The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv
(link to main page of novel)
April 1, 2016
Uwetsiageyv pushed herself up so that she was leaning forward on both arms. All of her muscles ached from the recent flight, not just those of her wings. She could feel the sand plastered to the right side of her face where she had lain. Beside her rested the satchel she had clutched furiously through the storm. It seemed absurdly out of place now, offering no comfort of familiarity.
Standing not five feet from her was one of the speakers whose voice had infiltrated her dream. It was indeed a crow—black in every respect, from its plumage to its eyes, beak and the leathery skin of its legs. It stood approximately six feet tall and examined her with an uncomfortable intensity.
“You can eat me,” Uwetsiageyv said to the crow, “when I am dead.” She made this offer by way of placating the crow out of gratitude for the fact that it had thus far shown the courtesy of not hastening her demise.
“How long will that be?” asked the crow in the harsh voice common to all crows.
“I don’t know,” said the girl thinking of the words of the groundskeeper, who had predicted that she had but weeks ahead of her in this form. However, something in her flight through the upper atmosphere had transformed her thinking on the matter. She felt very much at odds with the tenets of a physics-based reality. Thus unconstrained she replied, “Maybe a million years or more.”
“Hmm,” said the crow. “Then I shall have to find a snack to tide me over in the meantime.” He scratched at the sand with the talons at the end of one leg then repeated the gesture with his other leg. At this early juncture, Uwetsiageyv did not understand the language of birds and thus could not interpret the meaning of this gesture. For those more conversant in avian body language, this particular gesticulation would have been unambiguously interpreted as disappointment.
April 4, 2016
The girl turned then to her other side where she suspected, correctly, she would find the owner of the second voice that had invaded her dreams. Indeed, appearing to scale with the crow, a barn owl revealed itself to Uwetsiageyv. Within its wide, almost circular face, the creature gazed at her with round, slate gray eyes, separated by a long, flat nose that drew down to its beak, the color of old ivory. The feathers of its face were astonishingly white in the island sunlight. A small strap of khaki feathers traced the outline of its jaw and led to a breast of equal white, though lightly speckled with pale gray. It stood at an angle to Uwetsiageyv and she observed also the pattern of the feathers upon its back—an irregular array of textured gray spread across an inviting, rust-colored canvas. Sprinkled across this were white flecks, outlined in black, the size and shape of thistle seeds. It seemed to Uwetsiageyv an uncommonly fine, if not regal, ensemble for the rather unceremonious environs in which they stood.
She thought it rather unkind that a bird of such noble aspect should condescend to agree with the crow on its assessment of her as an abomination. Coming from a crow, the comment seemed understandable; crows are known to be irritable. Many species have unflattering opinions of the crow. So, to be insulted by a crow largely reflected its own low place in the world. However, to have the owl in all its finery concur seemed unnecessarily hurtful.
Perhaps, thought Uwetsiageyv, the owl had only agreed with the crow because it had observed her from a poor vantage point, while she lay collapsed, face down upon the ground. Therefore, she rose to her feet in order to present herself in all her limited splendor. The cotton sweater had begun to unravel in several points due to abuse endured during the storm; it hung at an angle, revealing one bird-like shoulder. She brushed the sand from her face and expanded her wings wide and stretched her arms out, executing a kind of curtsy, as if she were explicitly presenting herself to the judge of some inhuman pageant.
Her intentions were apparently embarrassing to the owl, who shifted its penetrating gaze to the crow, hoping to be rescued from this awkward moment.
“Yes, yes,” said the crow, “That’s all very well and good. You’re a bird girl. Don’t get too caught up with yourself. There’s no premium on feathers around here.”
April 5, 2016
An Exchange of Names
“And what,” asked the crow of the girl, “is your name?”
“Uwetsiageyv,” she replied.
The crow turned its head to exchange a glance with the owl. “That is a rather grandiose title for such a scrawny thing.”
To this criticism, the girl had no reply. She had been told that she was delivered to the orphanage already named. She possessed no further details on the subject. It momentarily crossed her mind to share the meaning of the name, but the fear of reprimand held her tongue. Folding her wings, she made herself smaller.
Seeing her at a loss for words, the crow continued. “Did your mother give you that name?”
The girl shrugged. She did not wish to discuss her mother with a crow who found fault with everything about her. Strangely, the crow seemed to approve of her reticence, which emboldened her to ask. “What is your name?”
