Sunday 9 February 2020

When Our Pet Dies. Losing a Friend Like No Other, Part 2

The next friend that was to come into my life was a little yellow male canary.
I was living in an apartment by the sea and at the time training in classical flute at Sydney Conservatorium. One of my flute students brought him to me one day and insisted that I accept him as a 'gift.'

I always disliked the idea of birds in cages and was very reluctant to take on this one, but this student would not take him back and so Bert stayed on with me.

I set up his cage near the window overlooking the sea. The door was always open so that he could fly freely around the apartment but I put his food, water and leaves inside the cage. Usually, he spent most of his time sitting on top of it.

We got on just fine. I discovered very early on that he was extremely competitive. As soon as I would pull out my flute and begin to play he would fly onto the music stand and sing full throttle.

Whenever I was playing he never gave me a moment's peace and would be there right in front of me on the stand warbling his little heart out.

Bert was with me for a number of years, he even managed to entice a neighbours female canary who turned up one day outside the door. When I opened it, she flew right on in and the two of them were nest making in one of my pot plants in no time at all.

One summer when I was going away for a couple of months, one of my young students asked if he could take care of my little Bert. I will never really know what happened, but when I returned Bert was no more.

We never really know until they are gone, just how much of an impact they have had on our lives and how much we will miss their presence. Bert was just a tiny drop of golden feathers but he had an incredible song and brought so much joy to my ears over so many years. Now after all of the intervening decades he is still missed.


The third little friend that came into my life was a baby owlet.
A friend had seen him with some young boys in a village on the outskirts of Kathmandu in Nepal.

He had managed to talk them into letting him take the little fellow as the boys told him that he would not eat any food and it was obvious that he would soon die.

As soon as those beautiful big, sad eyes landed on me I melted with motherly love and a deep sense of connection and affection. I am recounting a post that I wrote several years back when I told the story in detail.

Fatty Boy, Baby Spotted Owlet.

In the late 1990s, when I was staying at Godavari in the eastern corner of the Kathmandu Valley, it was not at all unusual, to come into the garden compound of Chadral Rinpoche's retreat centre and find several cages with varieties of birds that had been bought from the markets and then gifted to the Lama, in order that he would bless and then release them back into the wild.  Often these birds were in bad shape and could not be released right away.  They needed care and good feeding for some days before they could face the rigours of freedom.  Many never made it to the point where they could even be released.

It was a sad business to see this kind of trade going on, and yet it was rife throughout the valley, and although people meant well when they bought the birds from the markets, in many ways, this practice just encouraged and perpetuated the trade.

One day my friend and I took a path through a nearby botanical garden which passed through a lovely piece of forest on its way to the neighbouring village.  We had come to know of a very skilled tailor living in that place, and we both had a number of items on order and ready to pick up.  Coming back, however, we decided to take another route that skirted a village we had not been through before. While passing by some small, mud dwellings Sherab, the lama who was with me, suddenly turned and began to speak to a small group of boys.

He would often stop to banter with the locals as he passed by, so I didn't take much notice at the time and just kept slowly making my way along the cobbled path.  After a few moments, he joined me again but bade me stop and opening his bag, pointed to a little ball of feathers sitting on the bottom.  I could just make out two very large and shinny, sad eyes peering out at me. Even though I could not make out quite what it was, I immediately fell in love with the look in those eyes.

It turned out that the boys had somehow captured this little fellow from his nest, (he was a spotted baby owlet) and were trying to rear it in their home as a pet.  The boys had told Sherab that they were trying to feed it, but the little fellow had not taken any food since they had captured it two days before.
With some clever persuasion, Sherab had managed to get them to hand it over to his care, and thus it was sitting on the bottom of his bag, looking very weak and bereft.

My mothering instincts kicked in as soon as those large eyes looked up into my face. Anxious to get home now, we picked up our pace and soon arrived back at my apartment, which consisted of the upper floor of a private house.  As it turned out, this was to be rather ideal for the feathered friend who had just entered our lives.

