The Winter Solstice arrives at 11:59 UTC (6:59 AM ET) this year. As we plunge into the dark days of Winter, we have two stories about events around the time of past “long nights.” First, “Katie in the Christmas Tree”…then, “Winter Solstice 1992: The Final Flight of a Soul.”
Katie in the Christmas Tree
~~By kenosha Marge
Twelve years ago last October something happened that changed our lives forever. While away at work on a temporary 2nd shift job our house burned. We returned home to find the windows boarded up, the roof covered with plywood and our home gutted except for part of the kitchen, the laundry room and the bathroom.
We were not informed at work because it was a temp job and no one knew where we were. We returned home to the darkness and the tiny and not-so-tiny corpses of our beloved pet birds. All had died of smoke inhalation.
Ten tiny parakeets lay at the bottom of their cage. My beloved cockatiel, Shiloh, was laying in the doorway between the living room and kitchen with his pal Miss Martha, another beloved cockatiel, at his side. The lovebirds, Sundance and Pinkytop were dead on the bottom of their cage. My giant Green wing Macaw Macho was on the bottom of his cage. Reba the Redheaded, conure, ditto. Hombre our precious Blue and Gold Macaw was nowhere to be found. To say we were devastated does not begin to explain how we felt.
It was midnight and being the day before payday we had no money to go anywhere even if we had anywhere to go. Instead my significant other set up a cot and we slept in the kitchen with the smell of the burnt wood in our noses and a picture of our dead friends in our minds. Little sleeping was done.
Morning brought a closer look at the devastation. It also brought the fire department to tell us that an electrical problem had caused the fire and that we couldn’t stay in the house another night.
Amazingly the phone still worked and so an exceedingly pompous and condescending city official was able to get through to also tell us we could not stay another night in the house and that we had to get the mess cleaned up/removed within 60 days.
The Red Cross arrived as did some friends and that’s when we learned that our precious macaw Hombre had survived and been taken home with another friend. Hombre had been our very first parrot and like almost everyone else in our flock, he had been rescued from abusive or neglectful owners.
We were fortunate in that a friend had a vacant apartment and we moved into the tiny upper 3 rooms that were to be “home” for the next six months. Hombre, who had been an independent sort, was now very clingy and insisted on spending much of his time sitting on my lap. This was welcome to me since I was feeling the loss of so many of my “friends” and of so many treasured mementos from my life.
Details of that time are vague in my memory perhaps because so much to do. We had to find a new home while the memory of the small yellow house filled with so many beloved pets was still uppermost in our minds.
We quickly realized that we had to get out of the apartment lest we do an injury to our “benefactor”. She seemed to think that renting an apartment to “friends” meant that she was able to come and go within that space when said renters were home or not. We did pay the same rent, as any other tenant would have.
So we bought a 90-year-old brick bungalow on a very busy street. The busy street and the fact that the house needed a lot of work put the price without reach. That was back in the days when you had to have a down payment to buy a house. We furnished the house meagerly from a small fire fund collected for us by some friends. This act of kindness is one for which we will be eternally grateful.
Significant Other, Hombre and I moved into our new home.
That’s where the story of Katie and Kameron the macaws begins. The same friend that had alerted us to Hombre’s neglect now told us of two more Blue and Gold Macaws that needed rescuing.
We insisted we were not interested. We were still suffering from broken hearts from the loss of our beloved birds and besides we were getting too old to be rescuing parrots. We were in our fifties and macaws being very long-lived would outlive us. We couldn’t stand the thought of beloved pets ending up sitting alone in a dark, dank basement, unloved and neglected as we had found Hombre. He still suffered from arthritis from that experience. Plus he had scarred lungs from the fire. He needed, and deserved all our attention.
Our friend knew us well and proceeded to tell us the story of the two neglected macaws, a brother and sister just 7 years old. See, we said, we’re way too old to take those birds. They’ll out live us by many years.
The birds were kept in a small cage in a breeder’s basement, the friend told us. They had one small perch, no toys and nothing to do but sit in that cage 24 hours a day. The breeder hadn’t even bothered to give them a name. How could we not help them, our friend asked? Our friend by the way had 12 rescued macaws so simply did not have room for two more.
