It was in the nineties when the kids were adolescents that we created a colony of birds. Always having been a cat person, the over the top crop of cat dander carried by Pepe, the cat across the street, made my eyelids turn inside out.
We turned to birds. On our way north for some reason, we stopped at “South of the Border” on I-95, a wild and kitschy place that never seemed to have any business when we otherwise flew by. I saw this birdcage and cannot at this point remember if we already had birds then. We must have.
This style came in many sizes. The one we bought had a base of about two by six feet. It was probably five feet tall.
All interior areas were connected so there was ample space for a lot of pets and we began to fill it. That cage is long gone now, the wind kept blowing it off the front porch here until it was just a bundle of Mexican sticks.
Our first budgie was Beatrijs, spelled the Dutch way for a friend in Germany who had just convened some artists, including me, in Krefeld, Germany for a brainstorming week. We loved Bee-Bee. On the back deck, you could take her out and set her on a plant while having a glass of wine. Of course, we had no idea how old she was when we got her. You never know ages unless you (with the help of the birds) created your own babies. And we did that. Budgies are easy for that.
Every once in a while, we would travel to the next small town and get a couple more birds. As we collected, and had babies, all the names of the birds began with a B, as Beatrijs had started a pattern. Bonita, Billy Joel, Burt, Boris, we got up to about twenty five at one time.
The above was us, only we had a better cage. These birds began to look like cats to me. You could pick them up and kiss them, which we did. In our little village we could observe social connections and disconnections. You could see much of what you see in human society.
Bonita and Billy Joel were a pair. Bonita was a sweet little lavendar girl. I could take her out of the cage and put her on top of my little TV in the kitchen while ironing, and she would sit and sing and talk. Bonita was the first bird to get sick. No one in our little town treated birds. I remember taking Bonita to a local vet, and watching him cut down some sulfa or some such, into fourths with his pocket knife and then into fourths again. “Put this in the water.” Pretty primitive. She got sicker and sicker, and Billy Joel always sat with her with his wing covering her back. Soon of course, he was sick.
They died. We found a vet in Columbia, SC after that and took more five dollar birds for forty dollar appointments. The disease was raging in our colony. In a little while, we didn’t know this then, but our experiment with the budgies would be over.
My colon cancer metastasized to my lung and as with pregnant women, it was not a good idea for me to be cleaning bird cages all the time. Not that it was a huge job. Not that I didn’t like it. We would shoot the hose up into the air and water would fall back like rain on the big cage. All beaks pointed to the sun, wings flapped and the boy birds did their armpits. It was so much fun.
The point of all of this, and what I mention when asked, is we had a little microcosm of nature in the little budgie village. We saw pairs like Bonita and Billy Joel, we saw gossips, ones who wanted to stir things up. We saw mothers, fathers, children. We saw murder, we saw homosexuality, and we saw self-sacrifice. All of these characteristics are normal in individuals and in groups. Look to nature for the truth.
We began to try to give away some birds with my being sick, and to protect some birds from getting sick. Then one morning, Beatrijs was on the floor of the cage and not moving. As said earlier, we had no idea how old she was. Her death took the wind out of our sails. We moved faster.
I took a couple of smaller cages to the Arts Commission in Columbia, placed the birds, and knew that we had taught the children about what was normal in populations and sexuality.
Nature created all of us and we should be cutting and pasting our best selves guided by our inner lights.