me souviens que Hoopoe, la Huppe, est aussi l'oiseau-murid du Manṭiq al-ṭayr, la huppe, messager de Salomon et voyageur de la bonne nouvelle.
The Storm Petrel and the owl of Athena, Louis J. Halle.


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