you’ve got red on you….

Shetland&Pony57

{As promised in yesterday’s rather mournful Drawn @ Random post, here at Shetland + Pony I’ll be sharing some of the happier aspects of the many birds I have known. I think the biggest character was Kekoa, the far-from-fluffy Downy Woodpecker who was blind in both eyes. I was ten or so when we found her, and by then I knew at least enough about birds to figure a woodpecker would like something to climb vertically. Enclosure-wise, an old laundry basket seemed quite to her liking, and she hung onto the side when she wanted a rest from exploring. The rest of the time was spent examining (read: hammering mercilessly at) wooden objects in the living room, such as the poor beleaguered trim around the balcony window. I carried her with a leather work glove and long sleeves out of fear/respect for that chisel beak, and yet despite her lack of sight she managed to find the one bit of exposed wrist and go for it every time. This might have had something to do with the other searching tool she had at her disposal: a comically-long pink tongue, which she flicked delicately at everything before deciding whether to peck it to death.

Her Hawaiian name, by the way, was the consequence of a little red-and-yellow phrasebook I had acquired at some used-things shop or another. Whenever I got such an item I went straight for the section with names in it. I’m something of a name-collector, though to be honest I don’t often use them. The same is true with words in general; “enkomion” is a fabulous word, though it’s unlikely to be useful to me anytime soon (though I guess it’s a bit relevant to this post, now I think of it).

Moses the cardinal was a beautiful creature, pure and simple. I never cared overly for the toothy, stylized, yellow-beaked cardinal that is our college town’s ubiquitous mascot, but the real thing is something different altogether. He was black and red, of course, and more red than anyone ever seems to think to portray cardinals — beak and feet and all, not a speck of yellow on him. But there was also the purplish-grey wash of feathers down the nape of the neck and between the shoulders, along the edges of the wings; colors and patterns I’d never thought to include when drawing remembered birds seen from afar with the naked eye. Even something as iconically-solid-colored as the cardinal has so much more subtlety when you can really look at it.

The little cat-caught warbler (or so I choose to call it, we never got as far as species in our introductions to each other) I knew for the shortest time of them all, but probably represents the nicest memory of them all. To hold a songbird in your hand, fearing its ethereal life lost, and then have it fly off into the blue until it’s out of sight entirely … this is a good thing.

The robin was, in hindsight, the largest wild bird — or wild animal — I’ve ever picked up and held. She did not take kindly to it, of course, which I hope bode well for her strength and future survival.

Of course, I’ve already told tales of Pigeon and Dakota. Dakota’s impossible not to love, which I’m sure is part of the problem with large parrots going to homes that can’t accommodate them. Who could say no to those huge, soulful black eyes? Despite the seven big claws (one toe is missing, I never did find out why) and nutcracker beak, I wasn’t ever really afraid of Dakota. His feet were soft, almost like hands, and his tone of voice and the set of his crest always let me know whether he was calm or getting too wound-up. My mother came with me to the pet store one day and was slightly horrified to see that I was letting the big bird perch on my bare arm (and that no one was stopping me); but whether it was luck or otherwise, I never got so much as a bad scratch from Dakota. The same cannot be said for … well, just about any pet I’ve had, from cats to hamsters to the gecko.

Pigeon is drawn here racing with single-minded determination to wherever his goal may be — I like to think that after that whole walkabout business he got back to being a racing pigeon again, though perhaps as a freelancer this time. I wasn’t very fond of the attitude of his “owners,” even if they did sort of ask for him back.

All I’ve left out are the little brown birds, and I’m afraid I was too young to remember too much about them — although I have a childhood drawing of Feathery suspended upside-down in the tree in our front yard, wings spread, apparently having failed to master the “landing” part of flying.

And that, you see, is the story of me and birds. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about me and cats….}

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