10 October 2011

Snoozing in the Rain

Now that fall has finally dropped in, the flock and I have enjoyed leaving the windows and patio door open throughout the day and especially the night. Letting the cool breeze of this season of harvest and holidays waft in has a calming effect on me, an enriching effect on the birds as they mimic the songbirds, and a particularly relaxing effect on Kenobi as he sleeps most of the day and night away on the porch. 
The little guy happily hops out the door almost as soon as I open it. He attempts to taste the many plants we now have out there, and I do my best to keep them out of his reach. Bunnies provide an incredibly efficient pruning service, but many decorative plants are more toxic to them than a 3-week Phish festival in Western Oregon. The Feather Dorm will be just fine without a hallucinating, tweeking, or OD bunny. After giving up on reaching any contraband snacks, he sniffs the air and then finds a suitable spot to lay down and enjoy a snooze.
This past weekend, a low pressure system developed off the coast which spun on top of us for 3 days, dumping super sized rain buckets and walloping the building with fierce wind gusts. Kenobi, however, remained undeterred. He spent all weekend on the porch with the rain blowing in on him. Each time he’d come in to grab some tasty pellets or welcome Ms. Flock Advisor home, I’d notice little water beads on his coat. 
This rabbit hates being wet. I know this because I gave him a nearly coronary-inducing bath a little over a year ago. The minute his fur matted down under the sink faucet, his whole body froze. His eyes got wide at first, and then the lids began to droop down. I thought he was a goner for sure. Scooping him out of the sink I could feel his heart vibrating against his chest, so I knew he was still alive for a moment. I then determined that the water had scared him and proceeded to do away with it hastily by employing Ms. Flock Advisor’s hair dryer. As soon as that thing started howling and whooshing warm air on his back, he went to sleep. His whole body was limp and when I sat him on the couch he just laid there. I ran a towel over his fur to get off any excess water, then left him. The fur of a domesticated rabbit is extremely dense and impossible to get dry in a hurry. He began to hop around on his own after a bit, but wasn’t himself until the dampness was gone. I was thankful that he didn’t stroke out and resolved to never subject him to a water faucet again. 
You can imagine my surprise when I noticed that he was voluntarily spending his day out in the rain. Even when he came in from the storm he only appeared energized. Something about being out in the rain gave him the energy of a puppy, or whatever a tiny bunny is. I’m not about to dunk him in the bath tub, but it has been a real joy to see him enjoy the outdoors and all the elements.
I also got out for a 10k run in stormy conditions this weekend, and I’m still buzzing from that. It was part of a virtual set of races promoted on several websites as the Worldwide Festival of Races. The object is to have runners go out together, in spirit, once a year no matter how many miles separate them. Having that run on my schedule was a great goal considering my somewhat painful experience at the previous weekend’s half marathon, and getting to go out in the pouring rain and heaving wind only it made more invigorating. It was more like playing than pounding out 6.2 miles. 
The rain has cleared for now, but the windows and patio are still open. A fresh pumpkin pie is in the fridge next to an assortment of seasonal brews and farmer’s market vegetables. Add to all of that some great football on tonight (Bears v. Lions) and it has already been an incredible fall season. Here’s to yours!

01 October 2011

Come on in, October!

