Down came a dicky-bird, and snipped off her nose
I have been thinking. As Lorelei Lee says “I seem to be thinking, practically all of the time.”
Bits of thought float around my head.
I’ve been reading Lord of the Rings, and perhaps more interestingly, what Tolkien himself wrote about writing it. And what Christopher had to say. I’ve been reading Andrew Harvey on comparative religion, which is a sanitized way of saying ‘about people’s occasional attempts to know GOOD.’ I’ve also been reading CS Lewis. Basically, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff written by people who believe in good. Who were trying to be or find good. To believe in good. To perceive the good in the world, and embrace it, celebrate it, live in contact with it. And fight for it.
I read these things, because I am trying to find a way. After the horror of Duli’s death, after the difficulties of everything, after the ugliness, the danger – and the worst danger of all, the danger of being in love with drama – melodrama . . .
I found a Jackdaw.
I was walking to the bank. It was the middle of the day – the hottest part of the day, in these days which are becoming HOT. When it’s impossible to move. When the heat presses down on you, so that winter seems like a dull memory, a fable, something impossible. To be honest, it’s not so hot yet. But you know it’s coming. When the water stops. When you can only move around between 5 am and noon. And then again, after 5 pm.
The jackdaw was sitting on the ground, at the top of the steps, leading from the pedonale (the pedestrian walkway), down to the street where the bank is. I looked at him. He cocked a grey eye and looked at me. “Ha,” I thought, “If you could fly away, you would have by now.” I took a step. He hopped away. I took another, more hops. “YOU,” I said-thought, “can’t fly.” And I was after him. He fled into the nearest doorway. A pizza parlor. He ran under the massive oven, into their kitchen. You always have to shout, in this place. “Oh lady!” I called – “I am very sorry, but a bird has run into your kitchen!” The tiny woman emerged from the back. “What?” “There’s this BIRD, under your oven – help me catch him?” Then we spent a silly 5 minutes, her poking with a knife, me hovering with my jacket – spread to catch him. “I’ll cut him!” she said, and “Oh no, I’d rather – can you just CATCH him?” And in the end, she did, and handed his body, trapped in her hands, over the counter. “Did you want a pizza?” she asked.
Oh no, I just wanted this bird.
“At the moment I’m a bit busy,” I said, “But I will definitely come back soon.” And I fled, with the jackdaw wrapped in my jacket, held to my chest. There wasn’t much of him sticking out, but what there was, was outraged.
I went to the bank, I took out money, with one hand, the other holding the bird to my chest. I walked up to where Jordi was waiting with the car. “What do you have,” he asked. “Is it a kitten?” he asked. NO. I shook my head. “A puppy?” NO. “What I’ve always wanted?” I said.
I have long lusted after a crow. They are smart. Capable of speech. They play games. Crows PLAY. Crows, I have long suspected are amazing. Of course my fascination extends to any member of the corvid family, such as a Jackdaw.
This little beast, clutched to my chest, trapped in my hands, doesn’t know yet. But I want to know him.
He’s getting sweaty. We go home. Aferdita is there, and her husband Perlat. They have a canary cage at home, and offer to send it. I wait, until everyone is gone, and shut myself in the bathroom, before releasing the cage of my hands. The bird shifts. Shakes. Ruffles its feathers, and perches on my fingers.
It’s done. The bond.
It’s a bit of an exhausting afternoon. Evening. Night. The jackdaw does NOT like the cage that Aferdita sends over, with her son Juri. But he will sit on a towel on top of it. He likes a shiny coin I offer. There are 4, 5, 6 dogs in this house, all curious, and a kitten. Jordi naps, I can’t. Watching the interactions. Sally, a young beagley-sort of puppy, walks across my chest, to SNIFF.
In the end, we sleep the night, the Jackdaw sitting on top of the birdcage, on the bedside table, next to my head. The dogs around us, the kitten buried as he likes, under the blankets.
This morning, I thought to go “to work” – I took the bird. He sat on the car seat next to me as I drove. Perched on my shoulder, under my hair – preening it – as I walked through town. He sat on the back of my chair as I worked, and on the back of another chair, as we had a public meeting. He posed for selfies, with people at the meeting. He sat on my shoulder as I drove home.
Just now he’s sitting behind me, on the back of the chair, with his beak thrust under his wing, sleeping. The dogs are already blasé. The kitten is a bit trickier, but young enough – he might learn.
And what does all of this have to do with anything?
This house is insane. Who has 6 dogs? Or 5, or 4 (most affectionately) – who spends this much time, feeding, watching, guarding. Who considers a normal move through a room to include the need to pick up endless poops? Who sleeps to wake to move the kitten, before he pees, before he eats the bird, to comfort the puppy who wants to be loved, but prefers to sleep on the floor, to embrace the older dog, who is disgusted and exhausted by all this excessive life . . . to try to find the small places, to sleep, between caring about all of them, to watch your own anger, when you get tired. Who lives like this?
I read Tolkien. I read Harvey. I read Lewis. I read Phillip Pullman, whose ultimate message I think is about the importance of mental curiosity, tied to a love of the physical world. Yes. We want those epiphanic moments of joy – but they are rooted here. They are here in the now of shit, and feathers, and food, and life.
There is so much beauty. And it’s exhausting. Often it isn’t convenient, and doesn’t look like what you wanted. Sometimes it’s horrible. And it won’t last. But it will continue.
This tender balance we’ve struck, in this house. Impossible loves. But REAL loves. In the end, I suppose someone will eat someone else. A casual snap of jaws will result in disaster. It’s too much to ask, that this peaceable kingdom could just BE.
But for now, it is.
And it is good.