Animals of all shapes and sizes have captivated me for as long as I can remember. My first word was actually “doggy.” I spent my childhood days frolicking in forests and ponds catching frogs, salamanders, and slugs. I loved going camping because of the possibility of seeing wild animals. Sometimes I’d set up elaborate cat palaces in our backyard to lure strays, and I had a leopard costume complete with ears, paws and a tail that I would wear more often than normal clothes. Instead of filling my jewelry box with plastic necklaces and rhinestone rings, I collected snails and proclaimed my accessory organizer a ‘Snail Castle’ - (I don't do that anymore).
We had such an array of pets that menagerie and zoo are the most accurate adjectives when describing the homes I grew up in. Hamsters, rabbits, dogs, cats, mice, fish, frogs and everything in between were the beings that I shared space with as I grew. The wonder of being near and interacting with these creatures was, and still is, one of my greatest joys in life. Then came along a really special critter, a bird who utterly destroyed any pre-conceived notions I had about how connected I could be with an animal.
I was about eight years old, a time when my weekly allowance was somewhere in the vicinity of $4 per week. I was stone-cold determined to save every penny I made until I had enough to purchase my very own bird. I diligently hoarded my meager income until the day finally came that my savings were steep enough! We headed to the pet store where I giddily chose my new feathered buddy. He was put in a white box that I clutched in my lap with care as we drove home, listening to the sounds of his claws scratching at the cardboard, wondering what he would be like. In the comfort of the living room, I opened the box and two beady, black eyes peeked up at me inquisitively.
I named him Mohawk, Moe for short. He was a cockatiel, mostly yellow, with splashes of white and grey flowing across the canvas of his wings. He had a circle of orange feathers on each cheek that gave him the appearance of eternally blushing. I loved the way the yellow feather mohawk on top of his head would either stick straight up, lay flat, or teeter somewhere in between; revealing his emotions in the same way a dog’s ears and tail give away their thoughts. I always knew what Moe was feeling. I learned to read the tilt of his head and the twinkle in his eye. I knew what it meant when ruffled his feathers in joy and when he pulled them sleek to his body in disagreeance. I learned the reasons for all his different calls, and we would chirp and sing songs back and forth, mimicking each other, communicating constantly, connected.
We let Moe fly around the house at his leisure. He opened and closed the door of his suspended cage as he pleased - this allowed him full freedom to follow me anywhere, in hot pursuit of my every move. He was always with me, an extension of myself. We did my homework together as he perched on my shoulder or hand, nibbling at my hair, earrings, the eraser on my pencil, and anything else he could get at. He’d regularly munch snacks out of my hand, and I’d even let him pick the food out from in between my teeth while I watched T.V. I loved him with my whole heart.
He was great at flying but not so great at stopping, causing him to perform surprise crash landings at random. Whenever we left the house, Moe smashed into the window overlooking the carport in a futile attempt to come with us. We built a window perch so he could see us off without flying full-speed into glass - an instalment he took full advantage of. He’d pace back and forth in the window with such intensity, disturbed that we dared leave him behind, calling after me, and waiting there until we returned.
I vividly remember a time when I was crying on the couch in foetal position. Moe flew over, landed on the pillow in front of my face, and began wiping the tears from my cheek with his head. He’d wipe my tears, look up into my eyes, wipe my tears, look up into my eyes. Repeat. That beautiful and unexpected act of love baffles me to this day.
It’s been more than ten years since he passed away and I still get teary-eyed when I think about my little Moe. I can perfectly imagine him fluffing up all of his feathers, causing him to double in size - a sign of pure contentment paired with sparkling eyes. I kept two of his feathers; one of which became my first tattoo, an ink copy of his feather resting on my shoulder where he used to perch.
His spirit lives on through me as I am inspired to create art with the fallen feathers of his distant relatives. I see these feathers as a divine gift of beauty from our friends who fly above and with us. Feathers are tools of flight and wonder, their intricate designs and colours unfathomably unique. Lightweight and delicate yet strong, they propel these mystical creatures to unimaginable heights, granting them ultimate freedom. I am grateful to have experienced first-hand that a bird’s capacity to love is infinitely greater than many of us realize.