The Sun King

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Photo by Joan Heffernan
The author christened this regal fellow, an Eastern king bird flycatcher, after King Louis XIV, known in France as the Sun King. The author christened this regal fellow, an Eastern king bird flycatcher, after King Louis XIV, known in France as the Sun King.

When I was in college, I had a couple of friends who were linguists. This was foreign territory to me as I had limped through my French classes as Monsieur Simpson can attest. French seemed like gibberish to me, so I stuck with my botany studies. By sophomore year, my friends were becoming more cosmopolitan by the minute; they were fluent in a couple of languages and were getting ready to study abroad. So, they immersed themselves in classes on the history and culture of the countries where they hoped to reside. Naturally, as they were learning all this stuff, our dinner conversations would sometimes circle around to European history when we had already exhausted our favorite topics of dreamy boys, skits on SNL and the lyrics printed on the dust jackets of our favorite LPs. I got pretty good at tuning out all their discourse on Louis the XIV, but one evening when one of them let it slip that Louis was known as the Sun King, I woke up. Suddenly King Louis was relatable, as my brother was a huge Beatles fan, and Abbey Road and the song Sun King played all summer on our turntable at home. Finally, I could be part of this conversation, even if I was coming in at a pop culture angle.

So, while they were waxing and waning about their Sun King with his head of curls, his fondness for war and his home at Versailles, I was thinking about Lennon’s song and how it segued so nicely into Mean Mr. Mustard. My brother told me that Lennon was inspired to write Sun King after reading a biography of Louis the XIV. Clearly, a few lines in a Beatles song had a way of turning my head and, adding interest to a historical figure that had previously escaped me. The fact that the Beatles closed out their song with gibberish on the track also seemed relatable to me and helped to remind me why I was not a language major. But Sun King has stayed with me, both the Beatles version and the few facts I gleaned about Louis XIV around the table all those years ago.

So, on the days that I am lamenting all those years passed, and Sun King is circulating in my head, I head out to Hilltop farm where we have our own royal bird in residence, and I have affectionately nicknamed him the sun king. In the bird books he is referred to as the Eastern king bird, a gray and black member of the flycatcher family and a grand one at that. I see him posted up by the community gardens, chest puffed out, white cuffed tail wagging as he surveys our more downsized version of Versailles, the grand white barn on the hill. Like King Louis, the king bird is not afraid of conflict in the field and will even take on larger foes if they enter his territory. He has a crown, which like the French monarch, he only reveals on the most special of occasions. I have yet to see it but believe me I am looking. After migrating up from Central America, the king bird couple spends the summers in our neck of the woods, raising a brood and keeping our insects at bay. They are graceful aviators and good birds to have around. So, King Louis may have had Versailles with all those frescoes, tapestries, mirrors candelabras and marble busts, and, as cool as that is, I think the barn at Hilltop is pretty jaw dropping. Add our king bird to the mix, and it’s hard to find a place I would rather be. And our little sun king agrees.

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