Today is the first day of October, and for me that means the season of good food, great beer and perfect weather has arrived. I love fall more than any other season. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the redfish are hungry, the hurricane swells arrive and I can enjoy watching football with the door and windows open. 
This morning, the flock greeted my preferred season’s first sunrise with me. The air had cooled some twenty degrees from the high yesterday, making it a perfect morning to enjoy my coffee on the porch while the English Premier League’s early game got underway. Everton couldn’t best the striking force of Liverpool, but I don’t think Sprite and Kenobi cared. They were both happy to play in the crisp morning air as the sun blazed up from behind the tree line. 
Our birds chirp, squawk and call first thing in the morning when they hear us begin to stir. It’s typical bird behavior. Sort of their way of saying, “I made it through the night! Did you? Yay! I’m so glad! Lets eat, and then take a nap.” I don’t know if our local song birds’ message is the same, but they of course greet the sun every morning with their own more melodic voices. With the door open this morning as the wild birds began their calls, Sprite, Lennon, Cher and Coconut were able to answer them back. It is really funny to hear a whistling cockatiel answer a raspy-voiced mockingbird. Sprite made a few whistles of his own, but ended up showing more interest in the neighbors walking by on the sidewalk: “Hi!, Hello. He-ll-oooo! Com’ ere.” If we Free-Willyed him into the rainforest somewhere, I wonder if the locals would think an incredibly friendly but hard to find American had been lost amongst the brush?
In addition to being the first day of my favorite time of year, it’s also the Saturday of the Disney Wine and Food Festival Half Marathon at Epcot! This is my favorite race, and I can’t wait to get in the car and head over this afternoon. The start gun pops at 10pm, so I’ll get to enjoy my first cool-weather run of the year tonight. This cold front couldn’t have picked a better time to come sweeping down from up yonder.
Kenobi has obviously been anticipating this cool down for a while--he’s been wearing his winter coat all year.

29 June 2011

Office Sounds

My newly rearranged office is filled with the songs, words and chirps of Lennon as I write this evening. The birds complete my business atmosphere. I've begun working as a freelance writer which means that the bulk of my work is done at home. Having a comfortable space to be productive in is a necessity.

The quest for perfection in my home office began around the time this blog began. When we moved into our apartment a year and a half ago, Ms. Flock Advisor and I envisioned turning one of the bedrooms into a study in the classic sense of the word. This would be a place where one could detect the slight marination of cigar smoke into the heavy, wood furniture. A place where stocked bookshelves reached to the ceiling and an array of fine bourbon and scotch begged to be enjoyed. Considering our means, I'd say we did well. It isn't Winston Churchill's den, but I've got some Ybor city cigars and single-barrel Wild Turkey on offer. The room has served primarily as my office since my desk fit the decor. Most of my favorite things are in this room, and so I enjoy spending the days letting my imagination wander and bounce off the meaningful items tacked to the walls and piled on shelves.

The office also has the best view in the apartment. Looking out on the woods where deer and turkeys come out in the evenings, the sunsets are also amazing. The one thing that adds to the room is a happy bird. Cher and Lennon spend long hours on their perch with me as I work through the day. They settle in and end up napping away most of the day. Lennon runs down through his repertoire of sounds as he displays his comfort level. I've written about spending time writing with the birds before, but after rearranging the office yesterday I noticed that it just wasn't right until I brought the birds in today while I worked. These little guys really are the best companions a writer can have. They only want to be present, yet they bring a warm companionship wherever they go. As long as they are close to their flock, they have no need to call (read: scream).

Kenobi has been enjoying our redecorated porch on which he can view the dogs, gators and turtles from a safe distance.

03 April 2011

Wake up, Good-bird

Cher chuckles quietly in her sling when a noise interrupts her slumber in the middle of the night: the dishwasher kicking on, a suddenly loud movie scene, or me bumping my way into the kitchen for a snack. Sprite immediately recognizes my midnight need for water and mimics the sound of my gulping before I’ve even started pouring a glass. Lennon is a little harder to disturb during his sleeping hours, but when he is trying to catch every last wink as the sun comes up and the Flock Advisors are preparing for their days a hushed “Hi, good-bird” sneaks out of his covered cage.

These are the sounds the birds make when their brains are somewhere on the border of sleep mode, perhaps still dreaming. They consistently make these sounds, and only these sounds, when disturbed whilst sleeping. I realized tonight that each of these three birds, all of whom are closely bonded to both of us Flock Advisors, make sounds in their groggiest moments that are mimics of our sounds. Coconut, who is not closely bonded to either of us, has a consistent sound that he also makes when his sleep is disturbed: it sounds like a door unlatching. I cannot speculate the reason why Coconut’s signature sound is that one, but I did ponder the other birds’ respective choices of theirs.

