Friday, April 13, 2012

Six step program in critter-land

Celine the Cat recently informed us about the important step 2 in 
cleaning the home of Heena the Cockatiel. His habitat is a very cool place with lots of room and a clear plastic barrier around the bottom to prevent things like seeds and feathers from flying out. And that keeps mom happy, so it works well all around. The only hitch is that this arrangement does not allow for a sliding tray at the bottom to clean the place. Instead the mom unlatches the main part from the base, moving bird and house to papers on the floor. It's quick and easy. Not a problem. Except that proper respect was not given to Celine's task. To be specific, step one is to put down papers. 
Step 2: check for varmits

The rest is trivial. Step 3 is to put bird and top of cage on the once-again properly placed newspapers.

Step 3: bird in bottomless cage

Steps 4 and 5 simply involve the change from dirty journalism to clean family paper, fit for young birds.

Step 4: icky-poo
Step 5: becomes righty-tidy

And Heena and his house go back to their customary place on the tabletop with the base back on:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

For the Birds

Heena’s Adventure

I’d have never thought it possible: to be scared and cold and hungry and alone; to realize you’re scared, cold, hungry and alone; to still somehow be unaware of the enormity of it all. Only when you’re safe again do you comprehend how much peril you faced.
It began yesterday afternoon. Something about the shadows as we started into the house terrified me, and I flew blindly away. Pushed by the tumult of my fear, I whizzed through the yard and across a field. When I finally tired, I found myself in an alien place, unlike anywhere I’d ever been. There were huge ferns and tree branches every which way and giant stickery bushes. And somehow I’d crossed water, water that gushed and roared, but not loudly enough to drown out all the chirking, chee-cheeing of the wild things hiding around me.
I live with my aunties, and they were calling me. “Heena, Heena, where are you,” they called.
“Here. Here,” I shouted.
They heard me, but they couldn’t see me. I was too hidden in those bushes. They are elderly, these aunties, and not graceful at all. They stumbled over the rough ground. They tripped on vines. They got close and then farther away and then close again.
“Here. Here,” I kept shouting. And then I quit shouting, because there were scary creatures everywhere. I wanted to be found, but not by those strange things in the woods.
And the aunties went away. I ran along the riverbank and found a spot that seemed safe, a little cave-like place formed by fallen trees and collapsing banks. I crouched there.
One auntie returned. She called for me some more, and I called back. Then some other, strange voice was calling. She called my name, but I didn’t know that voice, and it scared me. It seemed little different than the wild voices I heard in the bushes. Still I called a few times. And the strange voice and auntie’s voice called to each other, one on each side of the river. And between them, they figured I was calling from there, near the water, and not from the big trees rising up the hill beyond the river.
But it was the strange voice that came near. I just didn’t know that voice. And so I ducked back in my hole. I stayed very quiet, and I didn’t move.
They went away and I was alone again. Except for the noisy creatures and the loud river.
It got late. The sky lost its brilliance and then covered its face with clouds. I shivered in despair in my little hidey hole.
The aunties returned. They bashed about in the brush. I answered back when they called despite all their distressing noise. But they didn’t come. “Come to us,” they called.
“Here. Here,” I called back. Couldn’t they understand I was stuck? A river roared before me and a bank rose behind. The ground was slick and scary underfoot. “Here. Here,” I shrilled as loudly as I could.
But they went away again. All the light disappeared then, and all warmth. A terrible racket arose farther down the river. A gazillion frogs, I learned later.
I was so hungry. So cold. Then wetness oozed from the sky, catching on branches and landing on me in big drops. I huddled far back in my little cave. Night lasted forever.
At last light returned. And an auntie. She called and called. I answered and answered.
“Come to me,” she said. “I can’t get through these trees and stickers and branches everywhere. And I can’t see you.”
Well I couldn’t come to her. I was stuck. I inched alongside the river to try to find a way to her. Nothing. I went the other way. No way out. I called and called. The wetness came again from the skies, but she stayed for a long time. She couldn’t get to me, though, and I couldn’t get to her.
Again she left. Again I huddled. Again she returned. She was riding on a noisy machine, and she went crashing into the bushes in it, in several places up and down the river. She parked, far away from my spot and came walking. She was on my side of the river!
But she had made so much noise on that machine. And now she was making more, bashing through the brush, cutting things with some little clippers and then breaking through more stuff, some of it really big. And she stomped and crashed.
Finally she stopped. She called to me. If she’d known which way to stretch her arm, she could have touched me. But would those big bashing feet hurt me? Would hands that broke through brush break me, too? I held my silence.
She left yet again, she and her noise and her machine.
The day dragged on. It only got wetter and dimmer. Darkness neared. Could I survive another night? Could I live through the cold? Through wild night-creatures reemerging?
Another stranger arrived, calling my name. She brought some of my familiar things with her, but she was looking in all the wrong places. And she brought dogs! I really hunkered down.
Then the auntie came again on her machine. She called. I answered. I had to take the chance, because the night lurked.
The stranger came to my side of the river, where Auntie had been earlier. And ohmygawd. The dogs jumped everywhere. One of them barked in my direction. Then they both were right there! They bounded toward me! They jumped right in my face!
I flew in fear, just like the first time, blindly, anywhere. And I found myself in the river. I can’t swim. The current pulled, dragging me away.
But the stranger yelled at the dogs, and they quit pursuing me. And she jumped in the water and grabbed me up.
I didn’t know if I was safe. But it sure felt a lot safer than a minute earlier. And a lot warmer: she had bundled me into her jacket, and I leaned into her warm chest.
And then there was Auntie! I was safe! The stranger still held me, but Auntie’s voice calmed me. And in a flash we were home. In the house, in warmth. Next thing you know, Auntie was holding me and talking to me and feeding me.
“No more adventures like that!” Auntie said. “We almost lost you.”
I agreed. No more adventures. I have no experience in such wild things. After all, I’m only seven months old.
My name is Heena, and I’m a gray cockatiel. And I’m secure in my little basket in my cage.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

