Thursday, January 05, 2006

Death in the Afternoon

For some reason I ignored it for an hour. I guess you just get used to parrot noises when you live with one. After about an hour of his chirping, however, it finally struck me that the sound emanated not from the living room where JouJou's cage resides but from my office window. I threw on my anniversary flip-flops and went for a walk.

I found him sitting on the peak of my neighbor's roof -- a grey and green monk parakeet, with only a nub for a left foot. Monks are the most common parrot found wild in the United States. There are over 10,000 naturalized birds in Florida alone, the survivors of escaped and released pets and their progeny. However, the nearest known colony of monks can be found in Sanford, and this particular fellow struck me as tame.

As soon as I walked out he interacted with me. He bobbed his head and mimicked my mimicking of his chirps. I spread some bird seed and held out my arm, but he wasn't sure what to do. Maybe it was his nub-foot. He couldn't very easily fly down and land on my arm with only one working appendage. Besides, he had been chirping outside my window for an hour. Maybe he could not fly at all. Maybe his wings were also injured.

I called my wife. She encouraged me to try new methods. Would our ladder reach the neighbor's roof? It was a low sloping roof, almost flat, but no, our ladder was too short. I held out a broken branch, thinking the little monk might climb down it. He just bobbed and chirped. I could tell he wanted to come down -- he just didn't know how to pull it off.

Two years ago, my bird Bennie flew away. He was a peach-faced lovebird, the most attractive peach-faced I've ever known. He flew away when my wife removed his water dish to refill it while forgetting to close the back sliding glass door. He jumped right through the hole and flew away, never to be seen or heard from again. Whenever we speak of him, my wife and I agree that he took a job as a traveling insurance salesman -- the game of make-believe is easier than talking about the truth, that he was probably picked off by a hawk. I know it is ludicrous to be devastated by the loss of a bird, but I still mourn him every now and again.

It was Bennie I thought of when I first noticed the hawk, circling high above a low flying jet on its way to Orlando International Airport. The hawk was practically in orbit. He was no threat to the little monk. I ran inside to grab an apple and a knife.

I returned a few minutes later and cut a few pieces of apple for the little monk, and he definitely responded. I could tell he was hungry. He wanted to indulge in the apple, if only he had an extra foot. I couldn't think of anything else to try. I looked around at the sky again, and I couldn't see the hawk anymore. I looked over to my left and realized that if I could draw the little monk toward the front of the house, he could probably walk across the branch of a tree there where I could reach him. I cut a few more pieces of apple, held them up for him to see, and walked off to the front of the house.

At first he seemed agitated that I had moved. He squawked in frustration. After a few minutes of bobbing and chirping, however, he finally understood what it was I wanted him to do. He circled in place once, then turned around, and walked backward down the slop of the roof. My plan had worked. In just a moment I would have him in hand and take him to the safety of my home. If I could save a one-footed monk, was it possible that someone had once saved Bennie? Could Bennie still be out there somewhere, entertaining some friendly blue-hair with his clownish antics? The monk was less than three feet away from me when the flash of black made him disappear. It happened too quickly for my brain to process it. It wasn't so much the sight of it as the terrible sound that made it possible for me to compute the information. The sound a bird makes when he's being killed by a much larger, faster bird.

I swung around to see where the hawk had gone. I guess a part of me had hoped the hawk might have misfired, might have just glazed the monk. Maybe the parrot would fall from the sky into my arms, a little worse for wear but all in all okay. But the hawk had vanished and the monk with it. All in a matter of seconds.

The awe wore off and the sinking feeling set in. The feeling of having watched another creature meet its end. I felt guilt, guile, and remorse. If only I had run outside the first time I had heard the parrot chirp. If only I had tried harder to reach him. My eyes welled up with tears. I thought again of Bennie. This is the way that Bennie died. Mercilessly at the talons of a natural killing machine. It was like some God of Birds had sent the little monk to mock me, to mock us both, to make each of us believe in hope, but for only a moment. The little monk had thought he'd found sanctuary, and I had thought I had given another life a second chance at survival. And then it ended three feet away with a spine chilling screech.

Shocked and depressed, I walked back toward my house. The green and grey feathers fell on me like snow. I glanced up at the oak tree in my back yard to see the hawk shredding the feathers from the carcass of the monk. I never knew hawks ate their prey the same way we do. It struck me as especially cruel of the hawk to choose to devour his meal in my tree.

I sat on my back porch and watched. The feathers fluttered down to the ground like one-winged butterflies. It was at once a ghastly and beautiful sight. Had I owned a gun, I probably would have shot the hawk. I hated it. I wished it would die, but at the same time, I understood the hawk was merely being a hawk. About a year and a half ago, the first time I saw the hawk land in our backyard, I had considered it a good omen. Hawks were noble, regal, strong. A hawk sitting in a tree in our backyard could only a be a sign of good things to come.

I waited and watch the hawk consume the little monk because I wanted to bury the carcass when he was finished, but the hawk ate slowly and deliberately. Eventually, I got angry again and turned the hose on. I shot it up at the hawk, hoping to scare him away from his meal, but he flew off taking the monk with him. So much for a proper handling of the body.

Angelyn asked me what I thought this meant. We've had a strange string of bird related incidents in our life together, something that makes us want to search for interpretation. If I had to say it meant anything, I'd say it means that life is cruel, random, and hateful. But I know better than that. Nature is nature, not a Keats poem. There's no message, just a fact. One bird died today and another lived by killing it. That makes me sad, and I can't explain it. Or is it that I can't explain it, and that makes me sad? No matter. The best I can do now is mark his passing. Here's to the little one-footed monk. I'm sorry. May you rest in peace.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Happy belated Anniversary to both of you!

    Here is some interesting reading on birds: