Collaboration with Kathryn O’Grady
ARTIST STATEMENT — FINDING LIGHT
Hard to say when my interest in channeling the voices of migratory wildfowl first took wing. I spent twelve years cohabiting, even travelling cross-country with parrots (by U-Haul, not by air). Their intelligence, affection, and emotional complexity astounded me. Living and writing in Los Angeles with its access to varied wild environments, I began paying more attention to animal behavior. As a kid I had reveled in the anthropomorphism found in books like “Wild Animals I Have Known,” “The Wind in the Willows,” and “Watership Down,” but now I read Konrad Lorenz, Temple Grandin, and Desmond Morris to get inside. The West also brought me into the fold of the Virginia Avenue Project and its work with very gifted, very young playwrights, unafraid of endowing absolutely anything (animal, vegetable, mineral, conceptual) with feelings, opinions and personality. There’s something about playing a prissy, Irish, step-dancing, sorority ewe (yes, ewe) that changes you.
By the time I yo-yoed back east, after a decade of teaching, writing for young people and writing about film, I still had an itch to understand why animals do what they do. My Maine-based father and I finally bonded over crows, but I was middle-aged, busy and petless. Then, after a decade in DC immersed in the design of youthwork, I met the painter, Kathryn O’Grady. Opening night at an exhibit featuring a photograph of mine, I was wowed by her peering portrait of a peacock. It had the same, assertive, sideways stare I remembered from my parrots. While we waited to swap work, Kathryn and I corresponded increasingly about avian behavior – and she told me all about the ducks in her life.
Fittingly, the pandemic has brought a total shift in my social registry from humans to smaller mammals and birds. The squirrels I used to slingshot off our bird feeders, I’ve now gained the trust to feed daily by hand. Blue Jays (those cunning corvid cousins of crows) come when I do an extremely bad Jay call and eat the peanuts I toss. And a beautiful but temperamental, feral cat now named Miss Lulabelle has somehow decided to adopt us as family. Animals continue to be some of the most interesting people I know.