2. The Heart of the Season: Birds of the Solstice and Signs (A Double Post by kenosha Marge and InsightAnalytical-GRL)

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.

Blue and Gold Macaws

Blue and Gold Macaws

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.

KATIE

KATIE

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.

KAMERON

KAMERON

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

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

(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…

***

Macaws

(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.)

***

Winter Solstice celebrations: a.k.a. Christmas, Saturnalia, Yule, the Long Night, etc. (from http://www.ReligiousTolerance.org)

***

Signs from birds (Auspices)


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12 Responses

  1. Marge,

    You are a one of a kind, special soul! What a wonderful story, and how blessed you are to be owned by those 2 lovely characters. It takes something unique to rescue animals of any type, but to take in big birds is a monumental task. And to do it after such an unbelievable tragedy is just incredible!

    We here at InsightAnalytical have some sort of a psychic bond that is hard to put into words, but let me tell you about 2 things that might give you an idea. Yesterday I visited No Quarter and Susan UnPC had posted an open thread in honor of Truth Tellers’ cat and invited readers to share stories of their own kittehs. I will re-post what I wrote below this – but bear in mind this happened without me ever having read Marge or GRL’s stories above. I just read them (and cried my eyes out) this AM.

    The other thing that happened this wonderful Solstice morning involves birds. A couple of years ago my parents gave me a birdfeeder for my birthday. I put it out on my second floor balcony, and the wild birds flocked to it. They came in droves, and soon the one feeder had grown to 3, and I was going through 80 lbs. of bird food a month. I attracted Blue Jays, Cardinals, Finches, and a whole lot of what my Dad calls “sputzies” – small, non-distinct birds of a variety of breeds that just loved the safe haven, plus about 20 Mourning Doves that never ate at the feeder, but scavenged the droppings off the deck. I even attracted a squirrel, who figured out how to use the nearby tree for a runway and leap over onto the balcony – invariably tipping the feeder over and sending it crashing to the ground. I had to start buying corncobs and peanuts to toss on the ground to keep my grey friend from doing too much damage. (Last year, I awoke one morning to find a hawk in the tree. He was there every morning for about a week, but after he left I never saw the squirrel again.)

    As you can imagine, that volume of birdseed makes quite a mess (twice, in fact), and while my landlord was very good about it I knew it was bothering the neighbors. I knew the feeders were going to have to go, but I just couldn’t stop feeding my feathered friends. Then this spring, I started to attact a lot of different birds. Grackels and Starlings started to dominate the feeders and chase the smaller birds of viciously. I scared them off whenever I could, but things were not the same. Finally, I happened to be home and heard a terrible avian cry from the terrace and ran over to see a Grackel killing one of the sputzies. I chased the attacker off, but it was too late. I knew the time had come to take the feeders down, so I reluctantly did. I knew it was meant to be when the landlord sent a notice that they would be power-washing and painting the terraces the following week.

    For the first week or so many of the little guys came back, pecking for crumbs between the boards of the decking, but soon they stopped coming. As the colder weather approached, the only birds that came looking were the occasional pair Mourning Doves (who have extremely strong homing instincts like their pigeon cousins), but by the time the snow started falling even the Doves drifted away to find another buffet.

    This morning, before I sat down at the computer, I was making coffee and had just remembered it was the Solstice, when I looked out the sliding glass door to see a beautiful pair of Mourning Doves flutter up off the deck to sit on the snow railing. I wished them a Happy Solstice, and by the time I finished pouring my coffee they were gone again. Then I sat down and read GRL’s story about her father and the Doves. It makes me know for certain that nothing in this life is random – we are all connected, and everything happens for a reason!

    Happy Solstice to all!

    • Grail, what a wonderful post!
      I am feeding squirrels as well…one popped out today to nibble at some celery I had put out a few days ago. They are “hibernating” now, but surface one in awhile around noon as the sun warms up.

      Doves. What an amazing story about the two doves. Birds and all animals know…everything!

      It’s sad that you can’t feed them as much as you would like. I keep a steady supply going all year, but since the arroyo was re-worked and lots of habitat is gone, I have fewer visitors, but still very hungry ones. They come in waves..finches morning, sparrows in the afternoon. They take baths now to help keep themselves warm…

  2. From No Quarter:

    http://www.noquarterusa.net/blog/2008/12/20/truthtellers-beloved-cat-open-thread/

    My last cat died of a broken heart. Before he came into my life, I had a Labrador Retriever who was extremely social – adored people and hated being alone. A work friend of mine fell on some tough financial times and had to sell her home and move back in with her parents. Her mother refused to take her wonderful cat along with her daughter, so she talked another co-worker into adopting Tim. After about a month, my friend was virtually in tears because the co-worker that had taken him insisted she take the cat back, and she had no idea what to do with him except take him to the local animal shelter.

    I had been considering getting another dog as a companion for the Lab, but sometimes fate has different plans for us. I asked her a few questions about Tim, but when I discovered that he was born on the same day as my pooch, I knew it was meant to be.

    I have no idea what the person who took him for a month did to him, but when my friend brought Tim to me he was timid and very skittish. He hid in the bathroom or the basement for weeks. I never even heard him so much as meow until the first time I took him to the vet (had I known, I could have recorded the sounds he made that first visit for a PUMA roar).

