I waited 20 years to make an impulse purchase. I got a parrot. I bring the little guy home. I almost passed out on the way home thinking that what I did was the biggest mistake of my life. But I managed to drive the rest of the way home without either losing my lunch or hurting anyone in the process.
Yes, I was upset.
But once I got home, I was okay. I had done what I had done, and chose to live with my decision. I spent the better part of a couple of hours trying to come up with a name for this little dude, or dudette. I had no idea which. Once comfortable with my decision, I said to my new little bird, “Parker, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I have a feeling my life is about to change. But no matter what, I promise I’ll try and take care of you the best I can, okay?” Parker looked up at me and replied, “Coooh?” It was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life and I haven’t regretted one minute of it.
I have just returned home from the Companion Parrot Training class presented by Natural Encounters. I am now armed with a set of “training tools” given to me by Dr. Susan Friedman and Steve Martin. I know how to train a parrot now. Retrieving Parker from his stand, I set up a peg and ring prop. Within five minutes, I have Parker slamming rings on to the peg like he was Larry Byrd shooting hoops in a championship basketball game. I had tried for months to train him to do it with no success. and now, he is looking at me as if to say, “This? You wanted me to do this? Well, why didn’t you just say so!? Gawwwwd!” I am gleeful and proud and it is a gorgeous moment.
I’ve gotten it. I finally understand! The frustration, the confusion, the hell I went through to finally understand the concept of negative reinforcement. I walk around my condo tidying up and humming “I Think She’s Got It,” from the musical, My Fair Lady. Once I am through tidying up, I go to my computer, start it up and write a long email to Susan Friedman explaining my light bulb moment. I was explaining to her the mental backflips I went through to comprehend it. When it finally sunk in, I saw it with such clarity, it was blinding. Along the way in the email, I meandered off-topic and began writing a bit about life on an airplane and finished the email with profound thanks for her patience with me while I was taking her class, “LLP: Living and learning With Parrots.” She emails back five minutes later and says something to the effect of, “If you don’t begin writing it’ll be a waste. I don’t care what you write about in the field of birds, you just have to write.” It was Susan’s kick in my keester that got me rolling in the field of writing. That moment in time gave me the confidence to step out of myself for the first time and realize that my “wishing days” were over and it was about time to put my rear on the line and do something about something I had a hunch I could do pretty well all of my life.
I have adopted a neglected plucked-out African Grey. She is older and I had worries whether or not I could get her straightened out enough to be handled. It took me two days to convince Pepper to come out of her cage. I offer her my hand. She steps up gingerly and whistles. She does not bite and accepts the almond I have offered her, delicately nibbling away. Two weeks later she is snuggling at my neck on the couch. It was a moment made of magic.
It’s September and I’m in a very cold enclosure, walls painted with icy mountains and frozen fields. Slippery, wet, uneven rocks under my feet challenge my balance and I steady myself in hopes that I will not fall into the central pool. I’ve been told that no one has ever fallen into the pool, although with the way my luck runs, I’ll be jazzing up that record in no time.
Surrounding me is a flock of penguins, carefully waddling up to me to greet, meet and hopefully con me out of a fish or two. Camera in hand, I am shooting their gorgeous faces and hoping for a clear, well framed photograph that might, just might express the breathtaking beauty I actually see. I am overwhelmed with the privilege and the honor of working with these penguins at the Cincinnati Zoo. Not many people get this opportunity and the palpable feeling of a “once in a lifetime moment” takes over. I know this is special. I smell of fish. I am dead tired and sore, but nothing, and I mean nothing will ever yank this memory away. Penguins are honking and jostling for a better position so they might get a neck scratch. Bubba, an Ibis swoops down and joins the crowd of Rockhoppers at my feet nagging me for a fish. I don’t think I had every been happier before this moment. Ever.
I’m a little nervous. I’m following Steve Malowski into the Andean Condor enclosure with a plate of food for them containing a couple of whole rats, a mouse behind or two, some fish, a few pinkie mice and other rather unappetizing items you would retch at if you saw it, but is the main staple for these enormous birds.
