When I wash the dishes, the window over the sink looks out at an empty lot owned by the Baptist Church next door. My big cottonwood tree is on that side and the bird traffic level is high, partly because I keep a summer bowl of fresh water out there. Yesterday I was noticing a big black bird, not quite so big as a crow, marching back and forth in the grass. There was something it was looking at.The bird would stop and gently peck whatever it was, then stand with its beak open but no sound coming out, then walk around it. Looking closer, it appeared to be a prone black shape the same size as the live bird. When the dishes were done, I went out to look and found that it was a dead bird, just like the live one. I would guess they were a nesting pair. There was nothing to indicate how the dead bird died. It’s feet were clenched, its feathers slightly askew, its beak closed, its eye a little gray knot. It was under the tree but I haven’t seen any cats in that tree since my own got too old and fat to climb. Rigor mortis had set in, there were no leg bands -- I brought it in the house to the trash. When I looked again the live bird was gone, but not from my thoughts.Since I’ve been reading all this brain theory, specifically the work of Damasio who deals so much with feelings and emotion, the birds prompted ideas about what was going on. Why didn’t the live bird simply leave? Did it think its dead partner was asleep, and was trying to wake it up? Or was it grieving, reluctant to abandon the body. Or was it mindlessly obeying instinct to stick with a mate with no instructions about “dead or alive”? If Damasio is right about brains working on all the levels they have in their skulls, involving all the parts evolved since the spine developed a knob at the top, love might be interpreted in the following way. (This is NOT in Damasio. I’m making it up.)First, attachment located in the brainstem. This would be necessary for survival because it would keep babies in the nest and parents coming back with food. After that it would keep the babies following their mother, like “Make Way for Ducklings.” Most of us know that birds just hatched will attach to whatever moving source of comfort is nearby, so that Konrad Lorenz was able to get them to follow him, Bob Scriver could find a Canada goose egg about this time of year and hatch it in his shirt front so it became his buddy for the summer (illegal); and a ranch woman once told me about her black lab who would hijack broods of ducklings and bring them home, inviting them into his dog bed where they tucked themselves close to his belly.There is a whole body of research about “attachment” in humans based on the work of Bowlby and Ainsworth. “Ainsworth described three major styles of attachment: secure attachment, ambivalent-insecure attachment and avoidant-insecure attachment. Later, researchers Main and Solomon added a fourth attachment style called disorganized-insecure attachment.” (from “Psychology, about” on the Internet) These styles seem to unfold through the interaction of the genome with the environment over the first year and a half. There’s no doubt this poor bird was attached but it didn’t have the time or the brain parts to unfold a unique individual style, as a person would over a childhood and then, if the psych folks are right, integrate it into their lives as reproductive adults. This is the basis of relating between humans “in love” and parents-and-children in families, clearly a foundational kind of love. But no one knows whether birds on their nests “love” their eggs.The next step up, which would be unavailable to the bird -- maybe -- is the ability to wrap the “other” in sensory metaphorical content until it becomes an “object” that can be remembered as though it were there. People express distress when they are away from their loved one if the “object” that represents that other person begins to fade. This psychological school of thought is called “object relations.” It speaks of “transitional objects” like a child’s teddybear or a soldier’s letters from home as ways of staying connected to the object of their dearest attachment. The bird doesn’t keep “transitional objects,” a little photo of its mate in a locket. It has no reason to remember this mate since the next one will be much the same. It is still only May, so the living blackbird will likely soon find another partner.Mammals, especially domesticated animals, DO attach. Since YouTube began to submit evidence of animal behavior everywhere, we’ve realized that this imprinting can get a little wonky, like the lionness that kept adopting antelope babies. Dogs attach to humans. Cats attach to -- um -- their favorite sleeping spot. They might change their behavior under new circumstances. A bird does not evolve different patterns of behavior towards its mate according to pressures and realizations brought about in the environment.About ten per cent of mammals develop a desire to attach to the same sex, but I don’t know of any studies of gay birds. Even the most pair-driven birds seem to occasionally have a little side action, so attachment must not be absolute. We don’t have any way of knowing how much enjoyment is involved in bird-pairing, but we know that mammals love the physical act of union, either for the sensory input or for the feeling of domination or both. Humans often see bird pairs as a metaphor for human fidelity and even I, resistant to anthropomorphisms, feel sorry for this bird in the grass, imagining it is at least puzzled and possibly mourning.Human mammals respond to all sorts of ideas and suggestions, whatever ideas are going around. These abilities and creations -- courtly love or a mother complex -- are mostly the products of later evolved brain parts, though probably not the cerebrum which is more available to the consciousness than what we might call “syndromes.” If the notions cause trouble, the point of psychoanalysis is to get them up to the cerebrum for conscious consideration.Love, after the first attachment, proceeds through memorizing of appearance, developing interaction patterns, and collecting of memories, all of them sensory and some specifically sexual. If this goes far enough and is mutual, the pair enters into a state of fusion, each seeing the other as an extension of themselves. Even other mammals capable of strong attachment don’t do this. Maybe dogs and primates have the mirror cells that give us empathy so that when the other being does something, our own brain shows we’re doing it, too, in our imaginations. But it takes a lot of verbal communication to really share experienced metaphors and meanings in the world: an unfolding over a period of time, maybe a lifetime. Fortunately, this process is a delight. It involves all the other levels of brain activity, regardless of hormone states including those relating to gender.Some would propose that in sharing another person’s inner life, we come to welcome knowledge of all people and the world itself, a fusion into transcendence that emerges from shared previous experience that allows us to expand consciousness into something we might call cosmic. It’s a theory. As far as it goes, I thank these two little birds in the grass for prompting these thoughts.