Reluctantly we agreed. Katie and Kameron came to our house.
Blue and gold macaws are beautiful birds. Their bright colors almost hurt your eyes. Not Katie and Kameron.
Birds that are neglected or abused will often self-mutilate. Katie had plucked herself bald where she could reach. She also plucked Kameron when and where he would allow it. She had no feathers on her chest or the front of her neck. Not a pretty sight. Kameron had developed a habit of running his beak back and forth on the bars of the cage, out of sheer boredom we presume, which had disfigured and weakened it, a problem we have never been able to solve completely.
Birds of beauty they were not. Even the feathers that they had were dull and lifeless looking. Our much beloved and well cared for Hombre seemed to glow with life and vitality next to them.
We put them in a large cage in the living room and left the door open. I spent endless hours talking to them. Trying to get these most distrustful birds used to me and to understand that they were now part of a loving and caring flock.
Hombre was usually free to roam the house and roam he did. He once took up residence in the towel cupboard in the bathroom. We discouraged that but it took time and patience to convince him that the towel shelf was not a good place for a nap. He disagreed and was quite comfy with nice soft towels to repose upon and partially closed doors to darken the room for his mid-afternoon nap.
However the shrieks of terror that issued from a female acquaintance when Hombre popped his head out of the cupboard and said “hello” while she was seated on the toilet scared him so much he decided to take his naps on the couch instead. The female acquaintance never visited again either. Was it something he said?
Katie and Kameron sat inside their cage for 3 months. They played with one of the toys in their new home and both seemed intrigued with looking out the window. Things they saw also easily frightened them. Imagine if you had spent your whole life in a tiny cell in a basement.
Finally after 3 months Kameron ventured out of the cage and up to the nice big branch/perch we had waiting for him on top of the cage. He sat up there and looked around in delight. Inside the cage Katie was not pleased. She had spent over 7 years with her brother beside her. She couldn’t seem to understand how he could be so far away. She made small distress sounds. He stayed put. Then finally, reluctantly Katie climbed up beside him. She trembled. They stayed on top of the cage for nearly an hour. Then a noise frightened them and they scurried back into the cage.
Having tasted freedom they began climbing out for longer periods of time until at last, by the time we had them for a year, they spent most of their time outside their cage.
Hombre was interested but behaved like the gentleman he was and did not invade their space. Well, not often. Sometimes when they were on top of the cage we would find Hombre happily sitting inside and investigating their food dishes. I think he was just making sure that the newcomers didn’t get any better grub than he did.
Hombre passed away four years ago. His poor little lungs finally gave in. We miss him terribly. His was a very large personality and a large voice. His was a loving heart and he could make you laugh when you didn’t think you had a laugh in you.
Macaws are not among the best talkers in the parrot world but Hombre talked quite well. Katie and Kam don’t. Hombre did manage to teach them to say “Hi, what and no”. He also taught Kam to say fu*ker. Don’t blame us for that because Hombre was nearly 40 years old when we got him and his language was “salty” to say the least.
Kam and Katie both will play the “Hi” game as long as I will. It’s a simple game, they say “Hi”, I respond and it’s repeated until they get tired of playing. Then I am the last one to say “Hi” whereupon they look at me as if I am just too tedious for words.
The only real problem we have with Katie and Kam is the occasional unscheduled flight. Having never had occasion to fly in their lives they aren’t very good at it. Kam usually ends up on the curtain rods and complains loudly until I find the large dowel rod I use to retrieve him. The rod is safer for him as when he climbs on my arm he often clamps down, I jump and birdie is off into the wild blue living room again.
Katie’s flights are more of a problem. It’s not actually the flying that’s her problem it’s the stopping. She tends to just fly into walls and go splat. We are scared to death she’s going to break her neck. She usually goes splat, falls to the floor and then waddles painfully back to her cage. I follow behind moronically asking if she’s all right. Next day the naked, featherless chest is usually bruised.
