Friday, September 14, 2007

In Memory of All Our Beloved Pets

Saying goodbye to the smartest bird in the world: He knew his colors and shapes, he learned more than 100 English words, and with his own brand of one-liners he established himself in television shows, scientific reports and news articles as perhaps the world’s most famous talking bird. But last week Alex, an African gray parrot, died, apparently of natural causes, said Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a comparative psychologist at Brandeis University and Harvard who studied and worked with the parrot for most of his life and published reports of his progress in scientific journals. The parrot was 31. Read the rest of the story at the New York Times here. *************************************************************************************** Losing a beloved "pet" companion - for those who have gone through this, you don't need my words. I've been through it - with Spencer (1999), Jocques (2001) and Tasha (2004). Reading this story about Alex reminded me of something that happened a long time ago - back in the early '70s. I got a phone call from Barb, a friend of mine, and she was crying, upset. It seems her pet parakeet had died; she found him dead at the bottom of his cage that morning - a Saturday morning - and we were both hung-over. In those days, we were the ultimate party animals (you'd never know it by looking at me now, butter wouldn't melt in my mouth, darlings) and we'd been out until the wee hours of the morning the night before. But she needed me. She couldn't bring herself to open up the cage and take him out and bury him. And so I got dressed and jumped on the bus and about an hour later, I arrived at her doorstep. She'd been hoping that perhaps he was just "asleep" at the bottom of the cage, but alas, that wasn't the case. He was gone. And so I gently removed him with a couple of tissues around my hand, placed him into a shoe box lined with more tissues, and we buried him - well, actually, I buried him, because Barb was too distraught to do more than sob - in the backyard of the flat where she was living at the time. We had a wake later that night and soon the house was filled with people dancing to the sounds of Sly and the Family Stone - it lasted until Monday morning and I woke up at 5:30 a.m. underneath a table, with a throbbing head, in need of a massive infusion of protein and an hour to get home, changed and then get into the office. Ahhhhh, those were the days... Barb returned the favor some years later when it was time for me to bury my dog Spencer's ashes. Since I don't drive (never have, never will), she picked me up, took me to a local garden center, and shopped with me for just the right concrete bird bath that I wanted to mark Spencer's last resting place in my backyard. We spotted a beautifully ornate one on clearance at the same time as an older grey-haired couple - there was a race to the spot where it stood and we grabbed it first - literally! The thing seemed to weigh a ton but it was probably just 150 pounds or so. At the garden center the helpful young men trucked it out to the car and loaded it into the trunk. After that, we were on our own. What a fiasco it was unloading the base and the basin from the trunk of Barb's car - just the two of us lightweights (at the time) to do it. We were laughing - and crying - at the same time. When we'd finally maneuvered the bird bath into place (sort of) in my backyard amidst a small grove of young trees, I was covered in grass stains and sweat. I got the shovel out of the garage and dug a hole in the spot I'd picked for Spencer's last resting place. Of course it was filled with tree roots - but I managed to dig a hole large and deep enough in which to place the container of Spencer's ashes. After it was covered, Barb and I rolled the birdbath base over to the spot and then, together, we heaved it up from the ground into place and leveled it as best we could. And then we both heaved the basin up on to the base. Barb solemnly watched as I filled the basin with water. It's 18 years since Spencer died, and that concrete bird bath is still there - centered over Spencer's grave. Still standing, the base is still crooked. I never have been able to get the thing leveled out. Despite my best efforts of "mudjacking," it seems to lean a bit more every year - rather like the leaning Tower of Pisa. The birds love that birdbath; it has seen many generations come and go through the past 19 years of seasons. The small trees that were in the grove at the time the monument was placed have now grown up - some long since removed because of storm damage or removed because there just wasn't room in the grove for them anymore, and the dirt is even more root-locked than ever. I'd never be able to dig out the container of Spencer's ashes now, but it's probably long-since disintegrated and Spencer is back into the earth from which we, all living creatures, originate. Every time I look at that birdbath, I remember Spencer. And think about true friends.

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