Super Power Cultivator

Super Power Cultivator

Our neighbor gave my son a “Super Power Cultivator” for his fifth birthday. Here it is, in its Power-Concentrating Box:

“How do I use it?” he asked.

“Use your imagination,” she said.

So, he speaks into it and tell it what superpowers he wants to gain.

“I want to go faster,” he says, and the echo of his own voice inside the shell works magic. His feet feel a little funny – that’s the superpower working. Then, he zips off down the hallway, twice as fast as before.

Is it really that simple? And if it is, what superpower would you choose?

Would you choose to fly, move at the speed of light, climb tall walls, change from a tree to a person (I’m looking at you, Groot), or have superhuman strength?

“Superpowers aren’t real,” you say. “Those are just stories.”

Well, then, let me tell you a real story.

About fifteen years ago, I was on a road trip with a friend, driving home through the farm fields and flat-lands of North Carolina. On one side of the road, tobacco. On the other, cotton. The sky was endless.

My dog was with us, and it was time for her stretch and pee break. I chose an open field without a single structure in sight except for an old tobacco barn. Long leaf pines rose to the heavens on one side, preserved as a windbreak between the fields. Those pines looked like they’d never been cut, the kind of pine celebrated in the official North Carolina toast.

I let the dog run.

Scattered along the edges of the field were rocks, some about palm-sized. They’d likely been tossed there during plowing and harvesting in years past.

My friend and I were in our mid-twenties. Her build was slim and short – shorter than me, and I’ve never topped 5’5, no matter how hard I’ve tried.

She picked up a rock, weighed it in her palm, ratcheted back her arm, and threw that rock over the top of the long leaf pines.

I’m not saying she came close to their tops, a hundred feet in the air. I’m saying that rock soared over their tops, with room to spare. It did not disturb a single extra-long needle.

“Did you just throw that rock over those trees?” I asked, my mind refusing to believe my eyes.


And she did it again. And again and again and again.

It was a superpower, as sure as I live and breathe.

I recently finished Aimee Nezhukumatahil’s World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments. In each chapter, Aimee honors a different plant or animal and connects its life to her own in mesmerizing, meaningful ways. I enjoyed every single essay in this book. As I was reading, I kept thinking how poetic her writing was. Turns out, she’s a poet with multiple poetry books published, so now those are on my to-read list, too.

Late in the book, after you already trust Aimee with your life, she confesses to a dark secret:

She can talk to birds.

And I don’t mean whistle or make chirpity gibberish – I mean she talks to the birds and they talk back to her. They hang out. They have conversations. They reach a mutual understanding. She becomes part bird.

This is revealed in her essay “Potoo.” Now if you don’t know, a potoo (po-TOO) is a gremlin-like bird that lives in Central and South America. I didn’t know that, but I’d heard the potoo before. Not only had I heard of the potoo, I’d heard it sing.

And you’re going to thank me for this: I’d heard the potoo on Bird Song Hero.

Bird Song Hero is a game on the Cornell Bird Academy website where you match short recordings of bird songs to their spectograms. Spectograms look like earthquake graphs or heart monitors – the lines go up and down with the bird’s pitch. You listen to the birdsong and find its graph. Yeah, I know – super fun. Did I mentioned that I was a science teacher? I also like timelines and pie charts.

The potoo is on Bird Song Hero, and it’s call is memorable (also easily identifiable, like the human whistler). And now here it comes again into my life, like “po-TOO! Here I am!”

Aimee describes spending quiet time outdoors as a small child and learning to “call cardinals and have whole conversations with them when I was six.”

At this point, I’m thinking she was whistling to the birds or talking to them about her dreams the night before, where she’ll live when she grows up, and singing her favorite songs to them, like my kids will to anyone who stands still long enough to listen.

But she elaborates. She received a cardinal whistle from her father and learned its sound so well, she began to mimic it on her own, expanding to whole cardinal conversations in their native tongue.

I still wasn’t convinced, until she told of the time her husband caught her in the backyard “having a lengthy discussion” with a couple of cardinals. When the birds become upset she “answered them back a little glibly,” then they flitted off, and she was left to explain to her husband of ten years that she could talk to birds.

But I suppose that’s the way it is with superpowers – if you have them, you hide them. I’d ask you if you have a superpower, but would you tell me? Probably not.

My son says that my husband turns into Ironman whenever he taps three times on the edge of his glasses, and who am I to say it isn’t true?

You’ve been warned: superheroes fly amongst us.

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