Who said nothing exciting ever happens in Fredericksburg?! I was heading downhill on Hanover the other day, and off to my right I caught a flash of pink, and another, and–a flock of plastic pink flamingos stuck in somebody’s lawn. Beautiful.
Normally I’d just laugh and move on, but since the light was red, and since our final book in American Wilderness was Jennifer Price’s Flight Maps: Adventures with Nature in Modern America–the cover of which features the iconic plastic pink flamingo, and the central chapter of which considers the place of that bird in American culture since the 1950s (let’s not get into lawns today)–I snapped a picture and waited until the light turned green.
Price is basically trying to explore the distance we’ve established between ourselves and nature while we still determinedly consume it–in terms of resources, and in terms of experiencing it, themes we’ve been exploring all semester. The flamingo symbolizes for her a generational response to nature and our ambivalence about it, an argument my students didn’t totally buy. I honestly didn’t love the book, either, but I did appreciate the discussion of the plastic bird’s relevance to baby boomers like my father, who always loved them (though I think it was always in a sort of satirical way), dutifully assigned several to positions around our yard, and posed with one for his 50th birthday picture.
I’ve told my classes that part of my interest in environmental history and wilderness originates in my dad’s career as a city planner, but I doubt they expected to wind up talking about plastic pink flamingos as a result.
Interesting, on my block in downtown Fredericksburg (Marye Street) we had two plastic pink flamingoes that would make their rounds to each neighbor’s home when the woman of the house had a birthday. The birds were gendered; the female flamingoes had a necklace and sweater The pair would magically show up in my yard the morning of my wife’s birthday. This lasted for eight of the nine years we have been on the block (and it preceded us by at least a decade), but last winter the couple decided to fly south for the winter and retire indefinitely. It’s funny how that fact caused me to question many things, including the plasticity of community 🙂