    As time went on, Tim became more and more comfortable with both me and the pup (she was 4 when we added Tim to the family, but Labs are puppies pretty much until they start turning gray). Eventually, when I went bed I would awake after a short time to find the Lab cuddled up on my left side (pushing me against the edge of the bed, of course) and Tim plopped on top of my head – both sleeping contently. Times got bad, and we moved 5 times over the next 9 years, but I never even considered living anywhere I couldn’t have my furry family; as long as the 3 of us were together everyone seemed to adapt just fine whether we were in a hovel or a house.

    And no matter where we lived, Tim ruled the roost. He would watch everything that went on, and if he approved he would sit on the back of the couch and purr. He went from timid and hiding to greeting every guest at the door (just like the dog) and sniffing them intently.

    Things took a turn for the worse for our little family when the Lab (a notorious chow hound) started to lose her appetite. Visits to our small-town vet met with little relief or comfort. Finally, one day I came home from work to discover Tim at the door meowing at me agitatedly, but no dog. I ran into the house to find her collapsed and unable to move on her own, crying in pain and frustration. I gathered her up in my arms, and took the last fateful trip to the vet. There was little option but to put her out of her misery as the vet could offer nothing and we were 50+ miles from an Emergency Clinic.

    I drove home alone, and Tim was pretty much my sole consolation at the loss of our best friend. No one else in my life “got it”. But Tim never really was right after that. He seemed quiet and withdrawn, and lonely. It broke my heart to leave him alone when I went to work, but i just couldn’t bear getting another pet yet. Within 6 months, Tim had also stopped eating. I knew things were dire when I took him to the vet (the one 50 miles away this time) and he didn’t make a peep as she examined him. Pancreatic cancer was the diagnosis, but while this vet was kinder and gentler and provided pain relief, there was still little hope. Within a week or so, I woke up alone in my bed (not something I was used to at all). I went looking for Tim, and found him curled up in a corner in the unused upstairs of the house. His eyes and skin were a pale shade of yellow, and while my brain knew he had gone into renal failure, somewhere deep inside I knew that he just missed his friend and couldn’t bear to spend the days alone.

  3. wtf with all the blinking-I’d love to read KM’s post but I’m about to have a seizure!

  4. Touching stories. Thank you.

  5. Grail, we all do seem to be on the same wavelength don’t we? And what a wonderful story.

    I have a small back yard with three birdfeeders and thus far have managed to keep some kind of order. There is a hawk that comes calling but we watch for him and run out the back door waving out arms and yelling like we’re demented to chase him away. One of the squirrels usually warns when the hawk is coming. And yes, we have a dog dish on the back porch with corn, peanuts and black sunflower seeds for the squirrels too. Some days they have to fight several blue jays for the peanuts.

    I have a heated birdbath and every evening just before dusk it has a ring of mourning doves sitting in a circle across from each other in the warmest spot in the area. They coo gently in contentment.

    It’s very cold and windy today and I worry about my furry and feathered friends outside. They give me so much pleasure and entertainment that what little I spend on feeding them is a miniscule payment.

    Inside, Katie is making chortling sounds because it is nearly time for the afternoon treat I give them every day. Don’t ask me how they know what time it is because I haven’t a clue, but they do know. If I am late for some reason the chortle turns to a complaint and then, a scream. And if you have ever heard a macaw scream you’ll understand why I allow them to “train” me to be on time.

  6. Such beautiful posts. Happy Solstice to all.

  7. Hi All,

    I haven’t been too well today so I cannot go into how this post has made me feel. I love all animals, and the psychic connection between a pet owner who cares and his/her animal, be it cat, dog, bird, or guinea pig – I’ve had them all – is a bond that can’t be denied. They know when you hurt and do their utmost to comfort you.

    This post has brought back memories that brought me happiness and those that saddened me greatly. One day when I’m feeling better maybe I’ll steal your idea and write about some of them. But for now, I’ll just say, Marge, I know where you’re coming from about Katie and the Christmas tree, but in my case it was a cat named Jezebel. A beautiful coal black imp with big yellow eyes. Needless to say, her experience with the Christmas tree was a one time thing. After the one episode she would never again go near the tree, but would crouch across the room and stare at it as though putting a hex on it. Jezebel was hiding in a window well during a terrible thunderstorm, when my son spied her from inside the basement. She was just a kitten and scared to death almost. When brought into the house she immediately jumped upon my lap and captured my heart. This didn’t go over so well with my dog, but they soon became close companions.

    Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas to all, and may the Gods and Goddesses look down on all of us with favor in the coming days.

  8. Marge, you are a very strong person and I can’t even imagine the pain you must have experienced to lose your home and memories in that fire.

    It is said that the Lord doesn’t give us more burdens than we can bear, but at times I question that. Coming to this site, if even for a few minutes, helps me more than you know.

  9. Grail…your lab and Tim…what a touching story! Gosh, aren’t animals something? And your care of them…well, we know you are a great person, now we know why!! You’re an animal person!!

  10. Lee,

    Hope things are going better as the sunlight slowly seeps back into our lives. You are so right about the curative power of animals! When mankind fails you, turn to the furry and feathered community for restoration. It never fails for me. Neither does coming here.

  11. Marge,

    Thank you for the story of Hombre, Katie and Kameron.

    My sister has an umbrella cockatoo. I love him dearly. But I’m glad he’s hers. Big birds are a true challenge.

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