When You Studied Birds

When You Studied Birds

When You Studied Birds

Dear Adam,

We used to be friends, you and I, when you studied birds.

I remember waking up early in the morning with you, just before the sun rose. We’d make toast and tea, and fill a thermos with hot soup and make turkey and Swiss sandwiches. We’d pack our backpacks with notebooks and binoculars, field guides, and lunch. Then we’d go out into the quiet pre-dawn, and the eastern skies would be tinged with just the slightest touches of pink, orange, and salmon.

We’d set off down the path that led from the front door into the woods surrounding our acreage. Everything was silent and still, as if you and I were the only people on the planet. Not even the birds were awake yet. And in the eastern skies, the sun would slowly creep upwards, sending out her rays over the hills and valley, like a lover’s first tentative touches. The sky would lighten, taking on a daffodil-yellow cast mixed with carnation pink and forget-me-not blue. It was always so peaceful, so hopeful.

And then the sun would finally appear over the line of hills, and the woods around us would explode with the songs of hundreds of birds. The trees suddenly were filled with red and black, white and blue, and brown and yellow. The branches would shake and tremble with the darting, quick movements of all those birds. We’d climb that old beech tree, up the fifteen or so feet to the platform we'd built as children, which served as our observation post. We’d set out our tea and toast and our notebooks and field guides and the competition was on.

“Look, over there, Sorcha!” you’d cry out, excitement filling your voice, reminding me of when we were still eight years old. “A black redstart!” We’d write it down in our notebooks.

“Adam, is that a pied flycatcher?” I’d ask, and we’d consult our field guides and discover that yes, we’d just seen a pied flycatcher, and that would be recorded as well.

I can’t remember a more idyllic time in my life than those years of bird-watching, those many lunches of hot soup and sandwiches, those scores of quiet conversations and stolen kisses in the boughs of that beech tree. I was happy. Truly, deeply, madly happy.

But we stopped being friends after our last trip to the seaside. Things fell apart when you saw the merlin gliding on the thermals above the water. Something clicked inside your brain, and you began applying God’s designs to your own machines of death and destruction. When I saw that bomber gliding over the city, spewing forth its carpet bombs, I knew it was inspired by the merlin we saw. And I felt as though my heart had been ripped from my chest.

That was the day I joined the rebellion. That was the day I became a traitor. And that was the day that ultimately led to this, the day of my execution. The judge asked if I wanted to write a letter to anyone before they hang me, and I told them I wanted to send this to you. I don’t know if you’ll ever receive it, but if you do, I want you to know that the blame for this war—and my death—lies firmly in your lap.

Your former wife, Sorcha