“I am called Kònèy,” replied the crow.
“And your friend?” said the girl, gesturing to the owl.
Her innocent query provoked from the crow a cawing guffaw. “My friend!” it said indignantly. It glared at the owl, who took this moment to opine in its musical voice, “Darling, you are as ignorant as you are ugly.”
April 6, 2016
A Tautological Map
The trio stood at the upper end of the beach, where the expanse of sand gave way to the forest. The rhythmic pulse of the surf kept time to their conversation. Based on the position of the sun, late morning was leading to the noon hour.
Although she feared further revealing the extent of her ignorance, Uwetsiageyv had many questions that she wished answered. The steady reassurance of the surf helped her overcome her reservations. She asked the crow, who seemed the more forthcoming of the two birds, “Where am I?”
The crow cocked its head as if surveying its surroundings. “If there was a map identifying all of the countless islands in this sea,” it said, “which there is not, you would be standing at the location marked with a black × and notated, ‘You are here.’”
Uwetsiageyv stifled a frown. She knew from experience when someone was intentionally being difficult and she refused to give the crow the satisfaction of riling her. “I see,” she replied coolly, “And does this island have a name?”
The crow looked to the owl in askance.
“Not all of the islands have names,” said the owl. “You have chosen a most insignificant island to wash up on. If it has a name at all, it is known only to the insects, which burrow beneath the forest floor.”
“If it so insignificant,” said the girl, on the edge of losing her temper with the relentless condescension of the owl, “then why are the two of you here?”
“Caw! We were just passing by, aloft on a high current,” said the crow, “when a spot on the beach caught my eye. I thought it might be something delectable, perhaps the remains of a sea turtle cast ashore.” His voice fell in disappointment as he added, “But it turned out to be nothing more than an impertinent girl.”
April 7, 2016
The invitation, such as it was, for Uwetsiageyv to join the two birds, emerged in an oblique way. The crow said to the owl, “I spotted a glade beside a pool, halfway up the mountain. Shall we drink there?”
The owl did not object. As they ruffled their wings, preparing for flight, the crow glanced back at the girl, who at the mention of drinking felt her own thirst. With that glance the crow acknowledged the fact that it could conceive of no possible reason for her to remain at that spot on the island. She snatched up her satchel and ruffled her wings in kind.
Again, the owl did not object. The trio therefore flew scarcely a minute or more up the slope of the island to a shelf where the forest opened to a small clearing. After the lengthy voyage from the orphanage, Uwetsiageyv welcomed the shortness of the flight.
A mountain stream trickled down the mountain and water had accumulated in a shallow pool behind a ridge of rocks from which water overflowed in times of rain. The two birds alit on the bank and leaned over to drink. Further down, the girl knelt and slaked her thirst. The water was clear and clean and much colder than she had expected. When she had her fill, she pushed back and settled on a rock. She opened her satchel and removed what food she had, three quarters of a loaf of bread and three apples.
The birds watched her. Although this was all the food she had, she offered to share it with them. However, as they were both carnivores, they declined the offer. The crow shook his head once and the owl merely looked away.
As she ate, the crow said, “That food of yours won’t last long.”
“I know,” she admitted, with a mouth full of stale bread. She swallowed and asked, “How do you find your food?”
“We don’t,” replied the crow in a resigned voice. “We experience almost constantly an insatiable hunger.”
We can hardly find fault with Uwetsiageyv for not perceiving at this early juncture that these words of the crow served as a first, perhaps unintended, act of kindness toward her. In these words, the crow gently intimated a future in which Uwetsiageyv succumbed to the same hunger, forming the basis of a solidarity between the three winged creatures. This then was the nature of the invitation by which Uwetsiageyv joined the company of Kònèy & Chwèt.
April 8, 2016
As Uwetsiageyv sat in the clearing, the only sounds that reached her ears were those of water—the near music of the trickling brook and the more distant rhythm of the surf. Notably absent were the sounds of life that should accompany a forested locale. She particularly noted the lack of bird song. As she did not understand the relationship between the two giant, sentient creatures beside her and their more diminutive cousins, she was loath to question them on the subject.
In fact many questions remained unspoken. If the owl and the crow weren’t friends, what were they doing together? Where were they going? And perhaps most pressingly, where should she go?
The crow interrupted her thoughts, answering an unasked question. “You should go home now.”
