November 20, 2005

Wild Birds Are Lean

by Jerome du Bois, with Catherine King

A few months ago something whispered in Catherine's ear, "This old neighborhood is so enchanted; be on the lookout for a bird of many colors." So she did, and a few days later, she beheld not one, but two.

She knew what they were right away: wild parrots. The voice was right about enchantment, because we couldn't get enough of them. They were beautiful and unafraid, and just as curious about us, which both flattered us and made us think they had once been caged, or pets. (We haven't seen any banded legs, so far.)

We bought a big birdseed bell, like a giant version one would see in a birdcage, and they loved it. That's when we discovered there were more than two; there were three, four --no, wait, that one's all green, and what about the scraggly whitehead; and that one, and that one . . . ?

A few days later, a delivery guy noticed, "Hey, you got conures."

Conures? Clearly, it was time to google. So we did, and we came across a book, which we immediately went out and bought.

It's one of those books you enjoy so much you want to buy a stack of them and walk down the street tossing copies at startled strangers. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, by Mark Bittner, was a lot more than informative about parrots. It was about the wounded bird Mark Bittner, one of the world's last genuine dharma bums and spiritual seekers and truly humble men, who rose above himself and reached within and beyond himself with the help of "a gang of parrots."

I'm not going to review the book, except to assure the reader that it has a happy ending. The book begins with Mark being evicted from a van he's been squatting in; it ends with the knowledge that the DVD of the documentary of the book about he and the parrots will be out around Christmastime, and that "I have found somebody to love." (The director of the documentary, Judy Irving.)

Throughout the book he has the opportunity to handle several of the parrots --injured or sick ones, such as Dogen, Connor, Sonny, Paco-- grooming, medicating, or just loving them, and somewhere he writes, "Wild birds are lean." Because most of their time is spent searching for food.

When I read those words I broke down crying, because it reminded me of Catherine.

For most of her life, until we met, Catherine King had not had two extra pennies to rub together, nor two extra calories to slow down for. She has had to make her own way, on her own, against great odds and actual enemies. In the book, Mark names one of the blue-headed conures Catherine, sheltered by the other bluehead, Connor, against attacks by the majority cherry-heads. But that bird is weak and passes away.

The Catherine I know grows from strength to strength, though she stays lean.

And wild --in the sense of never being caged, in the sense, as I wrote above, of having to make her own way-- because her whole life her unsubmissive nature shone too brightly to authorities, which made them feel uncomfortable and rightfully insignificant, and so they would reach out their giant hands and try to put her in a cage of their making. Then she would have to fly away again. It was exhausting. Now she's safe and secure. But look at all her postings on this blog: does she look idle and complacent to you? Besides the writing, the photography (including upcoming parrot slideshows), and the art-making, she proudly displays more true substance and fine plumage than ever, putting parrots (and peacocks, for that matter) to shame.

You'll see, readers, in Portraits and postings to come.

Posted by Jerome at November 20, 2005 11:00 AM | TrackBack