Rhyme and Reason
There are stories all around us.
It's up to us to take the time, to create the space in our busy lives,
to notice what's going on and to talk about what we notice.
"Story" is a frame that we humans place on the experience of living.
Without story, we can't see the rhyme or reason of life.
I have never been a lover of caged birds, but our daughter Althea has a different opinion. She saved her money and bought two parakeets. Parakeets, I've discovered are scrappy birds. They carry on for no rhyme or reason at all. Noise. Just noise. If you want pretty sounds from a bird, get a canary.
Althea named the birds Rhyme and Reason after a couple of characters in one of her favorite books: The Phantom Tollbooth. They are blue parakeets: Reason is the lighter of the two, with no gray stripes on its back. "Because it's pure reason," Althea explained to me.
Last summer, Althea went to camp. Phil and I were worried that Rhyme and Reason would be bored upstairs in an empty room, so Phil hung a hook in the corner of the living room and the birds joined us downstairs. From their new home, they could see the woods on the south side of our home and the deck on the west.
When we first brought the birds downstairs, they were frightened. Their little chests were moving up and down; they breathed with open beaks, their tongues moving in and out. And they were quiet. But after a while, they slowly began to chatter again.
The parakeets listened to the outside birds and tried to imitate some of their calls. They failed with cardinals, robins, warblers. But they were better at blue jay squawks, and they perfected the sounds of crows.
When the birds were in Althea's room, I didn't realize how noisy they are. These birds chatter on and on, chirping and squawking and scrapping at each other. The decibel level escalates until you can't think. More than once, I've raised my voice at them or left the living room for the peace and quiet of my office.
One morning last summer, I was washing the breakfast dishes. In our house, the kitchen is open to the living area. So even though the cage is at the other end of the house, I can be in the kitchen and see the parakeets in the corner of the living room. As I washed the dishes, the birds were chattering. All of a sudden I heard thunk. That's a sound all too familiar in a house with a lot of windows. Thunk. The sound of a bird hitting a window.
Inside their cage, Rhyme and Reason were suddenly silent. In the wake of the thunk, their silence was louder than their chatter just a minute earlier. The parakeets tilted their heads to look out on the deck. I walked over and looked with them. There, on its back, was a young blue jay. Not a baby; more a teenager. It must have been flying around, just soaring and dipping and diving into new spaces. No problems. Then thunk.
The blue jay was alive. On its back, wings outstretched and fluttering, raising and twisting its head in fright.
Lucy, the fluffy red cat, stood next to me, looking out the screen door onto the deck. She was excited. "Mmm. Bird. Yum. This is one I could actually catch! Meow. Meow. MEEEE-ow."
I silenced Lucy by picking her up, and then I closed the glass door. The parakeets' cage was at my eye level next to me. The birds were silently inspecting the blue jay, tilting their heads this way and that for a good look.
That's how I found them a few minutes later, after depositing Lucy in the basement. I stood next to them and watched the unfortunate blue jay, thrashing in panic. For a second I thought about picking him up, holding him. But I knew that would frighten the bird even more. I hoped it would die quickly. "Please be all right," I whispered, and then wondered what that meant. (Maybe I should put up those ugly black bird silhouettes to keep birds from flying into the windows.)
The parakeets were still watching quietly.
I went back to the sink and my dishes. A moment later, I glanced up and saw a grey shadow flutter up from the deck. Was the blue jay okay? The parakeets were looking up now, past the deck and into the woods. I walked to the glass door and looked down. Yes, the jay was gone. I smiled. He made it! He must have flown into the woods.
As I walked back to the kitchen again, Rhyme and Reason began to chirp. Slowly, quietly at first. They took turns. It was as if they were listening to each other. "Did you see that?" "Wow! Looked like a tough bird." "I wonder what happened." "I never saw a bird on his back before." "Mmm. Well, he's gone now."
By the time my kitchen was tidy, the parakeets were chattering noisily. I picked up a pen and paper and sat at the table on the deck to write Althea a letter. I wrote about the blue jay. I told her how Rhyme and Reason seemed to talk to each other about what they had seen. I raised my head, smiling. At that very moment, a young blue jay landed on the deck railing less than six feet from me. I looked at him closely. It had to be the same bird.
Did he come back to figure out what had knocked him out of the air? Did he know that I was the person who had been inside the house? Could he hear the parakeets? He inspected the door and then looked at me, tilting his head this way and that to get a better look, to take it all in. We looked at each other, each of us silently acknowledging what had happened. Then, as quietly as he arrived, the jay flew back into the woods.
I breathed a prayer for Althea, that she too will recover quickly from the bumpy flights she is bound to have.
Inside the house, I could hear the parakeets chattering on. They couldn't see the deck railing from their cage, so they didn't see the blue jay come back. They simply were chattering with no rhyme or reason.
Or perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe there is reason for their endless chatter. Maybe my human ears just can't hear the rhyme in their story.