Santa Barbara’s Forgotten Election

What Would the Official Bird Be?

Credit: cogdogblog / WikiCommons

Campaign time is finally over. That’s when strangers knock on your door, yell “Trick or Treat,” and you give them something to make them go away. Some of them wear costumes pretending to be Mayors or City Council members or … Witches … wait, isn’t that Halloween? I get Campaigns and Halloween mixed up. Both involve parades of people coming to your door with their hands out. I think the Halloween people are usually shorter, but “Trick or Treat” is definitely a Campaign slogan.

Sadly, some campaigns in Santa Barbara have been ignored, and the elections themselves completely forgotten. So, I have taken it upon myself to fix this injustice. Many cities have campaigns for, and designate, an “official city thing,” such as a bird — but we don’t. None that I could find anyway. Except we do have an “official city flag” — with a tower on it. That’s where Saint Barbara was locked up before being murdered. It seems odd to me that the only image we have on our flag is the site of a homicide. It’s not like our city was founded by Columbo.

Some Santa Barbara “official city things” would be obvious. If we had an “official marine mammal” it would probably be the dolphin because of our dolphin statue. Our “official city flower” might be the rose because of our rose garden. And if we had an “official city shrub,” it would definitely be the hedge — because hedges surround most of the houses in this town — there are neighborhoods near the Mission where I can’t tell if I’m in a maze or on a residential street.

So — what would Santa Barbara’s “official city bird” be? Maybe a seagull? Because we are a beach town. But when I think of seagulls, all I see are gulls stealing my Doritos off my beach blanket. And Santa Barbarians are not thieves. Unless, of course, you count those extra plastic bags we take at the Farmer’s Market — hey, people, not every green bean needs its own bag!

Sorry about the outburst — we should take this election very seriously — we don’t want to make the same mistake that Madison, Wisconsin, made a few years ago when they declared that their “official city bird” was the “Plastic Pink Flamingo.” That’s right — their city council voted 15-4 to actually endorse the idea that a ridiculous lawn ornament was a real bird. So — let us proceed with caution.

How about plovers? Again, it’s an ocean bird, and we have a refuge for them nearby, and they look so cute running up and down the beach like over-wound wind-up toys … okay, maybe that’s not an image which represents a town whose idea of a well-spent afternoon is browsing the aisles of Chaucer’s.

Crows? They are everywhere and noisy and directive — they are the over-aggressive cops of the sky — again, not exactly a Santa Barbara vibe.

A hawk? No, a hawk’s a constant stalker and a ruthless killer. Definitely not the attributes of a Barbarian.

Doves? Let’s see what image boxes they check: Symbols of Peace — check. Metaphors for Peace — check. Signs of Peace — check. And they’re married for life — okay, we’d have to finesse that last one. But there is one very good reason that we don’t want to be associated with doves: They’re dumb. A hawk flies over their head and they don’t even move. They are Instant Prey. Not exactly the image a tourist town wants to exude.

Pigeons? No. Just plain … no. Hmmm. Maybe we should take a second look at the hawk. Sure, he kills to live but we all do that in our own small way. What — you’ve never swatted a fly, trapped a rat, or caught a fish? A hawk is an elegant bird. Independent. Smart. Stands up to the aggressive police action of crows. Doesn’t tolerate the dumbness of doves — in fact, it frequently has them for dinner (and I don’t mean the bird invites them over for Sangiovese and lasagna). And hawks are honest — I’ve never seen one steal my Doritos.

Sharp-shinned hawk / Channel City Camera Club / Wikicommons

I’ve been watching hawks for weeks. One in particular. A sharp-shinned Hawk who screes (calls out) over my Lower Riviera neighborhood. His screeing cries have claimed my yard as his personal hunting ground. Riding thermals, gliding higher and higher, circling into disappearance, he exchanges screes with other hawks. Later I see him watch from poles and trees and wires. Crows and mockingbirds harass him, but he barely responds. Suddenly and silently he slashes down to the bird feeders and all the birds scatter. Though his hunts are rarely successful, he is successful enough to survive.

The next morning I see him make a kill. I watch him eat. That afternoon he again screes and circles the sky above my house. I imagine he is calling out to me. I put his screes into words and add my thoughts to each one.

Now the screed of a person is defined as “a lengthy and tedious piece of writing or speech.” My compilation of this hawk’s screed is inspired by what I witnessed, and what I heard and learned from him. And, unlike ours, his screed is neither lengthy nor boring — it is as sharp as his talons.

A Hawk’s Screed

Know your prey.
         Understand that you create victims.
Claim your territory.
         Need determines invisible boundaries.
Be patient.
         Teach yourself what waiting is.
You are not in control.
         Acknowledge forces greater than yours.
Use your skills.
         Figure out what you can actually do.
Change perspectives.
         Utilize as many points of view as possible.
Deal with distractions.
         Do not blame obstacles.
Failure happens.
         Minimalise frustration.
Feed yourself.
Quitting is not an option.
Enjoy your meal, you’ve earned it.
         Know what you deserve.

Granted, these are translations of his screes, but a hawk is an impressive bird. And a hawk circling the tower on our “official city flag” would be a worthy additional image. So, as sole voter in this forgotten election, I’m choosing the hawk for our “official city bird”. If you’re disappointed that it wasn’t the plover — well, I admit they’re cute, but they still look like over-wound wind-up toys running up and down the beach.


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