So there you are in Denver, stuck in the United terminal while you wait for your long-delayed flight to take off. You’re in standard airport mode: phone plugged into a charger, feet propped up on a suitcase, book in hand. You haven’t been outdoors since 4 a.m. Eastern time. You live in a tightly sealed world of plastic chairs and gray carpet, and you’re starting to wonder if you’ll ever get out.
Then something flutters down from the ceiling and lands under the Departures board. You look up, wondering if you imagined it, and then three more things flutter down after it. There are birds in the airport.
These sparrows didn’t just arrive yesterday. Their lookout perch atop a vinyl banner advertising ski vacation packages is covered in bird shit. They’ve been here a while.
The birds make their living picking up after people like me. A few crumbs, a couple grains of rice. They must get water somewhere. Maybe they’ve even built a nest from discarded boarding passes and bits of string from luggage tags.
It’s hard to describe the effect that three or four little birds can have on a group of bored, numbed-out, jet-lagged passengers. Everyone at the gate looked up and smiled when the birds arrived. A few of us glanced up at the rafters, and at the gray square of sky showing through a skylight beyond that, and we contemplated the curious lives of these sparrows. How did they get in? Are they free to leave anytime, or are they trapped here? What is the airport’s official position on the avian population?
The sparrows have inspired this poem by Brian Doyle (editor of Portland magazine and all-round fine writer) called "To the Sparrow Inside the Terminal Near Gate B25 at the Denver Airport." It comes from his collection Epiphanies & Elegies and it begins:
"Hey little dude, good luck with that spring roll
Twice your size. And beware the scary red sauce,
Which is from a galaxy far far away…."