I woke from a dream, convinced that I’d made a discovery. In some language, kingfisher is “kinfisher.” Of course, I thought in that reasoned yet unreasoned place between sleep and waking. How could I have overlooked that my avian muse is not a king but kin? Family. Relative. Loved one.

Only the day before, a chorus of “kinfisher” notes ricocheted across the Deschutes River– a mellifluent staccato among the the aureate glow of grasses reflecting in the jade currents. Right away, I felt at home, centered, and joyous.

Not able to return to sleep, I rose to light a candle and write this blog, after a quick search for kingfisher in other languages, beginning with European names: Martin Pescador (Spanish), Martin-pêcheur (French), Zimorodek (Polish), Eisvogel (German), Kungsfiskare (Swedish), Cruidín (Irish), and Glas y Dorlan (Welsh).

No sign of a kinfisher, yet the Welsh comes closest to honoring the poetry of the bird Europeans know that in plain boring English is the Common Kingfisher. Glas y Dorlan translates to “blue of the undercut bank.”

Ever since Robin Wall Kimmerer proposed that we drop the use of “it” as a pronoun for living beings and instead say “ki” for an individual and “kin” for plural, I’ve intended to take up the practice. Either call a Belted Kingfisher by gender (often easy to tell, with only the females emblazoned in cinnamon-red belts) or when I can’t be sure, drop the it in favor of ki.

Robin’s inspiration for “ki” came not from ki as “chi” of the vital life force, but from her Potawami language of animacy and the word that means “a being of the earth” –“Aakibmaadiziiwin.” From this long dazzle of a word, she chose Aaaki (meaning land) and shortened to ki, with kin as plural.

There’s no better time to embrace ki and kin than now, when preferred pronouns show respect for an individual’s gender as “she, her, hers” or “he, him, his” or “they them, theirs.”

I’ll admit, I’m not one to add my preferred pronoun to my signature line just yet. Give me time. Like the Tin Woodman in the “Wizard of Oz” I might need a bit of oil to free up the rust that’s preventing the free-flow of change.

Where better to become more supple than by wild rivers blessed by the kinship of kin(g)fishers? The aspen trees shimmering in yellow leaves are kin. The turquoise sky? A singular ki. Surely, on a vibrant fall day by the Deschutes, even the air is alive–oxygen exhaled by ponderosas, aspen, and willow.

Here at home, a half-mile from the Deschutes River as the raven flies, I can find a way to ki and kin as well. When dawn breaks, the California Quail will chuckle their way past the back door –all strut, topknot and pomp. Kin will flutter about as a family flock pecking for seeds.

Then, as the sky lightens, kin will hustle off into the manzanitas just as the mule deer step with their soft big ears alert, and kin will fade into the forest as a Steller’s Jay flusters in to land on a pine branch. Ki is crested, cobalt blue and black, and garrulous in squawks and scolds.

Meanwhile, in the front yard, our grandiose sunflowers will soon sway with Lesser Goldfinches and Pine Siskins. Kin are plucky birds–balancing on seedheads and flashing through the understory of our chaotic pollinator garden, where blooming purple aster mingle with goldenrod, bunchgrasses, and a tumbled jumble of plants merging with the living soil.

Listen. Open to the language of animacy. Think Ki, Kin, Kinship, Kindred, Kinfisher and…another word so needed in these times–Kind.

Shhhh…do you hear them? Just now. Kin have arrived–scruffing their quail toes in pine needles ,and their three-note song? Today, Kin are reminding us–Ki-Kin-Kind! Ki-Kin-Kind!

(Ki is scruffing the pine needles–a young California Quail, photo snapped through the window as I finished writing this blog.)
Belted Kingfisher-Art by Robert Bateman