So, after the trapeze lesson, I was soaring (pun intended). I was still smiling and comparing notes with my friends when I got a call on the ride home: “The parakeets flew away.”
I came crashing to the ground.
My daughter had taken the birds outside, and they had been faster than her. She was already feeling guilty, and she can be super-hard on herself.
I was crushed. When my daughter went to get her bird (Blueberry Jell-O, aka, Jell-O), I was overwhelmed with an… affinity with another parakeet. I’ve never been a pet person, but I loved that bird instantly. I still can’t explain it. So I got one too, and named him Captain America (his friends call him Cap).
It was a great decision. The birds like each other, even though they play-fight all the time. They always want to be together. My daughter is the one who takes care of them, bringing them fresh food and water every morning, cutting vegetables and fruits for them, and making sure they get their exercise. She has read five parakeet-care books (so far). She does homework with them perched at her desk, and reads books to them.
Now they were gone, and she would never forgive herself.
By the time I arrived home, she was still crying like I’ve never seen her cry, saying things like “They are going to die, and it’s all my fault, just mine” (drama runs deep in my side of the family).
But while I was consoling her, Wonder Wife told me she had tracked the birds! The parakeets were thirty feet high, higher than I had been just an hour before, perched on one of the branches of the majestic Douglas Firs that line the road behind our backyard.
I couldn’t believe it! The birds had stuck around. I was so glad, because I could get one last glimpse at them before they flew away for good. But, at the same time, I had a sliver of hope that they might come back.
It was a cold, windy day, so I got my jeans and coat and went outside. How do you convince runaway birds to get back?
Without the binoculars, I couldn’t see them, but I could hear them. Incredibly, we could recognize their singing. I jumped over the fence, used my hearing as a guide, and stood directly underneath their sound. I saw them. I whistled and called their names. They moved higher. I rang the bell in one of their toys. They flew to another tree, farther. I ran after them, all the while looking up to keep track of them, disregarding thorns and stumps.
At that moment, I was sure we were losing them. I cared for them much more than I’ve ever realized.
They stopped. After twenty of minutes of pleading and cajoling, they flew closer to our house! Still very high, though. Wonder Wife brought food, treats, and water. For the birds, that is. We thought they were hungry. I surely was. It was about 4 p.m. then, and I hadn’t had lunch, even though I had, well, trapezed, for two hours.
We kept at it. My daughter had calmed down. She was working to bring the birds back. We all panicked when they flew to other side the road. On the other side, the road borders the woods. It’d be impossible to keep track of them with the densely packed trees. But a few unnerving minutes, they flew back, to a tree next to our fence.
It was getting late, and the wind was picking up. I was worried about the birds’ health: the vet said they are used to warm temperatures and even told us the house temperature shouldn’t drop below sixty. I remembered how they love to stay perched on top of their cage, so I hopped the fence once again, went inside, and brought their humongous house close to their field of vision. Cap seemed to like it, and for the next hour or so, he flew to lower and lower branches. He also seemed tired and too weak to fly long distances.
When it was almost dusk, Cap decided to fly to top of our backyard’s fence! For the first time in three hours, one of them was within my reach. I tried to cup him in my hands, but he flew to the neighbor’s backyard! Convinced that his cage had attracted him, I took it there. Cap was perched in a bush. Wonder Wife was able to get him.
We immediately put him back in his house. I was elated that we had gotten one of them back.
All this time, Jell-O observed us, and he even came down a few branches, but he was still too high. When it got too dark and cold, we decided to move Cap and his cage inside. We brought flashlights and a camping lamp outside. Jell-O got comfortable perched on a branch about ten feet high, and he seemed to settle in. Fortunately, even though the tree he chose was on the other side of the fence, the branch he chose extended into our backyard. The wind was very strong now, and the branch swung in the wind. However, Jell-O closed his eyes and raised one leg. He was going to sleep. In my mind, he might as well sleep in Antarctica. There was no way he could survive a nighttime temperature in the low thirties.
We tried to use a ladder, but no hard surface nearby could support its weight. I climbed the kid’s playset: he was still outside my reach. A small, foldable ladder sunk into the dirt.
We believed that he was very tired, and that if we could just nudge him, he would fly down. So we swung the branch to make him lose his balance. Nothing. We sprayed water at him. Same result. I used a long mop handle while on top of the sunken ladder, so he could see a shiny branch, and maybe decide to perch on it. The handle scared him, though, and he flew away, into the night.
I tried to follow him, to no avail. I couldn’t hear him: he wasn’t singing anymore. Jell-O was gone.
* * *
So, around 7 p.m. I had lunch under protest. The escape had affected me more than I expected. My daughter and I made a pact: we’d wake up before dawn and search for Jell-O.
Already inside, we took Cap out of his cage for exercise. He did something he had never done before: he flew straight to the window and hit the glass. He didn’t get hurt. I was surprised to learn that he knew that Jell-O was still outside.
After a restless night, I woke up before dawn and before the alarm rang, but not before my daughter. While she had breakfast, I walked around the neighborhood, looking up and down, whistling and ringing the bell. I probably woke up most of my neighbors. After an hour, I came home, defeated and dejected.
Two hours later, Wonder Wife left for her search. I had given up, and I think I was more shaken than my daughter. We were hosting a Superbowl party later that day, and the household chores kept my mind off the birds. All of a sudden, Wonder Wife appears on the deck, running with something in her cupped hands.
She had found Jell-O! Alive! He was on the sidewalk four houses down the street. As soon as he was inside his home, he started to eat. Both of the birds sang. Except for a feather out of place, Jello-O was perfectly healthy. I can’t describe the infinite joy that overtook me. I was happier than my daughter.
And so, so grateful.
I spent hours saying, “I can’t believe it.” Jell-O braved the wind, the cold, the hunger, the unfamiliar environment. He somehow dodged the neighborhood cats and dogs.
My daughter later said, “They had an adventure.” And it was exactly how it felt: like a Disney movie. After many difficulties and tribulations, the animal hero comes home, against all odds, to their family and a happy ending.
Sometimes I attribute a lot of significance to a seemingly trivial event. But, in this case, I feel justified. My daughter said, “I’m so glad that they’re back. Our family is complete now,” and I agree with her. Not only that, but we supported one another, and we were strong.
During the Superbowl party, I found myself checking on the birds from time to time. They were in my office, safe from the ten kids bouncing around the house. I need to see Cap and Jell-O, mostly to reassure myself they were really back.
Most of all, I felt something else was going on. I wouldn’t label it “spiritual” or “magic,” but the birds’ return, unscathed, was one of those moments when you just know that there are other forces in play. It may sound silly to anyone else, but I’ve wished for a positive resolution to a hopeless situation, and it came to be. Now I’m a believer. I don’t know what I believe in yet, but I believe it very strongly.