"Los pájaros" by D. E. Steward

On the mudflats of a vast Caribbean lagoon on the Orinoco Delta coast a tight standing flock of common stilts face an east wind, the ones behind step ahead pushing the front ones forward

Each morning’s first frigatebirds fill the huge eastern proscenium minutes before sunrise

In graceful Venezuela, little kids on the street doing the samba in place, the sliding lane-shift flow of a Caracas freeway, frigatebirds soaring over long coasts, trucks lurching down red-earth mountain tracks, the Orinoco

Iberoamérica. Venezolana, venezolano

Piña, papaya, caraotas negras, arepas de maíz, queso blanco y café

It is glorious to be at the top of the immense vertical continent with the ability to drive off south through the equatorial double tropic into the far, ocean-bound cold exterior pendant peninsula of Patagonia approaches a Paris-to-Beijing Eurasian scale

Study in awe the huge scaly yellow legs and talons of a common black hawk waiting like a dark Madonna in a shrine in the shroud of a mangrove over a roadside tidal pool

Stunned in the presence of a harpy eagle on perch, an avenging angel almost a meter high, head ruffed and bushy, divided crest that goes hornlike when erect, thighs barred black, massive tarsi, bare, its black chest patch clearly visible, tail marbled and barred with black

The nearly omnipresent caracaras, abrupt and crazy like few beings in nature and barely more than half the size of harpy eagles, plunge around flying low off from roadkills

Their facial skin color changes from orange to bright yellow when excited

Bound for caracas spilling from its high mountain valley with over six million people  

Caraqueñas, caraqueños

In Nueva Esparta on a red-earth mountain cutbank above the sea, mushrooms appear one night like smooth-cap parasols (Leucoagaricus naucina), frosted silvery so white as to glow in the false dawn

A buffy hummingbird singing nearby in first light flies off, flies back in and begins again to sing, can see her tinier tongue when she opens her tiny beak

Before the sun is up, another buffy hummingbird and a female ruby-topaz in an arroyo farther along the hillside

Search for the ruby-topaz male, crown feathers to the nape glittering ruby red, back dark olive brown, throat and upper breast glittering topaz orange, a tuft of down white feathers on the flanks, tail rufous chestnut tipped black, insect size at three and a half inches long

But either the ruby-topaz male is not here, or if he is somewhere in the acres of steep hillside brush, when looking one way he is behind, when looking left he is right, when looking back behind he is foreground low in front

One bushy tropical hillside, a big place for one darting hummingbird

Eighty-six species of colibries, tucusitos, and chupaflores in Venezuela

Their families, the Sunangels, the Pufflegs, the Brilliants, the Lancebills, the Violetears, the Mangos, the Sabrewings, the Starfrontlets, the Coquettes, the Woodstars, the Emeralds, the Goldenthroats, the Sapphires, the Hermits, the Barbthroats, the Hummingbirds

Spot neotropic cormorants, the clumsy feather-duster plunging around of a smooth-billed ani, tropical mockingbirds, brown pelicans, an osprey, eared doves, ruddy ground doves, a carib grackle, black-faced grassquits, a bicolored conebill

In the straits skirting the Isla Coche bound for Cumaná, a pomarine jaeger half a meter long, yellow eyed close off the rail  

Flies with us there for half a minute, its twisted spoon-shaped tail streams unmistakably, hulk gliding singularity, the great circumpolar skua that ranges here in winter

An opportunistic voracious jaeger like that in sight of the coast of Sucre state’s canyons and mountainsides all resplendent with nectar-sipping hummingbirds is as amazing and as wild as anything on earth

Walking from the ferry slip in Cumaná 

The city still full of Cumanagoto faces

The elegant Tainos were Arawakan brothers of the Cumanagotos, who except for language were gone in a lifetime after Columbus hit, every Taino on the planet dead within fifty years of 1492

The Tainos left words like these, savannah, maize, hurricane, tobacco, cigar, canoe

Ultramarine yellow, yellow ultramarine, and light chrome yellow

Ten years after Columbus came, Bartolomé de las Casas arrived in Hispañola and started a model Indian community in Cumaná 

His magnum opus, Historia de las Indias, was not even published until 1875 in Spanish

Like a nineteenth century humanist, he preached against Indian slavery and medieval Spanish free-booting lust and greed, Catholic colonial issues that people still argue about

Ask the car rental guy, an old ballplayer, about Las Casas and he grins, points to his face, “¡Cumanagoto, cumanagoto, cumanagoto!” 

