Monday, December 9, 2013

Helen Hunt and the Whistling Duck

I don’t know if birds remind me of people, or people remind me of birds.  But I do know that I tend to learn a bit about both, when watching one or the other. 
I’ve never had a bird remind me of a specific actress, playing a specific role, in a specific scene from a movie.  But that’s exactly what happened when I recently birded Brazos Bend State Park. 

I’m not a movie buff.  I’m a bit embarrassed to say I can’t remember the last time I went to a movie theater.  And until Friday’s really cold snap, I hadn’t curled up on the sofa and watched an old DVD movie in forever.  But last Friday afternoon I intentionally dug through my small stash of DVDs and picked out a specific movie to watch; all because of what happened a couple of weeks ago when birding in the field.
To set the stage, my birding style involves a lot more standing still than giving chase.  I seek out a quiet place that gives promise of a birdy spot.  I look for shadow to stand within; wide tree-trunk shadows are especially good.  I quietly wait, avoiding movement, and hope for birds to appear. 

If I’m lucky, a bird or more comes into close view, not noticing my shadow stance.  I’m rewarded with the lovely day-in-the life of birds, going about their world’s work. 
Usually, within a too short time, these highly observant birds note my presence.  One of two events always occurs:  1) the bird immediately flies (or swims) away; or 2) the bird turns its back to me; intentionally turns its back to me.  The back-turn is what I “view” as the “If I-Bird can’t see You-Human, then You-Human can’t see Me-Bird” behavior.

It is both humorous and frustrating to get the back-turn from a bird.  If I’m attempting identification, I admit to the frustration creeping in.  If I know the bird, I find this cold-shoulder a bit funny, especially because of what ALWAYS happens next (if I stay standing ever so still). 
Keeping a frozen backside posture to me, the bird will slowly turn its head to one side, looking toward me over its shoulder; she is checking to see if I’m still in frame. 

I’ve watched in wonder this sudden awareness of my presence, followed by an immediate back-turn toward me, followed by a frozen cold-shouldered wait a bit, and then, and only then, turning of head toward me.  This amazing bird behavior almost always reminds me of human behavior, including my own.  But this Brazos Bend day, something extraordinary happened: a Whistling Duck became the actress Helen Hunt!

I don’t remember how many years it’s been since I watched the movie AS GOOD AS IT GETS, with Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear. I rummaged around in my stick-house DVD drawer, and confirmed I did own the movie.  I was surprised to note this academy award-winning movie was from 1997—how time does fly!
I couch-potatoed and watched the movie.  And sure enough, the famous scene unfolded of Helen Hunt sitting on the edge of the bathtub, with her towel-wrapped back toward the artist, Greg Kinnear’s character (and movie audience). There it was! She quietly and elegantly turned her head, to see if the artist was watching!

I had not thought of that scene since I don’t know when; but this beautiful Black-bellied Whistling-Duck’s behavior, and head-turn to see if I was watching, became Helen Hunt, in the feather:

If you haven't seen this movie, I’d offer opinion that it is worth your time; I’m guessing Santa can get the old DVD pretty cheaply.  I should probably stop writing at this point, but another thought has been on my mind since Friday’s movie time. 
It’s not that I hesitate to continue writing for fear of giving away the movie’s story, because my thoughts will not.  But I do hesitate because my thoughts involve sharing my opinion; I’d forgotten this 1997 movie so wonderfully addressed my opinion on one of today’s hot topics: medical insurance.
We could question and debate the actions of the movie’s fictional characters, starting with the actions of the artist’s (Greg Kinnear’s character) mother and father, as told from his childhood memories. His childhood is victimized by both parents, in my opinion.
We can easily question the action of the grown artist’s agent in selecting an unknown human, quite literally off the street, to serve as the artist’s model.  This current event (in the movie) definitely resulted in the artist’s victimization. 
Opinions on actions and resulting behaviors can be debated.  But I believe that all would agree:  the fact that the self-employed artist did not hold medical insurance resulted in an immediate stoppage in his productivity and his financial livelihood.  He stopped work. 
And then there is Helen Hunt’s character, the very likeable and empathetic waitress.  I’d remembered that Jack Nicholson’s character had helped her with her son’s illness.  But I’d forgotten the why.  Turns out this working-waitress had poor medical insurance that did not cover the needs of her son’s health condition.  The pattern became familiar: sick days for mother and son, with trips to the Emergency Room, where solutions were missing, but the ER cost would be covered by her medical insurance.  Sound familiar?
Opinions on actions and resulting behavior by this waitress can be debated.  But I believe that all would agree:  her poor-quality medical insurance resulted in an immediate stoppage of her productivity; in her livelihood; in her work as a waitress.  She stopped productive work because her medical insurance did not cover her family’s need.
I’d forgotten this specific medical insurance storyline of the movie.  I’m not going to take these fictional examples and get on a soapbox and spew my personal beliefs.  But the movie does frame two very different human stories; two very different forms of victimization.  The movie makes premise:  good medical insurance is readily tied to citizen productivity. 
If you haven’t watched AS GOOD AS IT GETS recently (or ever), give it a try.  The third human story detailed, weaving the two other stories together, is Jack Nicholson’s character.  He is so awful he is wonderful. 
The extreme diversity in opinion of these three main characters makes today’s political polarization seem mild.  And look at what these three difficult people did?  They built a community between them.  How?  They started listening to each other; they asked for a pausing of judgment toward each other; they began lifting each other up and helping each other.
Community can be a beautiful thing, especially when it is healthy, safe and productive:


  1. I haven’t seen the movie, but I think the photos are great expressions of both the questioning look and the positive sense of community. RC

  2. I remember the movie with fondness, because I didn't expect to like it and laugh a lot!


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