George Parrot, Pirate Eye

Melissa's Brother

George didn’t know what to think about Melissa, the quiet girl they rarely saw, the visitor from down the street playing with Anika. George’s humans were unflappable, Anika and her parents Mike and Linda, doing what needed to be done then relaxing with music or wine or a game of jotto. But this little girl, Melissa, just seemed skittish. She wasn’t noisy like that little jitterbug who comes over on those days with big dinners or bright ribbons or trees with lights everywhere. No, Melissa was reading or listening to music with Anika or playing scrabble, but with an edge, a nervy sort of anxiety that somehow hovered over her, a constant cloud. Fear, maybe.

It was an advantage, George thought, humans thinking parrots brainless, an advantage to a clever bird, catching them off guard, gleaning revelations, explaining mysteries. George found just such an advantage that afternoon when he waddle-strolled down the hall and found Melissa alone in Anika’s room, drawing rainbows on butcher paper with glitter crayons. Melissa gave a little start when his toenails click-clicked him into the room, her breath swooshing in, puffing out again as she drew her knees up to her chest. Didn’t she understand he’d have bitten her already if he hadn’t taken a liking to her?

He waited, poking around the room, chewing on the edge of the roll of butcher paper, giving his one-eyed stare to the bird in the mirror, rather an attractive bird, an African Gray like himself, jingling the bell-in-a-ball kept for his entertainment. Finally he amble-waddled toward Melissa, settling himself near her chair, resting his beak on his back between his folded wings and closing his eyes.

But he didn’t sleep. Hoping Melissa would relax, hoping Anika wouldn’t return too soon from her chores with her mother, he let time tick by. He opened an eye. Melissa had resumed her drawing, but he should have know better than to think she’d relax. That edge, like a knife, like an executioner’s blade, hung over her head.

“What’s the matter, Kid,” he said.

Melissa jumped so high he could see the embroidered pockets on the backside of her jeans. “Oh. Oh, George. You scared me half to death.”

George waited.

“Well, I do need to tell somebody. And I’m afraid to tell people. So maybe I should talk to you.”

George waited.

Melissa scooted her chair back,. carefully walked around George and, at the door, peered both ways. Both ways again. Swinging back, changing her mind, returning to the door, she shut it. Then she came to the bed, sat and repeated the knees-to-chest bit. “George, what can I do? I’m only ten. Papa is so big. If I tell they might lock me up too, Papa and Ginger, and I’ll be in the same fix as Bobbie.”

George waited.