Against the sun going down in salt-coast haze an alpomado falcon, Falco femoralis, hunting high over a yellow grass bajada with its white-barred blackish tail obvious in the indirect light, hovering there it looks twice as large as a kestrel

The birds appear like gifts, oriole blackbird, scaled dove, gray kingbird, great kiskadee, boat-tailed grackle, yellow oriole, golden-fronted greenlet, scrub greenlet, tropical gnatcatcher

In the same feeding flock within a mangrove swamp beside a Radio Sucre transmitter, a male prothonotary warbler, brilliant yellow, brilliance as emphatic as Bartolomé de Las Casas seeing his god in Indian slaves’ eyes

Climb the first mountain pass on the way west to Caracas, a waved woodpecker’s hatchet-shaped head shows up over a switchback hammering on a tree-size cactus, woodpecker speckling, red cheek and ear patch back toward its nape, Celeus undatus 

Yellow earth impure yellow ocher on the headlands and mountains above the bays

Driving out of lightly populated Sucre toward Anzoátegui and Miranda before Barcelona and Puerto La Cruz, each river’s green canyon, bananas, maize, papayas, Muscovy ducks, sheltered hamlets on blacktop lanes off the coastal highway, red sand beaches inside coves and inlets

Oxide yellow is yellow ocher on the cutbanks and bare rock-face passes headland to headland down along

A hundred kilometers west in colonial Barcelona’s numbered-street barrio grid with wrought iron grills and sixteenth century carved hardwood doors

A rock guitar mass going on at dusk in Barcelona’s big white early-Baroque cathedral on the plaza Boyacá, a quiet square encircled by high elegant patios, blue-screened TVs inside high windows

Evening coastal glow off the Paseo Colón in adjoining Puerto La Cruz and dinner thereat a big bright parrilla managed by a homesick Peruvian from Lima who talks Sendero Luminoso, Brazil, and goes on about Lima like a New Yorker about New York

In the dawn from a river bridge west of Barcelona watch yellow-shouldered parrots flying out from roosts in twos and threes turning their heads toward one another on the wing, talking away

Greenlets, seedeaters, a plumbeous kite, a smooth yellow-headed caracara lifts off fast away from the river bank with a thin brown and black snake in its talons and see three green kingfishers working riparian territories a tenth the size of what North American kingfishers claim

Píritu’s colonial buildings and blue woodwork along the coast, its parks and trees laid out below long hills, Laguna de Unare on sand tracks to Boca de Uchire, stilts, dowitchers, spotted sandpipers, five kinds of herons

Scarlet ibises rising and then disappearing behind big mangroves  

Empty sand flats, double-striped thick-knees, and stone curlews that are often kept in semi-domesticity around Venezuelan homesteads to keep the insects down

Into Miranda State where not only the river canyons but everything is green

Hamlets become like villages, villages like strip mall towns, approaching the capital where one quarter of all Venezuelans live

The freeway up to El Marques at the eastern lip of the city’s mountain bowl and on in down the urbanized high valley

Massive highrise cityscape, nearly a thousand meters above sea level  

Pico Ávila in the range between Caracas and the sea overlooks everything from over two thousand meters over all that city, all that green

On the trails back down off the summit the green jays seem to follow, bold peeking and prying in and out of the foliage almost all the way back down into the city 

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D. E. Steward, writes serial month-to-month months of which “Los pájaros” is one. This Chroma project was begun in 1986 and continues unbroken. He has 364 of these calendar months with more than two-thirds published. The first six years of them are in press as Chroma I (Archae Editions, 2017) with further volumes to follow. 

Posted on February 2, 2017 .