“I have no home,” Uwetsiageyv replied. Certainly, she had eliminated the possibility of returning to the orphanage. She felt the freedom granted by the appearance of her wings and thus bolstered added, “I don’t need a home. I’m going to travel the world and see what there is to see.”
To the girl’s surprise, the owl spoke next. “It’s all very well to forsake a home when you are young and full of energy and hope. But when you are old, sick and decrepit, you may find that the absence of loved ones, waiting in a known place and willing to tend to your needs as no one else can, results in unnecessary suffering. If you have no home now, you should make it your priority to find one.” He finished this brief lecture with the same pedantic expression that a professor might use to conclude a seminar on the useful but well-worn subject of kinematics or calculus.
“Where should I look?” asked Uwetsiageyv, not entirely convinced and seeking some excuse to ignore the wisdom of the owl. “I don’t know my way around here.”
“As chance would have it,” chimed the crow, “the errand upon which we labor requires us to visit many islands. If you join us, perhaps you will find one that suits you. Even in the event that you do not succeed, you will have, at the very least, satisfied your own desire to explore the world.”
“Hmm,” said Uwetsiageyv, “Why not?”
April 11, 2016
And so they left, as a trio. The unnamed island shrank behind them to a point on the glistening surface of the sea. Uwetsiageyv did not know where they were going nor the hidden purpose of her companions. Her ignorance in these matters did not disturb her overly for she did not then nor did she ever after identify herself as a seeker of secrets. On the contrary, whatever mystery awaited her would have to unravel itself of its own accord if it wanted to make itself known to the bird girl.
They flew over an ocean, whose name she did not know. She privately named it The Sea of Birds. They were carried on currents of air in an atmosphere she described to herself as The Sky of Birds.
She had read books about seabirds—the albatross, the puffin, the petrel, the blue-footed booby. She only briefly wondered why her companions, soaring as they did above the watery expanse, were not the more appropriate fowl of this kind but rather came from a sort familiar to her from her local environs. In this way, we may observe, though she did not, that the manifestation of our reality is limited by the boundaries of our knowledge and imagination.
April 11, 2016
Only one incident of any import transpired during her first flight with the crow and the owl. As she shuffled around a current, seeking the ideal spot to keep up with the larger birds, the satchel to which she had clung so desperately during the storm slipped from her hands in a moment of carelessness. Containing not only her remaining food and the change of clothes that she was relying on to replace the fraying sweater, it also carried her journal and all links to her former life.
She cried out in alarm. “I dropped my bag!”
The crow glanced briefly downward at the dwindling satchel but neither slowed its pace nor changed its course. The owl looked back at the girl and said over the wind, “I could dive down and snatch it from out of the air.” That feat of aerial acrobatics lay well within its repertoire. It paused and offered, with no hint of apology, “But I will not.”
Uwetsiageyv thought this perhaps simply an expression of undisguised cruelty by a creature who had not yet bothered to share its name with her, but the owl had another intention. Neither the crow nor the owl carried any preparations for the future but those with which nature had endowed them. They possessed an inherent susceptibility to change beyond their control and did not seek to alter this condition, though their stubbornness came at their own expense. The owl therefore added, at Uwetsiageyv’s loss of the satchel, the following, succinct explanation. “You thought yourself capable of predicting what obstacles would befall you and preparing for these trials accordingly. That is, my child, not the way of birds.”
II. Donning the Costume
12 chapters × 5 parts/chapter = 60 parts
Chapter 3. Cardinalis cardinalis
April 12, 2016
A Welcoming Song
Neither the crow nor the owl betrayed the mechanism by which they navigated in the absence of landmarks. If they possessed a portion of the brain attuned to magnetic ley lines, they revealed no such information. If, on the contrary, they had visited this island before, and relied on memory, this too they kept to themselves. In any case, the island obediently appeared beneath them.
This island too seemed utterly isolated, a promontory emerging from an otherwise featureless expanse of ocean. As it grew shallower, the water formed a pale ring near the shore. The island took the shape of a stubby, two-pronged fork with a high ridge running the length of the spine before splitting and descending to form a partial lip around the small cove, situated between the tongs.
It was into this inlet that the trio descended, first in a straight line, then circling the final few hundred feet. When they were situated on the beach, Uwetsiageyv again encountered the regular pulse of the surf. From above, no sound of the water had reached them. Traveling, only the sough of the wind against itself accompanied them. Here then the language of the ocean seemed by comparison noisy and plodding.
