Walking through my orchard, I noticed a most peculiar thing. There, in a small apple tree, was a frog impaled on a short spike of a branch. But what was a frog doing in a tree?
An incredibly curious thing, I was momentarily confused as my mind tried to find an explanation. But soon enough I reasoned out the riddle… this was the work of a shrike.
If you’ve never seen a shrike, that’s understandable. They are the smallest bird of prey in North America, generally around the size of a robin. Discreetly colored in shades of gray/white with black markings about their penetrating eyes, they strike me as rather distinguished looking birds. I like them a lot, though I only catch sight of one a time or two a year. The last time I saw one, it was grabbing a small chickadee that had been momentarily stunned after colliding with my kitchen window.
Shrikes are known as the “butcher bird” because of their habit of impaling prey on thorns or barbed wire. That is what happened here. Possibly it was done to save the catch for later, assist in pulling it apart for easier consumption, or simply to mark territory. But being human, my mind immediately began to project (incorrectly, undoubtedly) conscious volition upon the shrike. I wondered what relation that instinctive act has to my drive to make art. Could they have sprung from a similar source?
What I do know is I immediately began to imagine visual connections. The “expression” and articulation of the frog brought to mind the sculpture of St. Theresa by Bernini.
I can’t entirely explain it. Side-by-side I don’t even know they are that similar. And yet I feel it. I feel that Renaissance obsession with “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” The frog by no means looks joyful, yet it does look ecstatic. It appears to connect with some deeper expression of nature that bridges the gap between the dualities of life and death. No doubt it does look grim, yet I find it incredibly compelling. Do I sense a subtle touch of grace? Far from being simply food, has the act of the shrike memorialized and ennobled the life of this frog beyond what it could have otherwise attained?
The other image that came to mind were standing not too far away, my Impaled Cairn sculptures.
How different was my act of creating those works from the act of this bird? Do I even understand the instinct that led to their creation? Does the shrike understand his?
What I’m left with is this meditation and the profound feeling of connection to this land upon which I walk. I share it with innumerable other living forms, each of us acting out our parts in the greater whole.