I found a safe and sheltered corner for him, spread out some newspapers and put a small cage down with large stick tied onto the top of it, this would make it easy for him to perch, and somewhat easy for me to clean. I had absolutely no idea what baby owls would eat.

It was all improvisation and I simply prepared a  mixture of oats and water with some honey mixed in and tried to spoon it into his little beak. But unless I forced him to open so a little would slip in, that beak remained firmly closed, and I found myself trying to repeat the process every few hours, without much success.

This went on until the around midnight the following day, when I had taken up the spoon yet again. However this time, to my surprise and joy the wee fellow opened his beak and let me tip the mixture right in, gulp, gulp...

From then on, he adopted me as his surrogate mother and developed a very healthy appetite.  Sherab who was popping in frequently to see how we were getting along, began to spend a good deal of his free time ferreting around for more meaty morsels, and before we knew it our owl was suddenly puffing up and recovering a healthy sheen to his feathers.  He also began to develop a very keen curiosity and would seldom let me disappear from his sight.

He had a favourite perch on the window ledge in my kitchen. From this vantage point, he could monitor my every move and if I happened to go into the next room, he could simply turn himself around with a series of very endearing little clumsy moves, without ever taking his eyes off me.  If I disappeared into the bathroom, he would simply bounce right on in after me,  plop, plop, plop.  Determined not to miss a thing.

Those large green eyes were like laser beams.  Two creatures could hardly have been more different than this baby Owlet with its fixed and gazing stare, and a beastly little furry visitor, a Rhesus Monkey I had named Beasty, who could never focus her attention on anything for more than the briefest moment.

Lama Shariphu and Fatty Boy.

We called our new friend 'fatty boy' though we never found out if it was a male or female.
It was not long, before the  owl started to spread its wings. As he got stronger and bigger, he began to make clumsy excursions, that often led to near-disasters, especially when he would launch himself from the balcony of my apartment into the neighbour's high walled compounds below. 

 He would tumble down into the greenery, and then call us, and wait to be rescued.  I would then have to summon Sherab, who, batman like, would scale walls, fences and other such hindrances.  But he always  reappeared, in due course, with the wayward traveler, albeit in a bedraggled and ruffled state.

We soon decided to move him over to Rinpoche's garden compound, as he was now strong enough to manage the outdoor conditions and he quickly set up residence in a small pine tree near Sherab's window.

However, his preferred day time perch was on top of the open window, as, from there he could watch every move within. It was a bit unnerving to have those huge eyes fixed unwinkingly upon our every move.

He would puff himself up and then sway from left to right, bobbing his head up and down, as though this movement somehow helped him to focus on the objects of his unquenchable curiosity.
He quickly adapted himself to the gardens and became a familiar sight, riding about on our shoulders as we made our rounds of the stupas or went on with some other business.

By this time I was very attached to the little fellow, and he was growing fast.  His flights became more confident and far less clumsy.  Then one day I heard him calling from the roof. Normally when I would coax him he would just fly down and perch on my shoulder, or else I could extend a long stick and he would climb onto it and let me bring him down.  But this day, no amount of coaxing and calling would make him budge.

I realized something was afoot, and sure enough, he soon flew off into the tops of the trees. Our work was done.

I like to think that he came back to visit us from time to time, but I never actually saw my little friend again.  I looked and called a hundred times, but no, he had flown his human nest and rejoined those of his own kind, or so I desperately wanted to believe.

I will never know for sure but one thing is certain, I will never forget him.

Our lives are touched in so many unexpected ways.  We never know who will come, or in what form.  These visitors enter our lives and often without any prior warning,  stay for a while, and then they are gone.   

It is all so momentary and yet they leave something behind that is unique and lasting.  When they enter and touch our lives, however fleetingly,  they change and enrich our world forever.