“He’s just a little boy, George. And I don’t know why they’re so mean to him. Of course he pees in there. In that closet. And poops sometimes. Because they don’t let him out. And then they unlock the door. And, oh George, Papa pees on him. And Ginger puts on her glove and Bobbie and I both know what that means. She’s gonna smear his poop all over him, on his face, on his lip. If he wiggles, it “accidentally” gets in his mouth. And they just leave him like that, still locked in the closet.”

George waited.

“But the worst part, George, is that they leave him for whole days and nights. He can’t sit down in there, George. A little boy like him. It’s a tiny narrow broom closet. Even if he didn’t mind sitting in poop and pee, he can’t. He can’t lie down. He can’t sleep.”

George could feel his eyes squinting, going slanty. They did that when he was about to bite somebody. Not this time, but he’d sure bite Papa and Ginger if he had the chance.

“And they don’t feed him, George. He’s only a little boy, five years old. He’s so skinny. Little bony arms. His face is all cheekbones and shadows and big eyes. I get him out when I can, when Papa and Ginger leave. Once in a while they both go. And I feed him. Graham crackers. Cereal. Yogurt once. I clean him up, but not too much or they’ll know. We watch TV for a while. He’s so grateful it’s pathetic. And then I have to lock him up again before they get home.

George waddle-paced to the door and back. To the door and back. Click-click. Click-click.

“Sometimes he can’t stand it, and he whimpers. It’s just a whimper, George. And they’ll start yelling and banging doors and they get the key and they get the dish soap and they open up the closet and hold the poor little boy and pour the soap into his mouth. And he shakes his head and tries to spit it out and it goes down his neck and on his chest and they just leave it there and the last time I got him out I saw the rash, it was sores more than a rash, from that soap just being on him all that time.”

“Poor little boy,” George said.

“Oh, you’ve got that right, George. I really think I’m going to have to run away. Maybe they’ll let him out if I’m gone. They’ll be afraid . . .”

The door opened and Anika walked in. “Oh, there you are, George,” she said. “How did you get in here?”

“He walked in,” Melissa told her, “and I thought I should shut the door . . . does he ever try to escape?”

When Melissa left that day, George started his campaign. “Go see Melissa,” he said.

“Oh, Melissa’s house doesn’t seem very friendly, George. She’d rather come here.”

“Go see Melissa.”

He had that conversation a gazillion times. Day after day, “Go see Melissa,” he’d say, and Anika or Mike or Linda would explain why not.

“Go see Melissa,” he said.

So one day they went, without George. “We took her some cookies,” they told him. “It was kind of dark and unpleasant there. We didn’t stay.”

“Go see Melissa,” he said.

Finally he heard Linda on the phone explaining what an obnoxious parrot they have, asking if they could bring George to visit Melissa, saying no, Melissa has come here several times but he keeps saying ‘go see Melissa,’ and it was getting tiresome and would it be all right if they just brought George by for a few minutes. There was reluctance on the other end of the line, George could tell, but after all they’d been given cookies and Melissa did come visit Anika and so George got to travel down the street to their little single-wide.

He flew off Mike’s arm the minute they got in the door. Not much time, he figured. He waddle-strode into the kitchen. “Where’s Little Boy?” he said.

He saw eyes darting, hands grabbing. He flew-flapped around them and down the hall. Right there, just around the corner, a door. A terrible smell, to a parrot, anyway. Humans didn’t seem to notice. A lock on the door. “Where’s Little Boy?” George said.

A whimper came from behind the door.

“Little Boy?” George said.

Mike was there, grabbing at George, snatching him up. Another whimper. Louder.

Mike heard it. “Who’s in this closet,” he said.

“Little Boy,” George said.

“Where’s the key?” Linda demanded.

“What’s going on here?” George had never heard that tone in Mike’s voice before.

Papa lunged for Melissa. “What have you been saying to people?”

Mike lunged for Papa. “Who is behind that door? Why is it locked? Don’t you touch this girl; she’s done nothing wrong. Except maybe to not tell us what’s going on here.”

George had fluttered down to the floor again. “Little Boy?”

Well that did it. Papa seemed to fly, right to George. One foot came back and began its swing, a mighty kick aimed at George. Big boots, big man, at least two hundred pounds, against small bird, maybe two pounds. This wasn’t going to be a fair fight.