Lennon always gives Ms. Flock Advisor and me a series of “Bye guys. Love you,” mimics as we head out the door. He always whistles a salutation when either of us comes home. He also repeats his “Hi, good-bird” when he senses we are about to put everyone to bed for the night (TV goes off, dishes put away, etc.) The little guy has shown that he associates certain mimics with specific scenarios.

Cher screams, a lot. Listening closely though (“carefully” might be a better term, too close and the eardrums will bust), her screams do vary based on scenario. Her basic call for attention when we are home but not doting over her is a quick duo: one high pitched scream followed by a slightly lower pitched one. She also has a sustained high pitch scream she uses after the former has been ignored for some time. When the key turns the lock she varies up her screaming routine. She makes her normal calls for attention, but sprinkles in some very high pitched, but lower volume tweets. She only makes those particular sounds when greeting. When she realizes that she is in trouble, and about to be taken back to her cage (for biting my phone, lunging at someone, or putting a hole in my shirt) she makes her best attempt to say “Stop it!” You’ll have to trust me on that one as it is a constant debate between me and Ms. Flock Advisor if she is actually saying anything at all. Nonetheless, it is a consistent sound that she makes whenever she is about to be picked up and taken back to her cage. Like Lennon, Cher also shows an ability to link mimics and sounds with specific scenarios.

Without a doubt, all of our birds show their capability of connecting sounds with events. Knowing they posses this capability makes me wonder why the three birds that have a strong bond with their human flock members choose mimics of our sounds for the times when they are mostly asleep or very tired. Usually, these times are in the dark when the birds are covered. Do these sounds give them comfort (sort of creating their own audible ambiance of familiarity and therefore safety)? Are these sounds the ones they associate with us in their dream states?

I do not have an answer to these questions, but the observation I made tonight was particularly curious and touching. Whatever the reason that these three birds have chosen mimics of their human flock mates for the times when they are the most vulnerable and sleepy, their choice shows us that we figure as a significant part of their world, and their consciousness. We are not simply the ones who remove their food dishes in the morning, only to return them more full moments later. Just as we find them in our dreams from time to time, their groggy mimics are evidence that they find us in theirs as well. 

Kenobi makes no sound when he sleeps.

25 March 2011

No Flying in the Museum (but Cyclists may Pedal Away)

This blog has made my life a little easier this spring as my time in college finally winds down (after 9 years and a few false starts). The manuscript I'm required to produce by the middle of April will be a memoir that consists of these blog entries edited into a series of essays about how I went from a 'no pets' lifestyle to to living in a flock. Having these entries already going has let me focus mainly on editing rather than composing.

Next week is my first public reading of an excerpt from the manuscript. It's scheduled to be in an art museum affiliated with the college and writers are encouraged to be creative with the presentation of their reading. For one author in the past, this apparently included a cyclist at full speed (his bike was attached to a stationary trainer). Now I'm deciding which bird to bring to the museum next Wednesday night.

Having one of our birds swoop over the crowd as I take the podium, and land on my outstretched hand would be a great way to get started. Cher could do the ol' dollar retrieval for me with a willing participant in the crowd. Sprite could recite the title, or Lennon could sing a few bars of a the theme song he sees best suited to the event. Problem is, none of our birds have been trained for any of that. Lennon could handle the singing, but he'd also insist on flying laps around the room. I'm pretty sure flying isn't allowed in the art museum. Poor Sprite would probably think he's moving, again. Coconut... well, that just wouldn't work out. I thought about bringing B-balls and just letting him hop around the room while the reading is going on. Then, there is the litter box problem. I'm pretty sure plastic trays of rabbit waste are not welcome in the museum (plus, he tends to leak when he's excited).

