The Myna Bird

myna bird

When I was young, Grant’s department store had a Myna bird in the back, right behind the pet section.  Now that pet section was really something (this was back in the day before the abomination called “Walmart,” when each department store was personable and unique).  Grant’s had all kinds of beautiful, exotic tropical fish, from multi-colored to almost translucent.  Tiny birds as well:  canaries and parakeets, birds that could really sing a beautiful melody to brighten your day.  Birds that didn’t need any sort of encouragement — they simply sang for the pure joy of it.

But I was transfixed by the Myna, because the Myna could talk.*

And talk it did.

“Hello.  Pretty bird, pretty bird, pretty bird.”

Yeah, a bit narcissistic. I have since learned that Mynas are quite common in some parts of the world.  Not as special as I thought.  Common is not all that unusual in narcissistic creatures, if you stop to think about it.

Years later I’m on vacation in the Quarter, walking down Royal Street minding my own business, when this guy on the street corner says “Hey buddy, I got something over here that you might be interested in.”

I usually look at my shoes when I pass hucksters on the street, mumbling something like “Not today, thanks.”  But low and behold, this guy had a Myna bird in a gilded cage.

My interest was piqued.  “Hey” I said.  “Does that bird talk?”

“Well sure,” he said.  “That’s what Mynas do.”

“Hey good-looking,” said the bird.

Now I was interested.  I may be a bit of a narcissist too.

I glanced at the price tag on the cage.

“Why’s this bird so cheap?”

“Well,” he said, “To tell you the truth I don’t really know, but I can’t find anything wrong with her.  And not only can she talk, she sings.”

Always be wary of anyone who says “to tell you the truth.”  That means they lie most of the time.

“I don’t need another pet” I said.  “I have dogs.  Dogs are low maintenance and they are always happy to see you.”

“Well, I won’t lie to you.  You make a good point there.  But can a dog talk?  Can it sing?”

Always be wary of anyone who says “I won’t lie to you.”  That means they lie most of the time.

“Why don’t you come up and see me some time?” said the bird.

That sealed the deal.  Next thing I know I’m carrying a birdcage down the street.

I got that bird home.  Found a nice sunny spot next to the window.  I left the cage door open.  Won’t tolerate a dog on a chain or a bird closed-up in a cage.  A certain amount of freedom is essential to all living things.  It’s in their nature.

Silence at first.  Just a bit of preening.

“Hey Myna,” I said.  “How about a song?”

The Myna belted out a few lines of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.”  Not bad, but a little flat.

The next few weeks that bird sung that song over and over and over again.  Then one day it stopped.  Silence, except for an occasional “Free bird, awk, free bird.”

For the next few months I tried to give that Myna everything a bird could possibly want.  Day-after-day, nothing but encouragement.  I said things in a tone that a grown man would be ashamed to say in public.

Eventually I realized that I’d been taken.  This bird was common.  As common as a crow, except a crow has more intelligence.

Finally I say “Hey, isn’t there anything else you know?  Say something different.  Anything.”

“Hello.  Pretty bird, pretty bird, pretty bird.”

From then on I left my back door open.  After a little encouragement with a broom, that stupid bird just flew away.

I learned a lot from that experience.  Now I always look at my shoes and mumble when I pass a huckster on the street.

But to tell you the truth, I hope that Myna is safe and happy somewhere.  I won’t lie to you, I would hate to think that it ran into a big yellow tabby with an empty belly.  Because in the grand scheme of things, freedom is never really free.

*Although this little tale is fiction, there was a Grant’s in my hometown when I was a child.  They never did sell that bird, although they eventually had to get rid of it because someone taught it to cuss.  So it goes.

Skinny Girls and High Culture

ballerina

A forester and high culture are two things that don’t seem to jibe.

I imagine when I say I am a forester you assume my culture would be NASCAR, country music, and killin’ animals for sport.  That might be true in some cases.

Not this forester.  I aspire to explore higher levels of culture.

I thought I would give the opera a try.  I heard this Pavarotti fellow had a set of fine tenor pipes, so I thought I would give him a listen.  I downloaded “The Best of Pavarotti,” not knowing that this collection would total about 90 songs.  After three or four, I decided that the opera was not for me.  The man can sing, no doubt, but what is he singing about?  Does he know English?

Do you know how long it takes to delete 90 songs?  I do.

Then I tried ballet.  Now to be completely truthful (which I rarely am in my writing — that’s the “creative” part of “creative non-fiction”), I attended a ballet at the request of a cousin, who I love very much.  She has a preteen daughter who is an aspiring ballerina.  I love her too.

My first ballet was “Zelda,” which was loosely based on the life of Zelda Fitzgerald.

Very loosely.  I know a good bit about Zelda Fitzgerald.  I’ve read most of her husband’s novels, and she was from Montgomery, Alabama where I work every day.

I was puzzled.  I found it very hard to relate what I saw to what I knew.

The next performance was “The Nutcracker.”  It had something to do with Christmas.

This past Sunday I attended “Frida!”  This one was about a Mexican communist with a unibrow.  I had to “Google” it to learn that much.

It took three puzzling performances to figure it out.  This kind of ballet is not about story.  It’s about teaching young girls the technique necessary to become ballerinas.

I can relate to that.  I have taught quite a few boys how to swing a baseball bat.  Perhaps one day I’ll teach one who will develop a swing as sweet as Ken Griffey Jr.  It’s a one in a million shot, but it’s worth the effort.

