Imagine you are a bird, but not a bald eagle. Anything, but a fucking bald eagle unless you are from their place and you know what’s up. So, you might be a nene down by the coffee roasters in Kaunakakai or perhaps you are an iquaca taking the day off with the family on Gilligan's Island. You are just minding your own business eating, breathing, pooping, and fucking when a human grabs you. You’ve heard stories about them. You know they have vivisected more than a few of your kin for being too much predator and not enough prey.
But these ones just grab a few of you and ask you to mimic their voices. From behind their clipboards they watch you intently as they play the song “This Land is your Land” on repeat. Each one listening to see if one your hoots or whistles matches Woody Guthrie’s voice. A few of you start tapping your talons to the rhythm guitar and eventually one or two of you even sing along. Not wanting to be upstaged, or left out, you join in on the fun. As time goes on the humans start to choose their favorites and identify the birds that sound most like a human. In that selection process, they take the ones who aren’t doing as well away and come back with full bellies.
Now you are worried. You know that you have to keep getting better at mimicking that boy “from” Oklahoma. You don’t know if you will live, but you aren’t ready to die yet. So, you sing and sing and sing until one day it is just you left. The humans cheer and congratulate you on your achievement. They show you a paper with the title, “The Utility of American Folk Music in Producing Human Like Vocalizations among Avians.” They pat you on the back and whisk you away back to your [INSERT ISLAND, FOREST, DESERT, TUNDRA, HOME].
Stepping onto the land, the songs of your birdkin flood the cavern in your mind left from your captivity. Imagine the weight of freedom for something light enough to fly. Fearfully, you make your way toward their nests, unsure if all that song and dance you learned robbed you of your birthrights. With nothing to go back to and everything ahead of you, you leap…
...thank the ancestors that you didn’t forget how to sing or fly.
Up in the air, you make your way to your birdkin, but before you can get close they call out to you in their/your song, “Who goes there?” You respond in song and exclaim the new tricks you learned among those who can’t fly. Some singular voices inquire about your time away, if you’re alright, and what you learned, but the song of the flock is too loud as it proclaims, “You smell like human!” You try to retort in your tongue and explain that you now know the tongue of your kidnappers, but the flock does not recognize you. You spent too much time in cages eating pellets and being touched by human hands. You carry the smell of the kidnapper with you.
Alone once again, you try to call out to your family, friends, and lovers, but none come to sit by you on the branch that you first flew from. You grow older and spend your time on the outside of the flock, ever vigilant of when they might see you as an intruder. Throughout the years you watch as humans come back more frequently and take more and more of your kin. The flock grows thin and anxiety permeates the song of your people. Eventually, other birds are returned and are excluded. Knowing their loneliness, you come by and gather them up after they are left behind by the flock. You will share with them how the song of the humans is not a gift, a boon, or a tool. It is a weapon. It is a reminder of what they want and a warning of what they will do.
This small conclave of yours grows, and as it grows, you speak of the horrors you have seen among the humans. Things so horrible there aren’t words for it in birdsong so you can only speak of them through the voice of Woody Guthrie. So profuse are the horrors of humanity, that you start frantically singing it in their presence. In time, the flock starts to pay attention to the minority singing, “This Land is your Land” whenever humans are around. The flock doesn’t trust you, but they know to run when you start singing. With time, the song of the flock (still punctuated with anxiety) proclaims, “Work on being smelly.”
Now, your task, along with the rest of the human smelling birds, is to relearn how to smell like a bird. It’s not like riding a bike. It’s more like performing a mating dance, killing your food, and enjoying the smell of bird musk/filth. These are things that can be taught and learned, but there are no lyrics to them. You just have to trust (and listen to) your feathers, blood, and body. Being in one’s scent isn’t about being identified as part of the flock, but about showing that you are willing to be in the muck of it - that you have skin in the game. You will probably fail to smell like you once did, but that’s okay because now you know how hard it is to be smelly. Either way, you are just a bird and this story isn’t an analogy.