Cher has been my most promising idea for a companion that night. Her wings are clipped at the moment and I do have a harness for her to wear. She doesn't like it, but there is enough time to work on it with her before the reading. She wouldn't be allowed to interact with strangers because I couldn't get the earlobe and finger replacement added to our parrot insurance. She would be content to sit on my shoulder through the night, though. She is used to night outings like trips to Taco Bell after the other dining venues have shut their doors. The problem is that voice of hers. The screaming capability that would surely blow out the speakers and possibly shatter any ceramic sculptures the museum has on display.

I need to get permission in the first place before I am allowed to bring an animal in with me, but I have been told that is a real possibility. I just have to decide which one of these little guys (or the girl) is museum material.

14 March 2011

Cockatiel Cocktail, and other Concoctions

The animals kept our guests entertained this year again at our annual "Fifties Cocktail Party." Last year was our first themed party, and it was Sprite's first dose of human overload in the Feather Dorm. He lived in the bedroom then, and went to sleep early in the evening. This year he was the main attraction. He perched on his tree at the top of the stairs to give each entering guest a "Hi!" Then he held court with his human buddies.

Our menu, music, and dress for the party keeps with the theme. Ms. Flock Advisor put on her vintage-dress and cracked open her antique cookbook for a chocolate chip cookie recipe that requires no assistance from Betty Crocker. It's raw ingredients all the way. She also made a batch of Kraft macaroni and cheese which had been requested by several people who were also at last year's party. Relish trays were also laid out. I took on the cocktail menu in my best "Babalu" shirt. Champagne punch filled a giant bowl, and I dusted off the martini shaker. I also printed a menu of specialty cocktails named for their resemblance to the birds. A Mellow 'Prite was an apple martini with a golden delicious apple slice. A Singing Lennon was a gin and tonic with a cucumber garnish cut to resemble his raised crest. The rest of the menu is pictured at the bottom of this post.

Sprite manned (or, birded?) his perch and turned on the charm when he saw plates of macaroni and cheese coming out of the kitchen. His head stretched to passers-by until he found an accomplice. Our friend Diego stabbed one of the coated noodles and held it out. Sprite kindly ground his beak once and then took it from the fork. He savored every bite. When Diego then gave him two noodles at one time, Sprite set one down in his nearest food dish while he ate the other. Then he retrieved the second. Birds usually think nothing of grabbing one bite of a banana while the rest drops to the floor. Kenobi is always happy to Hoover the smorgasboard under their cages, but Sprite was keeping all of the Kraft to himself.

Macaroni and cheese is, of course, not part of a balanced diet for parrots. Like the cheese sandwiches Sprite is so fond of, it does sit near the top of the list in the "now and then" food group. An extra special treat was certainly in order for his willingness to interact nicely with a crowd of people. It was great to see Sprite as comfortable as he was, surrounded by people. He has come a long way from the shy bird that he once was. Last year he was exhausted early by the few people who leaned their heads into his room, but this year he stayed out to mingle until the last guest left.

Kenobi made his appearance for a little while. He likes to bounce around under everyone's feet, so he had to spend most of his time in a fenced off section of the room for his own safety. He got plenty of visitors, though, who were very happy to give his soft fur a pet. He also gnoshed on some carrots from the relish trays.

Most of our friends work with animals in one way or another, or are just plain animal lovers. We all love being around finned, furry, or feathered creatures as much as being around people (scaly critters, too). Our conversations always get back to animals we've worked with, or animals that live with us. We can't help it. Every animal has a personality that makes them special. Ms. Flock Advisor and I love getting to know our friends' pets as much as they seem to love hanging out with ours. We aren't "bird people," or "bunny people." Our friends aren't "dolphin people," or "fish people," or "snake people." We are people who love animals, all animals. Even if there is a certain species or family that we wouldn't particularly care to share a cab with, we are still curious about them and eager to understand a little more about them.

For the safety of our guests, Cher spent the evening perched on my shoulder.