A girl has to start somewhere, and even if you don’t ever make Swan Lake, at the very least it should be worth something to know you had someone who loved you enough to drive a couple of hours to see you try.

I rather like the ballet.

 

Weeds

butterfly

The softness of twilight covers a multitude of sin.

A sunset ride through the open fields and along the woods trails.  Early spring growth hiding the depredations of winter.  A downed tree here.  Broken branches there.  Saplings leaned over.  Grass already knee-high, dappled with scatterlings of milkweed and thistle and flowers I cannot name.

My mount does not balk, but I must stop often to clear the path.  Unlike her namesake, she is reckless and her footing unsure.  Her name is Kawasaki.

These paths were clear last fall.  The grass was short.  My heart sighs.

Mother despises what we call neatness.  She will not tolerate it.  Tenderness is not in her vocabulary.

Establish.  Nurture.  Destroy with violence.

The Redhead despises what we call chaos.  She will tolerate, but not quietly.

Maintain neatness with equal violence.  Bush hog and drip-torch.

I will clear trails, fully aware that I will do so again and again and again, ’til death do us part.  Whether she or Mother, it matters not.

I will mow the fields even though I know what hides the rattlesnake also feeds the butterfly.

Because a thousand disappointed butterflies are better than one disappointed Redhead.

A Good Cup of Coffee

A Good Cup of Coffee

I made a semi-annual visit to my cardiologist a few days ago.  Semi-annual because my family tree has heart-rot, and this fellow has made it his personal challenge that I not die on his watch, at least of any cardio-related illnesses.  I sometimes think if I got hit by a truck it would take some of the pressure off him.

The worst part of these exams is the prerequisite blood work.  They are “fasting labs,” meaning that I am not supposed to let anything other than water cross my lips after midnight.  Doable except for one small detail:  they always schedule the blood-letting mid-morning.

I have mentioned here before that I am an early riser.  I can skip breakfast, but I absolutely require one thing.  Coffee.  Hot, black, strong, and now.

I always survive until the appointed time, but let’s just say I am not good company.

Blood-suckers satisfied, I always treat myself.  I head for the nearest Waffle House.

I was working on my second cup, waiting for a fried egg sandwich (take that cardiologist), when I glanced at the parking lot.  A lady was hobbling toward the door, struggling to manage the trip on crutches.  Her knee-high cast looked brand new.

I got up and opened the door for her.

“Oh, thank you so much.  I’m really scuffling to get used to these things.”

I told her it was no problem at all.  Glad to help.

I know a little about navigating with crutches.  Surgeries on both feet and a knee.  My first go-round was interrupted when I fell down some stairs.  Broke my right wrist and my left elbow.  The surgeon said, “you are not supposed to go down stairs on crutches.”

Thanks Doc., I kind of figured that out.

I helped the lady get seated at a booth and went back to my coffee.

When I finished my third cup and sandwich, I went to the front to settle-up.

“It’s been taken care of, sir.”

It didn’t register.  I just stood there.  I think I even offered the money again.

“No, your bill has already been paid.”

Dumbfounded, I was nearly outside before it registered.

“You didn’t need to do that ma’am.”

“My pleasure.  Now you have a blessed day.”

I did have a blessed day, mostly from a renewed faith that there are still some very nice folks hobbling along in an increasingly self-centered, broken society.

They say that coffee isn’t good for you.

I think they are wrong.  It was good for me.

The Narrow Gate

The Narrow Gate

I have driven past the church hundreds of times.  Perched on top of a little open spot in the woods, it hardly merits a glance, unless of course you like to look at old wood-framed country churches.

I do.

Today is a Saturday, and I’m in no hurry to get back to a never-ending series of projects at the homestead.  The roof is leaking again.  A rotting facia board needs to be replaced.  Bare ground where holly and yaupon have been ripped out of the front flower bed, awaiting azaleas and camellias that haven’t even left the nursery.  Seems like a fine time to stop and give this church a more thoughtful consideration.

It is well-kept.  Not a blemish to be found.  Not even any peeling paint.  I have stopped to look at a lot of these old structures in my travels across Alabama, and this one may be the best-maintained I have ever seen.

A sign out front tells a story.  Back in 1905, a group of nine Presbyterian pilgrims left a brush arbor to build a sturdier place of worship and a cemetery on this site.

I have driven by here on Sunday before.  Nine members look about right.  Maybe three cars and a couple of old pickup trucks in the parking lot.  If Preacher Calvin was correct, it would seem the Good Lord hasn’t done a whole lot of “choosing” in this spot over the last 113 years or so.

I walk around back to the cemetery.  Like the building, it is neat as a pin.

I am captivated by the two columns at the entrance, which the sign indicates were added in 1930.  Tallapoosa field-stone, probably gathered from a congregant’s field not too far down the road.  Angels carved from Sylacauga marble, the quarry a day’s wagon trip if the mules had a pleasant disposition and momma didn’t dawdle among the sundries at the dry goods store.

I step for a closer examination.  I am transfixed.

angel

The finger is pointed at me, left hand beckoning through the gate to the markers beyond.

“Come on in traveler.  There’s a quiet spot right over there.  Enter and join the community of the dead, those who lie in wait of ‘The Shout and the voice of the archangel.'”*

I consider the proposition for a moment, then I’m back in my truck, boot heavy on the accelerator.

All of a sudden those chores at the homestead aren’t looking too bad.

 

*From The Holy Bible, 1 Thessalonians 4:16.