The ocean did not speak to itself. From the trees on the island many tens of thousands of voices called back in staccato bursts. It proved quite easy for Uwetsiageyv to identify the source of these sounds, for half of the birds, donned the bright red plumage of male cardinals. Once she knew what to look for, the accompanying plumage of the females, an earthy brown with warm reddish highlights, also appeared in great number.
It seemed every tree contained several such birds. Uwetsiageyv spotted no birds save cardinals. Their cries continued unabated for they were greatly agitated by the unexpected arrival of foreign guests.
The Island of Cardinals, Uwetsiageyv named this place. She had never imagined such an island might exist. Discovering it, she found herself filled with excitement. She wondered, if left entirely to their own devices, how cardinals might configure their island kingdom.
Uwetsiageyv would have been surprised to know that the answer to such a query was precisely the reason that her companions had traveled to this remote destination.
April 13, 2016
If the crow and the owl understood the language of cardinals, they did not share the message with Uwetsiageyv. However, her two companions seemed to know, perhaps based solely on their physical senses, a path through the shadows beneath the forest canopy, leading up the incline to whatever destination awaited them. Their taloned feet scratched through the dry leaf litter scattered upon the forest floor as they made patient progress.
The musical call of a stream led them to water, where all three drank deeply. The water of the Island of Cardinals was, of course, holy water, having been blessed by generations of cardinals since time immemorial on an almost daily basis. Even those of us who weekly enter sacred places and ritually cleanse ourselves at the entrance from basins of holy water, do not drink of it. As such, the taste of holiness is not often discussed. We therefore allow Uwetsiageyv the liberty of digressing briefly upon this unusual topic.
The water on the Island of Cardinals tasted as if it had been stored in a metal cistern for some time. Perhaps the mineral content of the stones that lined the path had leached into the water. The stream contained a medicinal quality, not wholly objectionable. The cardinals understood that in order to purify oneself, to purge unwanted elements from the body, one often had to first imbibe other elements, not desirable of their own accord, but able to dislodge more stubborn tenants and, ideally, accompany them on their departure. The specific recipe of this water was unknown, but it seemed to Uwetsiageyv equal parts introspection, self-abnegation and ordinary water.
Drinking it had an immediate impact on the girl and her companions, for they now no longer wandered in a forest. Instead, they recognized their arboreal surroundings as a natural cathedral. The trunks extending into shadowed heights were pillars, the boughs rising to the ceiling, arches with forms entirely harmonious with biological function. The pattern created by the underside of leaves and the dancing specks of sunlight that slipped between them formed a mural as grand as any painting adorning the ceiling of medieval chapels. The travelers were overcome with an attitude of reverence and chastened that they had only moments before walked so cavalierly through these hallowed corridors.
Even the most jaded among us will not likely argue that it was mere coincidence that this change in deportment on the part of the visitors to the island was accompanied by a simultaneous quieting of the chorus of the natives.
April 14, 2016
The design of the cathedral was meticulous and the execution exacting in its generation-spanning demands. Uwetsiageyv noted the perfect spacing between trees, which simultaneously defied her physiological pattern recognition capabilities and yet emanated an intrinsic order. Although the tallest trees were poly-centenarians, at the origin of their timeline, a bird had placed a seed at precisely the ideal location.
The crow led them up the slope to a curved plateau, where the trees did not encroach. With no less certainly, Uwetsiageyv understood that it was the labor of cardinals to keep this patch of land clear for other purposes. An errant sapling was plucked from the earth as soon as it was discovered, one of many cruel but essential arboreal abortions. Perhaps, the cardinals were driven by the simple need to allow a field of grains to flourish, which nourished the flock.
What seemed utterly undeniable to the trio of visitors was the manner in which the design of the forest rendered the individual simultaneously insignificant—for the planter of the seed would not see the day when their handiwork towered over the island—and contradictorily essential—for it was the collective labor of individuals by which the cathedral had been constructed.
The crow noted this contradiction that was not a contradiction at all to the owl, who emitted a short, whispering, “Hoo.”
The perfection of this cathedral could thus be observed in the fact that it accomplished the primary function of all churches, since the first primordial church was raised, a task which so very few churches have been able to achieve over the ages, namely the communication of an eternal mystery presented in a manner which makes its truth, impossible to discern outside the walls, patently obvious within.
