Because Jim Saddler is a birdwatcher who finds joy in identifying the creatures he sees flying above, birds factor into many scenes in Fly Away Peter and come to represent a sense of freedom and unboundedness. No matter where Jim goes, he’s able to look at the sky and spot multiple different winged species. Fascinated by their migratory patterns, he often considers how far they have flown. For instance, when he and Miss Imogen Harcourt spy a Dunlin in Australia, they’re astonished because Dunlins come from Scandinavia or North Asia, meaning that this bird’s journey has spanned roughly half the globe. Unlike humans, the birds that Jim sees pay no attention to the demarcations that supposedly make up the world. Rather, they fly wherever they want, lending Jim a sense of exhilarating liberty. Jim also takes comfort in seeing birds during the war, as they evidence that some natural patterns remain undisrupted by—and in effect, transcend—the violence of humankind. The birds’ freedom ultimately suggests a certain arbitrariness and limit to the boundaries imposed by men on the world, which, in turn, would imply the foolishness of war fought over those boundaries in the first place.
Birds Quotes in Fly Away Peter
He had a map of all this clearly in his head, as if in every moment of lying here flat on his belly watching some patch of it for a change of shape or colour that would be a small body betraying itself, he were also seeing it from high up, like the hawk, or that fellow in his flying-machine. He moved always on these two levels, through these two worlds: the flat world of individual grassblades, seen so close up that they blurred, where the ground-feeders darted about striking at worms, and the long view in which all this part of the country was laid out like a relief-map in the Shire Office—surf, beach, swampland, wet paddocks, dry, forested hill-slopes, jagged blue peaks. Each section of it supported its own birdlife; the territorial borders of each kind were laid out there, invisible but clear, which the birds were free to cross but didn’t; they stayed for the most part within strict limits. They stayed.
Ashley was too incoherent to have explained and Jim would have been embarrassed to hear it, but he understood. All this water, all these boughs and leaves and little clumps of tussocky grass that were such good nesting-places and feeding grounds belonged inviolably to the birds. The rights that could be granted to a man by the Crown, either for ninety-nine years or in perpetuity, were of another order and didn’t quite mean what they said.
His voice was husky and the accent broad; he drawled. The facts he gave were unnecessary and might have been pedantic. But when he named the bird, and again when he named the island, he made them sound, Ashley thought, extraordinary. He endowed them with some romantic quality that was really in himself. An odd interest revealed itself, the fire of an individual passion.
It amazed him, this. That he could be watching, on a warm day in November, with the sun scorching his back, the earth pricking below and the whole landscape dazzling and shrilling, a creature that only weeks ago had been on the other side of the earth and had found its way here across all the cities of Asia, across lakes, deserts, valleys between high mountain ranges, across oceans without a single guiding mark, to light on just this bank and enter the round frame of his binoculars; completely contained there in its small life […] and completely containing, somewhere invisibly within, that blank white world of the northern ice-cap and the knowledge, laid down deep in the tiny brain, of the air-routes and courses that had brought it here.
The sandpiper was in sharp focus against a blur of earth and grass-stems, as if two sets of binoculars had been brought to bear on the same spot, and he knew that if the second pair could now be shifted so that the landscape came up as clear as the bird, he too might be visible, lying there with a pair of glasses screwed into his head. He was there but invisible; only he and Miss Harcourt might ever know that he too had been in the frame, hidden among those soft rods of light that were grass-stems and the softer sunbursts that were grass-heads or tiny flowers. To the unenlightened eye there was just the central image of the sandpiper with its head attentively cocked. And that was as it should be. It was the sandpiper’s picture.
[T]hey moved with their little lives, if they moved at all, so transiently across his lands—even when they were natives and spent their whole lives there—and knew nothing of Ashley Crowther. They shocked him each time he came here with the otherness of their being. He could never quite accept that they were, he and these creatures, of the same world. It was as if he had inherited a piece of the next world, or some previous one. That was why he felt such awe when Jim so confidently offered himself as an intermediary and named them: ‘Look, the Sacred Kingfisher. From Borneo.’”
Using his best copybook hand, including all the swirls and hooks and tails on the capital letters that you left off when you were simply jotting things down, he entered them up, four or five to a page. This sort of writing was serious. It was giving the creature, through its name, a permanent place in the world, as Miss Harcourt did through pictures. The names were magical. They had behind them, each one, in a way that still seemed mysterious to him, as it had when he first learned to say them over in his head, both the real bird he had sighted, with its peculiar markings and its individual cry, and the species with all its characteristics of diet, habits, preference for this or that habitat, kind of nest, number of eggs etc.
But it was there just the same, moving easily about and quite unconscious that it had broken some barrier that might have been laid down a million years ago, in the Pleiocene, when the ice came and the birds found ways out and since then had kept to the same ways. Only this bird hadn’t.
“Where does it come from?”
“Sweden. The Baltic. Iceland. Looks like another refugee.”
He knew the word now. Just a few months after he first heard it, it was common, you saw it in the papers every day.
It seemed odd to her that it should be so extraordinary, though it was of course, this common little visitor to the shores of her childhood, with its grating cry that in summers back there she would, before it was gone, grow weary of, which here was so exotic, and to him so precious.
But more reassuring than all this—the places, the stories of a life that was continuous elsewhere—a kind of private reassurance for himself alone, was the presence of the birds, that allowed Jim to make a map in his head of how the parts of his life were connected, there and here, and to find his way back at times to a natural cycle of things that the birds still followed undisturbed.
Jim had run a half mile through the swath he had cut in the standing grain with the image in his head of the child caught there among the smashed stalks and bloodied ears of wheat, and been unable when he arrived at the McLaren’s door to get the image, it so filled him, into words. There were no words for it, then or ever, and the ones that came said nothing of the sound the metal had made striking the child’s skull, or the shocking whiteness he had seen of stripped bone, and would never be fitted in any language to the inhuman shriek—he had thought it was some new and unknown bird entering the field—of the boy’s first cry. It had gone down, that sound, to become part of what was unspoken between them at every meal so long as his mother was still living and they retained some notion of being a family.
[…] he was out of himself and floating, seeing the scene from high up as it might look from Bert’s bi-plane, remote and silent. Perhaps he had, in some part of himself, taken on the nature of a bird; though it was with a human eye that he saw, and his body, still entirely his own, was lumbering along below, clearly perceptible as it leapt over potholes and stumbled past clods, in a breathless dream of black hail striking all about him and bodies springing backward or falling slowly from his side. There were no changes.
He saw it all, and himself a distant, slow-moving figure within it: […] the new and the old dead; his own life neither more nor less important than the rest, even in his own vision of the thing, but unique because it was his head that contained it and in his view that all these balanced lives for a moment existed: the men going about their strange business of killing and being killed, but also the rats, the woodlice under logs, a snail that might be climbing up a stalk, quite deaf to the sounds of battle, an odd bird or two […]
Maybe she would go on from birds to waves. They were as various and as difficult to catch at their one moment.
That was it, the thought she had been reaching for. Her mind gathered and held it, on a breath, before the pull of the earth drew it apart and sent it rushing down with such energy into the flux of things.