A male Wood Duck floated into my sphere of existence today, decked out in breeding plumage like a multicolored party balloon. His head was helmeted in iridescent plumes trailing down the back of his neck, by turns green, purple, turquoise, and blue as the feathers caught the sunlight at different angles. His eye was fiery red, matching a flaming brand of red and yellow on his bill. His breast was bright plum, speckled with pale dots. His tan sides were outlined in icy white. Bluish-black framed his back. When he spread out his wings, a flash of satiny teal-blue appeared, like a magician opening his cloak briefly in garish display.
Most un-Seattleish. We Seattleites prefer a more sedate color scheme when we appear in public. Dark gray, black, or green are about as colorful as we allow ourselves to get (except on football Saturdays, when we expand our color wheel to include purple, gold, and white).
However, we must be careful not to judge others’ choices, flamboyant though they be. The Wood Duck, for all his foppish dress, is a utilitarian at heart. His feathers serve a multitude of nuts-and-bolts purposes: They keep him warm and dry in winter and cool in summer. His wing feathers enable him to fly. His tail feathers let him steer. His bright colors warn off rivals and let the females know he is good to go.
Our own organic covering suffers mightily by comparison. Our hair is not thick enough to keep us warm, even on our heads (assuming we still have hair there at all). It doesn’t enable us to fly or even walk. We can’t steer with our hair; in fact, when it gets in our eyes, we can’t steer at all. Our hair does attract mates, especially right after we come out of the salon, but it works a lot better if we also pay fashion visits to the mall.
Our hair does do something that a Wood Duck’s feathers cannot achieve: Styled properly, it drives our parents crazy. I guess that’s something.