April 17, 2016
The crow and owl remained, with Uwetsiageyv at their side, on the Island of Cardinals for several days. During this time, they did not reveal to the girl the object of their search, but it became perfectly clear to her that they were indeed hunting for something in particular.
‘A treasure?’ she thought to herself. Perhaps they were searching on this remote island for the buried chest of a pirate crew. She entertained this thought only in a fanciful way for it was clear that the birds held material possessions in low regard. She mistakenly imagined that they had taken to heart the verse of scripture, “Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?”† In any case, she assumed that they must have had some purpose to their careful investigation of the island. Uwetsiageyv, resolved not to give into what little curiosity she felt in the matter, said nothing as she meandered in their trail.
She next imagined the crow and the owl were archeologists, searching the ruins of the cathedral for secrets of the builders. Perhaps, this island had once been home to giant versions of cardinals, akin in stature to her present companions. Perhaps, these magnificent birds of brilliant red had mysteriously vanished, leaving only their diminutive, though no less vibrant, kin. Perhaps, the crow and owl sought the reason for their extinction. Uwetsiageyv found this possibility both probable and inviting. She set herself to the task of discovering the secret to the disappearance of the race of giant, speaking, sentient cardinals so that she might triumphantly reveal her findings to the amazement and admiration of her feathered colleagues.
At the end of three days, she thought her suspicions were to be confirmed for, as the sun set on the far western horizon of the sea, the crow announced, “Tomorrow, we depart this island.” Turning to Uwetsiageyv he asked, “What have you learned?”
Uwetsiageyv recalled the past three days in the company of ten thousand cardinals. Many thoughts, unrecorded here, some frivolous and some profound, had transpired in her mind. At that moment, she found a marginally related thought circling in her consciousness. This she shared.
“Because the total reservoir of goodness in the universe is not finite, the ability to improve one’s lot is not diminished by allowing others to flourish. Therefore, it is better to do good for oneself than to conspire to take good fortune from another.”
It appeared to Uwetsiageyv that her pronouncement was absolutely the very last thing the crow and the owl could have expected from her. In a choking cacophony of caws and hoots, they emitted a raucous burst of laughter so startling to the inhabitants of the island that ten thousand cardinals took wing above the canopy of trees and did not settle again on familiar boughs until the cool, calming moon had risen in the night sky and laid their fears to rest.
†Matthew 6:26, Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition.
April 18, 2016
When they departed on the following morning, it did not take long for the pervasive calm of the island to succumb to intrusions of mundane concerns. With wings out-stretched, Uwetsiageyv followed just behind and beside the owl, who in turn, took a position flanking the crow. The girl felt the pangs of hunger and reflected that she had not eaten on the island, though such thoughts had strangely not disturbed her while in the company of the cardinals. This undeniable disconnection from the world of physical needs prompted her to question, for the first time, whether she dwelt within a dream. Perhaps, as readers, we are surprised that it took so long for her to doubt her surroundings, given the many strange turns that Uwetsiageyv had already encountered. One can only imagine then that it must have been something like the muscular tension of the wings attached to her back or the ache of those appendages after her flight that had filled her body with sensations of reality and brooked no doubt.
Yet another worldly concern disturbed her thoughts for the winds grew momentarily rough and the knitted cotton sweater, already frayed began to further unravel in three spots—at the right sleeve, the left shoulder and the waist. Each time a gust whipped at her, the cotton seemed to loosen by another stitch. Despite her fretting and the fumbling attempts of her hands, she could not halt the progress. Her anxiety in this regard grew as she struggled to maintain her concentration and conserve her energy while she matched the pace of the birds before her. She again deeply regretted the carelessness that had cost her the change of clothes in her lost satchel. A resentment of the owl who refused to retrieve it encroached, unwelcomed.
This worry brought a third and final intrusion of the real world, for her fear of being exposed would be lessened, if only somewhat, should the gender of the birds turn out to be female. To the best of Uwetsiageyv’s knowledge, the crow and the barn owl were species that exhibited little in the way of sexual dimorphism. The voices too were so steeped in the tongue of birds that her attempts at detecting the gender by ear had not prevailed.
By an unlikely coincidence, during this flight, the owl asked of the crow a question, which revealed its gender. They were coasting on a featureless plane existing far above the parallel surface of the ocean and beneath the bright and clear blue firmament. The owl called out, “Kònèy, how were you selected for this task?”
