Behind each name is a bird

Blue birds on a tree
Photo by Ann Ang

Birds have always been with us. Despite leaving a more rural lifestyle behind, we still have a natural alarm clock for our mornings, the Asian Koel, instead of the domestic cockerel.
It’s obvious that birds are not always in plain sight. That is why birdwatching, as a hobby and a science, has attained an air of mystery in the popular imagination. In my essay “The Bird with No Name”, which is part of the anthology Making Kin, I discuss what it means to actually see a bird, which is not exactly the same as saying “I know what it is” or “I can tell you for sure what that is”. So much of how we come to learn and know the natural world is coloured by our perceptions as human beings, tussling over what the name of a bird might be. As a result, we don’t make room for perceiving what we don’t know or can’t see, and we come by fewer opportunities for learning and understanding.
As a chapter in a collection of ecofeminist essays, “The Bird with No Name” is also a response to the restrictive ways in which we have lately come to frame feminine identity. On movie screens and in social media, women are encouraged to be outspoken, expressive and strong; to be Mulan or Wonder Woman. For those of us with quieter ways or a more contemplative approach to life, we have been called indecisive and reserved, or been accused of hiding our true selves.
So what truth does a name reveal? To find out, we have to pause long enough to distinguish between a bird and a label.

With best wishes,
Ann Ang
Author of Bang My Car (2012) and Burning Walls for Paper Spirits (2021)

(From October 23, 2021)

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