Steve has a broom which he brings into the enclosure for my peace of mind, but mainly he simply uses it to lean on while he surveys the enclosure and his two enormous condors. I shake a little bit. With a twelve foot wing-span, these relatively huge dudes sit not too far away and seem to observe us with amusement, and curiosity. Getting taloned in the back by one of these guys wouldn’t be fun and would leave one hell of a mark. Despite my nervousness, it’s a great place to be. I am seeing one of the most magnificent birds in the world close up. I am getting beautiful video. I am present and alive in this moment of clarity. These birds are monstrously big and they are looking me in the eye. It simply takes my breath away.
I am at my mailbox. Among the bills, the junk mail advertising low insurance rates and 60 % off at Michael’s Crafts on picture framing, is a manilla envelope. It is February of of 2009 and I have no idea who sent this to me. I open it and two magazines slip out. They are advanced copies of the 2009, March issue of BIRD TALK Magazine. I turn to page 38 and see the first column of “Memo to Parker and Pepper.” I let go with a little squeal, do a a “happy dance” right then and there and reread the words I know all too well. To me, there is nothing better in the world. Nothing.
I have flown up to Chicago having been asked to cover the Midwest Bird Expo. I enter the Kane County Fairgrounds building where it is being held and make my way through what seems like miles of aisles of bird toys, food, cages, t-shirts and swings. I finally meet Irena Schulz. It was like we knew each other all our lives. She introduces me to Sy Montgomery, who just released her amazing book, Birdology. I feel like I have known her forever. I’ve just made two friends. It was a great day and my post about the Expo pleased so many people. The experience went off without a hitch and I had a wonderful time. I leave wishing it would have lasted just one more day.
I am on a plane yet again, headed to Houston. I’m excited because I will be seeing old friends, meeting new ones and having a very good time. I’m off to the Houston Parrot Festival for the fourth time and I have brought four feather scarves to donate to the live auction. It makes me feel good to be able to donate something that I have created that will raise some money for the National Parrot Rescue and Preservation Foundation, otherwise known as the N.P.R.P.F. I procure my scarf models. We work those scarves. We raise about six hundred dollars for them. It makes me happy.
After a quick drive in the dark at 5:30 in the morning, I arrive at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary with Piggy Paradise employee Patti Platia. I have had three and a half hours of sleep. We drop off our bags in the office and set to work setting up the day for the Best Friends volunteer arrivals. I wash some pig plates and clean the bathroom. Patti calls me over and takes me outside. The sun is coming up and is making its way up the side of the sharp cliffs just on the other side of a horse pasture. The scenery is phenomenal. I have never seen such gorgeous rusts and pinks and copper colors. It is an amazing moment and it makes me want to cry. I can’t wait to write about it.
These are but a few moments in my life where I saw with perfect clarity, what life is all about for me. It’s about writing, birds, writing, traveling, writing and experiencing what other people do. When I work these experiences, my life takes a back burner and the work is about the work of other people, other organizations, other projects, other lives. I can step out of myself and learn what other people do so well, although I usually don’t do it with the speed or precision they do, I can certainly write about their expertise with accuracy. Irena Schulz once referred to me as “The Indiana Jones” of the Bird World. I could probably be more accurately described as the “Lucy in the Candy Factory” of the bird world. Nevertheless, I keep plugging away, working to seek out new adventures, great people and yet another post about this life with birds.
I don’t know what 2011 will bring, but it will probably involve luggage. However, as I said on the last day of High School during the last lunch period with my classmates when we were all exchanging thoughts about what we thought we’d all end up doing: “I don’t know what I’ll end up doing, but I hope it’s interesting.” So far it has, and I hope it continues.
My wish for the New year for you is that you learn new things, make new friends, and raise the bar of parrot care, not only for your birds, but for the lives of others.
Have a Happy (and interesting) New Year!
35000 Feet: Somewhere between Guayaquil, Ecuador and Miami