Why Waxwing?

Names are important. They represent the ultimate first impression, the starting point for any relationship. Like the rings of a tree, the layers of meaning ascribed to a given name are buried deeper and deeper as years pass. These layers are completely subjective and ever-changing, as anyone named Adolf, Dick, or Donald can now tell you. A good name is original, distinctive, easy to pronounce, culturally appropriate, and has personal and symbolic meaning. In short, a nearly impossible standard. Personally, I’ve concluded that its best to just find a name that you won’t mind repeating a lot and accept the fact that you might have some measure of regret about it at some point in the future.

This project, which includes a website, a blog, and a small business, represents the culmination of over a decade of hard work. When I started thinking of all that it represents to me (including professional achievement, intellectual development, entrepreneurial risk, personal reputation, and an outlet for meandering thoughts) and what I want it to mean to others (health, healing, safety, personal development, and a source of information and intellectual dialogue) I quickly realized that there was absolutely no way that I would ever capture these ideas in a single name. And I realized that as a young psychotherapist, I should take some of my own medicine and use the naming process as an opportunity to explore why I want to do this in the first place. So, in the grand Freudian tradition, I started thinking about my childhood in an attempt to get in touch with my real motivations

I wanted the name to be a bird, because I’ve always really admired how birds live their lives. To most cultures they represent freedom, grace, and of course have the enviable gift of flight, the ultimate symbol of health. Often they are family oriented animals who painstakingly nurture their young and mate for life. They are beautiful animals who are full of color and energy, and they are often intelligent, in some cases event talking (parroting… or mirroring like a therapist?) and using crude tools.

On a more personal level, my mother and grandmother owned a bookstore when I was growing up called Magpie Books. I spent many happy hours in my childhood listening to soft jazz and reading anything and everything that caught my eye. Its not hard to draw a line from this family business to my own current entrepreneurial endeavors.

Growing up in rural Montana, I spent more than my share of hours in the backseat of car traveling down deserted two lane highways. Sightings of blue herons, bald eagles, kingfishers, hawks, ospreys, western meadowlarks, red winged and yellow headed blackbirds, pelicans, turkey vultures, and occasionally even owls were all cause for comment and became a natural way to pass the time. These bird sightings captured my young imagination and prompted a habit of “keeping my head up” and staying in tune with the world around me, which turns out to be a vital clinical skill as well as a good coping mechanism for the long hours of windshield time that come with living in a vast and rural area.

Unfortunately, all the names listed above have been taken. It seems that using a bird name for a therapy practice is about as original as a barbed wire tattoo or a peace sign on a vw bus. I did toy with the idea of “Common Loon Psychotherapy” or “Wild Turkey Counseling”, but I ended up scrapping both for obvious reasons. Losing hope, I did a google image search for “Montana Birds” and immediately saw came a across an image that triggered a barrage of vivid childhood memories.

The image actually turned out to be of western meadowlark. However, I’m a bit colorblind, and somehow the shape of the meadowlark in the photo reminded me of a cedar waxwing. I think there’s probably a lesson in this anecdote about the simultaneous wisdom and fallibility of the sub-concious mind, but regardless this image brought to mind a family of cedar waxwings that made their home in my backyard when I was seven or eight.

I can clearly remember when I first noticed the waxwing couple building the nest in our lilac bushes out of twigs, string and mud. The nest was in the middle of the bush and only five fee off the ground, so that I could clearly see down into it by standing on the deck. Around the time school got out, eggs appeared in the nest and several weeks later they hatched presenting four very ugly and very hungry baby birds. The parents worked tirelessly to feed the chicks, and would shelter them from the elements with their bodies whenever a rainstorm threatened the comfort of the nest. The family cat, was understandably interested in proceedings of the nest, but couldn’t climb the thin lilac bushes and the parents carefully navigated the ever present existential threat as they raised their helpless family. One chick did perish somehow, I remember finding it while playing in the leaves beneath the nest one day, and it’s passing was an early lesson on the fragility of life. The other three, though, rapidly grew until they were flying around with their parents, snapping up mosquitos in the evening and preening their adolescent feathers like teenagers. By the end of the summer their plumage was as sleek and colorful as their parents and one day, as the mornings grew colder, they were gone.

Although I’d forgotten it, that family of cedar waxwings was the genesis of my ongoing fascination with families and the ingredients that contribute to healthy and verdant life. The lessons I learned that summer are embedded in the foundation my clinical practice today. And there don’t seem to be any other psychotherapy practitioners using the name, at least according to google.

Welcome to Waxwing, LLC, providing counseling and consulting services to the Missoula community and an editorial voice to world of social work and psychology.

Sam Ore

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