Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Never Again Would Bird's Song Be the Same

It's oddly quiet in my house this morning. There's a cat in the kitchen, playing with the little plastic piece that comes off the milk carton when I open it. But there's no tinkling of little bells, no burbling or warbling or whistling. There's no rasping sound of beak sharpening. The parakeets are gone.

We got parakeets when we realized that parrots and macaws were too intelligent and needed too much care to live happily in our busy household, and when we read about how long they live and that taking one into your family entails extracting promises from the next generation about their care and feeding for the rest of their long (up to 150 years) life. But good pet owners let the caged animals out for a portion of every day; why else live with an animal that can't roam free? So parakeets and cats were a stupid combination. Even our tamest cat, Sammy, would reach up a desultory paw when our first white parakeet, Jack Sparrow, swooped overhead.

We tried to put the cats outside when we let the birds out, but something always happened. A cat slipped in with a kid. Jack Sparrow swooped too low over Sabrina and had his neck broken in an instant. (Later that day, to distract me in my sorrow, I went to see the movie Elizabethtown, in which a white bird literally goes down in flames.)

Will Turner, our gloriously green companion bird, was called "the bird who lived" because he once survived being taken downstairs in Sabrina's mouth. Will and his white and blue companion bird, Jack the second, lived happily in a cage hung from a high hook in the corner of our dining room for several years, going outside in their cage when it was nice weather; I hung the cage from a high hook on our deck.

But then we got Tristan, whose mission in life was to get the birds. We had to move the hermit crabs out of the dining room and make sure the chairs were always scooted in so he couldn't get a running start at the cage. Despite precautionary measures, he twice managed a great leap that left him hanging on the front of the birdcage, drenched with water from the attached cup. And he found a way to get on the roof of the deck and menace the birdcage from above, making it impossible to hang it outside unless someone was there with it, keeping a continuous eye on it.

Jack the second got sick and expired this fall. Will Turner was so sad that I went to the local pet store looking for something to cheer him up and brought home another green companion bird we named Elizabeth Swan. They seemed very happy together for what turned out to be the last month of Will's life. The bird lady at the pet store told me that 4-5 years was a pretty good lifespan for a caged parakeet, even though the books said it should be 12-15 with the right nutrition-- which I provided daily, chopping up little bits of fruits and vegetables. So with a heavy heart I brought Elizabeth back to the pet store, where I had the small satisfaction of seeing her put back among her siblings.

And now there's no birdsong in my house. Looking for a poem about birds, I found this one by Robert Frost, Never Again Would Bird's Song Be the Same:

He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tune of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds' song be the same
And to do that to birds was why she came.

Parakeets don't easily learn to talk, even if you keep a male bird alone and give him enough attention that you become his "flock" as the books advise. But they do chirp and twitter the cadences they hear, and second only to hearing my children whistle and sing, which they do almost continuously when they're home, I liked to hear the parakeets' echo of our household noise in the hours that I'm here alone.

Except for four cats and six hermit crabs. And the rabbit. I guess no one is really ever alone at our house.


Harriet M. Welsch said...

I'm so sorry about the birds. I should think the silence would feel like a big hole. It's how I feel about winter around here, when nearly all the songbirds disappear.

FreshHell said...

I am sorry to hear about this end of an era in your house. We have had to sequester Bob the Hamster in my husband's studio because Pokey is a killer on the perpetual hunt and no place was safe except behind a closed door. Bob's lived a year so far - which is about average for a hamster's life span. The clock is officially ticking now. Can you hear it?

Jeanne said...

Harriet, exactly. The silence feels like a big hole. I hung a plant from the hook to make the hole less visual, but it's not helping much yet.

FreshHell, I CAN hear it. I think I was able to seize the end of our era because after the period where kids acquire short-lived pets, you can finally just get too sad from all the death. And a little afraid that the new grave might disturb an older one whose little stone has gotten disturbed, so close to the woods out back.

bermudaonion said...

I'm sorry about your birds. I bet the silence is eerie.

Jeanne said...

Kathy, it IS eerie if you think like a bird! I always kept a radio on low when I was out of the house because when it gets quiet in the forest, that means a predator is near, so too much quiet spooks birds. And now me.

FreshHell said...

Maybe you need to get a howler monkey. Your house won't be quiet and it'll put the cats in their place.

edj3 said...

The last time I lost a cat, I kept seeing him out of the corner of my eye. Well of course I didn't really see him, but I kept thinking I did. If I had had birds the way you have, the silence would be very unnerving. Even though birds scare me, you have my sympathy on the loss not only of Will but of this pet era.

Jeanne said...


Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, Birds can be slightly uncanny. If you ever felt one trembling on your finger, though, you might fall a little in love.

I resolve to return to my former opinion about most birds and rodents--they are not pets, at least for me. They are potential cat food.

Jodie said...

I'm sorry the birdsong is gone from your house, rabbits do not make much noise as far as I know. How do the cats like the rabbit (no catfood potential I hope).

Jeanne said...

The rabbit is as big or bigger than the cats, so they get along fine. The rabbit lives in a hutch outside (or in a long cage in our garage when it's below 20)and goes out to hop around every afternoon. If a cat comes up to sniff noses, he will sometimes put up with it, and sometimes thump his big back legs menacingly, which makes the cat jump back!

Marie Cloutier said...

That's a beautiful poem. I'm sorry about your birds though.

Jeanne said...

Marie, Frost wrote some good poems about birds. Another favorite of mine is his "The Oven Bird."

Anonymous said...

Perfect poem - and cannot imagine the silence at your home.

Many hugs.


Dreamybee said...

Sorry for all the loss. Isn't it amazing, the noises you never knew you noticed until they aren't there anymore? Of course, the bird song and the fluttering of wings, but I bet there are others that you subconsciously listen for and don't even realize that you were listening for them until you don't hear them.

LOL-I like the suggestion of a howler monkey!