However the other night Katie out did herself. A car honked outside and scared her and off she flew. Right into the Christmas tree. I was on the phone with GRL of our blog and I quickly hung up and went to rescue my friend.
Katie quickly grabbed the branches in her strong toes and hung on for dear life. She then began grabbing at the strings of light with her even stronger beak. I was scared she would electrocute herself before I could rescue her. She wouldn’t climb on the dowel or my arm. She was in the Christmas tree and seemed damn determined to stay there.
I did the only thing I could think to do; I simply tipped the tree over and laid it on the floor. Katie calmly stepped down onto the floor and trailing tinsel behind serenely walked back and climbed up onto the top of her cage. I crawled hurriedly and worriedly behind her grabbing frantically at her tinsel trail since this can cause great distress or death to birds if it ends up in their crop.
At this point Kam came over and assured himself that his sister was all right and the two of them looked down at me sitting on the floor with the disaster that was now my Christmas tree.
I got to my feet, righted the tree and looked at it in dismay. All the lights had shifted to one side, the ornaments were scattered from hell to breakfast and the tree topper was listing drunkenly to the south.
Now that I knew Katie was fine and the rescue was over I got weak in the knees and had to sit down. I am the type that is excellent in a catastrophe and absolutely useless afterward. This was afterward and I was alone with two birds that didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
When my Significant Other came home from his second shift job several hours later he looked at our Christmas tree in some consternation. “We have a hurricane in the living room?” he asked. “No, just an unscheduled Katie flight”, I replied. He understood immediately.
The following day, I had to take the Christmas tree back down to its bare branches and start all over. I didn’t complain and I didn’t mind the extra work. It is just a Christmas tree and can be easily replaced. Katie’s my friend and she cannot.
Winter Solstice, 1992: The Final Flight of a Soul
(Written after reading KM’s story for the first time)
I just read the story and my heart just sank when I read about the loss of your house and birds and dog. OH, MY…, how DID you survive?? How terrible, I can’t imagine something like that (although, even though this house is only 8 years old, it makes me nervous as some of the outlets are having problems….)
The loss of the animals, of course, is probably the most devastating thing to deal with of all…You know, the whole story has reminded me of December 1992 when my father died.
The Saturday he died I had just bought a cockatiel. I had been thinking about it and that day I knew I just had to do it, immediately. It was also the Winter Solstice (14:47 UTC, 9:47 AM ET). I remember saying, “We have to bring some light into this house,” and home came the bird that morning, which we named “Solly” after “sol”, the Sun.
After lunch I went out to the store to buy something for Solly that I had forgotten, and when I got home, my father was dying. My brother came over and moments later, he passed. The time was 4:18 PM…the exact time of my own birth.
Over the next few days, we looked at the birds out on the fence in the yard. Prior to his passing we had noticed that there always seemed to be an odd number of mourning doves roosting with their heads tucked into their feathers. My grandmother always told me that there was an old Italian story about how an odd number of birds sitting on a fence indicates a death. That Monday, at the time he was being cremated (10 AM), I looked out the window…there were the doves on the fence, alert and all in pairs . I guess they knew my father’s soul was flying free…
This all brings tears to my eyes now…And I think I will recount this story. The animals, the birds… they just know…
(Note from kenosha Marge: If you think you would like to have a large bird think twice. Or three times. Those of us who have them and love them would not give them up for anything. But they are big trouble. Some of them will eat your woodwork. Many of them are very, repeat very loud. They throw seeds everywhere and a vacuum becomes a permanent fixture in your hand. Just make sure you are willing to put up with all the negatives. Think it through. We all fall in love with the bird that talks to us in the pet shop. Staying in love with the critter that just used it’s big strong beak to destroy the rungs on your new dining room chairs is not so easy.)
Filed under: Life | Tagged: auspices, birds self-mutilation, blue and gold macaw, Christmas trees, cockatiels, conures, green wing macaws, lovebirds, mourning doves, omens, parrots, Red Cross, signs from birds, smoke inhalation, sol, Winter Solstice | 12 Comments »