The brief reply of the crow carried on the wind and reached Uwetsiageyv as well. “When the grandfather of all crows visited our murder, it was announced that all second sons should assemble in the grand oak. From this congregation I was chosen, though the merits upon which the decision rested were not revealed.”
Thus it was determined that at least the crow was male. We shall therefore henceforth dispense with the use of the neutral pronoun in favor of the masculine when describing him. In order to maintain symmetry, we shall do the same for the owl, though, at this stage, neither his name nor his gender was yet known to Uwetsiageyv.
Chapter 4. Turdus migratorius
April 18, 2016
Cheerily, cheer-up, cheer-up! Cheerily, cheer-up, cheer-up! The whistled song greeted Uwetsiageyv before her feet touched the ground. She had been working on her landing and was pleased to execute a relatively graceful maneuver before the assembled crowd of natives. Interpreting their song as a kind of applause, she curtsied in appreciation. The crow waited to roll his sable eyes until Uwetsiageyv looked his way.
This song, like many others, was known to Uwetsiageyv, who had spent much time in the forested lands around the orphanage. The Island of Robins, she thought to herself. Indeed, distributed on both bough and the undergrowth, robins maintained their erect postures, beaks pointed upward, while staring authoritatively at the newcomers.
Forgetting the ache of her wings from the long flight, Uwetsiageyv returned their song, “Cheerily, cheer-up, cheer-up!”
The eyes of the owl widened, even beyond the norm, though whether his surprise was due to the girl’s technical proficiency at reproducing the whistle or to her diplomatic acumen at immediately establishing favorable relations with the island’s inhabitants remained unknown. In any case, the robins received the girl’s song warmly. They bounded over as robins do. These thrushes with their gray-brown backs and warm orange bellies engaged in bouts of ecstatic whistling for ten minutes without break.
When the greeting subsided at least to some extent, the crow commented in a sardonic tone, “Perhaps, we should just leave you with your new-found friends.”
Uwetsiageyv returned a quizzical glance. “You know,” she said to the crow, “some folks are friendly even to strangers from whom they have nothing to gain.” She did not elaborate further, so whether she spoke of her own intentions or those of the robins was unresolved.
April 19, 2016
The crow and the owl seemed to have an established pattern in their exploration of islands, which only became apparent to Uwetsiageyv when they repeated it for the second time in her company. They moved on foot from the shoreline into the forest, ascending the slope. They followed the sound of flowing water until they climbed parallel to a descending stream. At some point, they identified easy access to a pool or otherwise slow moving stretch of the stream and drank. Uwetsiageyv joined them.
Although this island possessed both trees and bushes bearing several types of berries, neither bird partook of them. Uwetsiageyv thought she identified some fruit as wild cherries, small and bitter but edible. Still, she could, without sampling the berries, already predict that the hunger in her belly would not be sated by such fare. As the birds before her, she refrained from eating and relied entirely on the waters of the island for sustenance. She did however observe several robins feasting on various berries and could not entirely suppress her covetous thoughts.
Of course, Uwetsiageyv wondered as to the nature of the object for which the crow and the owl searched. She dared not ask; sensing that a direct interrogation was forbidden. Instead, she remained vigilant, eyes wide, ears keenly attuned to the odd sounds that disrupted the robins’ song. She searched though she did not know for what. Surely, she did not seek a home as the owl had advised her.
She found instead three gems of pastel turquoise hidden in a shallow basket of coarsely woven twigs and grass, placed precariously low, or so she thought, in a tree. The symmetry of their shape and the manner in which all facets of the jewels had been rounded to form a perfect, seamless convex surface so delighted her, that she shrieked, “I found it!”
The crow and owl calmly turned and retraced their steps to her position. Without touching it, she proudly displayed the treasure she had uncovered.
The crow and the owl each briefly examined the trio of robin eggs resting at the bottom of the nest. Saying nothing, neither could find within themselves the impulse to squelch the girl’s enchantment. The crow in particular withheld a choice, withering repartee, for the paltry propagation of the next generation was certainly not the object of their search.
Meanwhile, the mother bird danced excitedly in the upper boughs of the same tree for she wholeheartedly agreed with Uwetsiageyv on the precious nature of the treasure below.
