If my dharma were the pursuit of truth, I’d not be here tapping these keys right now. I’d have never left welding, where everything is black and white. Well, it’s really black and silver or sometimes black and copper; there are no grey areas. A weld is either a good one or a bad one. There is no in-between. You have to bring the metal up to the right temperature, use the right mix of oxygen and acetylene, the right flux. It can be fiddly, but there’s no getting around a good weld. It’s truer than the metal it unites. Period.
Other things, like the future or what a dog thinks, are not as straightforward.
On Saturday morning, a chickadee hit the sliding glass door and fell to the snow. I heard the clunk of its little head on the cold glass only in retrospect. At the time, I didn’t consciously notice it until my dog Dewey brought it to my attention. He whined and whimpered at the lower corner of the big glass door. Pinned to the spot, he looked out with concern. When I finally got his message, I went out onto the porch and scooped the unconscious bird into my hands.
He regained consciousness and looked at me with a smile—because of course chickadees smile when they are being rescued! As I carried him over to the cast-out Christmas tree my neighbor stuck in the snowbank next to her birdfeeder earlier this month, the little bird raised his little head above the protective scoop of my hands and looked around just like my grandmother did that time I bought the 1982 Mercedes 240D sedan in New Jersey fifteen years ago. Grandma was short—maybe less than five feet tall, small, and perky like a chickadee. Buckled up into the huge passenger seat of the Merc, she had to crane her neck to see over the hood of the car.
“Well,” she sighed and settled in as we drove her to her favorite Saturday breakfast place, “this is quite a fine automobile.”
She had a different favorite breakfast place for each day of the week. The servers at each place—I won’t call them restaurants, because one of the places was a shack frequented by swearing, salty, smelly fishermen from all over the world, some of them swearing in different languages—knew what she wanted (a different breakfast at each place) and brought it out to her with a friendly, “Hi, Char.” Her name was Charlotte, her breakfast people called her Char just like Grandpa used to do.
The chickadee looked just like that as it hopped onto my finger to perch. I skootched my finger close to a branch of the Christmas tree, but the little bird just stayed on my finger looking around as if waiting for his order of fried kippers and toast at that fishing shack.
I was in my sneakers and a sweater and getting cold in the snow, so I encouraged the little bird off my hand and onto a branch so I could go back inside to warm up. In the minutes that the chickadee lingered—his tiny little claws felt like gossamer on my finger and he just kept looking at me and smiling—I decided it was time for another bird.
We’ve had pet birds before. They tend to bring joy into a room. Shri was the parakeet we rescued from City Hall park on a bitterly cold October evening. Missing his tail, he was pretty easy to catch. We scooped him up in a silk handkerchief and brought him home in a Chinese-take-out box. Mary was with us. She was leaving the next day to join the Peace Corp in Sri Lanka. Shri’s name recommended itself. We kept him in the bathroom with the heat turned all the way up for three days until he thawed out and perked up. He lived with us for several years. He was yellow and a terrific singer with a song for each family member.
Krishna came next. A blue budgie whose name also recommended itself. Krishna was playful and loving. He’d sit for hours on my shoulder and make the sweetest chirping noises in my ear. My dog at the time loved him. Shems, my 105-pound canine guru and spiritual teacher, would stick his nose right into Krishna’s open cage. Krishna, being a manifestation of God, was not afraid of Shems and would ride around happily on his back. They had an excellent friendship. Until it ended suddenly.
The day that Shems was diagnosed with bone cancer, we were huddled together with him on the living room floor crying. Krishna, being a manifestation of God, loved love and flew over to join in the group hug. In his excitement, Shems stood up suddenly, the giant paw of his soon to be amputated back leg, landed on and instantly crushed Krishna, who let out the kind of squeak birds make in Buggs Bunny cartoons. John picked up the little bird’s body, Shems tried to nuzzle it back to life. When we buried the bird in the backyard, Shems would not leave the burial site. Incredulous, he kept looking back and forth from the ground to us, his murderous parents who had just buried his friend in a hole in the ground in the backyard.
On Saturday, in the moment when I felt the chickadee’s little claws on my finger, I knew it was time for a new bird. John and I went to the pet store and got Doug. He’s a green budgie with a yellow face. He is four months old and has been with us four days. He got comfortable enough with us yesterday to finally start chirping. But the chirping frightens Dewey.
Dewey seems sad that there is another creature in his house. The attention that was once all his own is now fractured by something small and sometimes scary sounding. He gathers his black eyebrows over his golden brown, sad looking eyes, and looks at me pleadingly. He doesn’t seem to believe me when I tell him everything will be okay.
I want to know what he really thinks.