“When the bird and the book disagree,” wrote John James Audubon, “always believe the bird.”
I have no hard evidence that Mr. Audubon ever wrote that. But it is often attributed to him. So, for today, let’s say that he did. And let’s also say that I struggle to embrace his perspective. Here’s hard evidence:
My father and I travel the country together. Once in the spring and once in the summer, we hit the road. And for a long weekend, we see sights and cities we’ve never seen.
Without fail, we get lost.
“It’s this way,” I point with my phone. “The directions say to go left to get to the mountains.” I like directions. They give comfort that someone or something knows what’s going on. They are a clear path into the unknown.
“That may be true,” my father squints out the car windshield. “But that road looks like it dead ends.”
“It can’t.” When the path becomes less clear, I can get uneasy. And cling more loyally to directions. “Because this here,” I tap the directions in my phone, “says left to the mountains.”
“Okay. Let’s try it.” We go left. And drive towards the flat horizon until the road dead ends.
Frustrated and destabilized, I turn the car around. Straight in front of us are the mountains.
And I think, Ah, right. There is your bird, Mr. Audubon. I had my head down in hard evidence, but life had other things in store. For all the comfort of directions, they are no substitute for living in the world as it is. That’s for the birds. And us.