April 20, 2016
A Grove of Dogwoods
They came upon a grove of dogwoods. More than fifty such trees were gathered, some among their number older and far larger than any dogwood Uwetsiageyv had ever seen. The spring petals had largely fallen, revealing the green spikes of leaves on the branches and coating the field in white. Upon this silken carpet a fine drizzle began to fall. The rain grew in intensity, dislodging the remaining petals from their hold on the tree and creating a wet mat over the field.
The robins took shelter from the rain in other parts of the forest where the canopy had already become full. The crow and the owl seemed not to mind the rain, which beaded on their finely preened coats and rolled off. The long, black hair and thick cotton sweater of Uwetsiageyv absorbed the water and grew heavy. The day was sufficiently advanced that the sun had already warmed the earth and air and, fortunately, the rain failed to instill a chill in her.
A heavy rain continued for several hours. When the precipitation began to recede, but before it had entirely ceased, robins returned to the field in great number. The soil was saturated with water; it seemed ordinary earthworms were driven from the ground to escape drowning. En masse the worms had wriggled through the carpet of petals and now squirmed wet and exposed on the white surface. Upon this bounty, the robins feasted.
Still the crow and owl, and Uwetsiageyv in their shadow, observed the proceedings. The robins danced and hopped madly in the mist, with the ends of worms dangling like ridiculous, lopsided moustaches from either side of their beaks.
“Do you eat worms?” Uwetsiageyv asked from behind the pair, addressing herself to whomever chose to reply.
To her surprise, both birds answered her. The owl merely shook its head in negation, while the crow was more expansive.
“I may pick at a worm, from time to time,” said the crow, “if it is already dead and dried out in the sun. There is a crispiness to it that I have a hard time resisting, even though I know it’s not good for me.” He cocked his head and fixed Uwetsiageyv with one eye. “And you?”
“No,” she admitted. “I have not tried to eat a worm before.”
Observing the festivities of the robins before them, the crow opined, “You are unlikely to find a better opportunity than now to try.”
Although Uwetsiageyv agreed with the crow, she nevertheless did not join in the feast. What nourishes one may not satisfy another. While her hunger seemed to grow inexorably and while she could not deny the obvious pleasure of the robins, she imagined a more delectable fare awaited her, perhaps on the next island or the one after that.
April 21, 2016
Speculation on the Afterlife
Uwetsiageyv observed that there seemed to be no natural predators on the island, explaining why the nest she had found had not been placed further from the reach of land-dwelling creatures. It seemed no boats of men had brought rats to island nor had snakes sailed on the flotsam of storms to these shores. In short, it seemed a paradise for robins.
On the topic of paradise, Uwetsiageyv knew only what she had been taught by the rector of the church associated with the orphanage. “More of the same,” she expounded to her fellow travelers, “awaits you in the life to come.”
“More of the same?” asked the crow.
“If you do good,” said Uwetsiageyv, “you will come to a heaven full of goodness when you die. If you do evil, you will be delivered to a hell full of evil.”
The owl could not fathom what stimulus, external or internal, had triggered this theological declaration. He had at first intended to remain above the fray. However, hearing these words, he succumbed to the temptation to join in the conversation. “By your reasoning then,” said the owl, “those such as us...” Here he gestured with a wing to the crow, “who do neither good nor evil, shall face an infinity of uncertainty and inexorable erosion, which seems most in accord with the mortal existence we have come to know.”
Uwetsiageyv did not recall the rector speaking forth on such topics. Still she heard a familiarity in the tone in which the words were delivered and thus came to the conclusion that the owl must have held a position among the clergy in his life before he embarked on this current, itinerant role. Had her suspicions been made known to the owl, he would have reacted with unreserved indignation for he considered himself strictly a secular philosopher.
April 25, 2016
“They don’t have it,” said the crow to the owl.
Pondering these words, Uwetsiageyv began to realize that information was being communicated by the inhabitants of the island to her companions on a level of which she simply was not aware. No less than had she been blind to the hue of the robins’ feathers or deaf to their song, she perceived only a fragment of the totality of the robin.
As she processed this understanding, she felt pulled in two directions. On one hand, she experienced the resentment and inadequacy of having something kept from her, even if she had only just become aware of it. On the other hand, Uwetsiageyv felt a keen pleasure in being in the company of two individuals who possessed capabilities beyond her own. They could teach her something. She could, if she chose to exercise her will, learn from their expertise in this matter. If she had not accompanied the crow and the owl, it seemed likely to her that she would never have become aware that there was more to the world of birds than feathers and song, though the nature of the additional components yet remained beyond her grasp.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on the presence of the robins around her. Her inability to extract any additional information quickly threatened to smother her like a heavy, woolen blanket. She opened her eyes, releasing the tension.
“We’ll leave tomorrow morning,” said the crow, who had been watching her. “Will you come with us?”
Uwetsiageyv nodded. “I will.” That night she fretted with the loose ends of her sweater, tying them into ungainly knots with the hope that, so secured, they would better weather the buffeting of flight.
Chapter 5. Baeolophus bicolor
April 26, 2016
The sun rose while they were still in flight. The currents had proved peaceful and the moon, which had filled the night sky with silver light, diminished to a white shadow of itself on the far edge of the horizon. As was their custom, the crow and owl flew in silence. Uwetsiageyv followed suit.
The level of the winds brought them lower than usual; Uwetsiageyv observed first a pod of dolphins darting through the water and occasionally leaping from it in what seemed exclusively a show of mammalian exuberance. Later, she observed a solitary sea turtle, enormous beyond belief, a green shadow traversing just below the water’s surface.
When land came into view, Uwetsiageyv surprised herself for she was disappointed that the pleasure of the flight was to end so soon. She had not before directly admitted the addictive quality of flying, though even on her solo, maiden voyage she had subconsciously felt the allure.
As they neared, the island resolved into two distinct masses of land, one nearly circular in shape and the other egg-shaped, with the narrow end pointing toward the other, making the sign of a compressed exclamation mark. It seemed a good omen to Uwetsiageyv; something deserving of exclamatory emphasis surely lay waiting for them on these islands. She noted that the crow led them to the shore of the larger, egg-shaped island.
“Do you know what kind of birds live on this island?” she asked her companions.
“Certainly,” said the owl, whose ears were keener than those of the girl. “I hear them already.” He did not clarify whether he had already known before their song had reached him.
“Well, what are they?” Uwetsiageyv asked impatiently.
“It’s not my place to share the future,” said the owl, as if he were an oracle hiding a doom foretold from a child.
“I’ll find out soon enough,” Uwetsiageyv replied peevishly to owl.
“Indeed,” agreed the owl. “It could hardly be otherwise.”
April 27, 2016
A Boundless Optimism
Uwetsiageyv recognized the inconsistencies of her surroundings. The clime was warm, the islands surrounded by a skirt of sand, but the forest carpeting the interior of the island was a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, native to the more temperate latitudes with which she was familiar. She did not dwell long on this disparity. Her knowledge of island geography was limited. Perhaps there were many such islands scattered across this ocean from the equator to the poles.
Regardless, as she came to rest upon the beach, she too heard a familiar bird song, “Seeroo-seeroo, seeroo-seeroo.”
“Tufted titmice,” she said triumphantly to the owl, who did not respond to her identification, correct though it was.
These diminutive birds preferred to travel as pairs and so it was that a brace came out to greet them. The feathers of their back were a silvery gray and those of their bellies white. Large black eyes peered out curiously from a face capped by a silver, pointed crest.
Soon the first pair was joined by a second and then a third. They were rather erratic in paying attention to the visitors, observing them for a few moments before, seemingly without provocation, diverting their attention elsewhere—a glinting fragment of shell on the beach or a beetle foolishly wandering from the safety of the undergrowth.
“I have always liked the tufted titmouse,” said the girl to her larger companions.
“And why, may I ask, is that?” said the crow.
“Just look at them!” said Uwetsiageyv, fixing her gaze on the aerial acrobatics of the greeting party. “Don’t they just make you want to forget all your troubles?”
“Oh,” said the crow, trying to match the girl’s boundless and, in his opinion, unfathomable optimism. “They would if I had any troubles to forget.”
“Lucky you!” cried Uwetsiageyv, utterly taken in by the crow’s false words.
To the limited extent to which his beautiful, circular, white face was able, the owl grimaced.
April 28, 2016
A Balance for Permanence and Impermanence
The tufted titmice did not reveal to their visitors the mechanism by which they had flouted the law of physics and thwarted the passage of time on their islands, but it was patently obvious that they had successfully achieved this state, and no mean feat it was. The islands were locked in a stasis impervious to the seasons and the eons. Generation after generation of titmouse passed in a manner utterly in accord with the natural environment, making each generation virtually indistinguishable from the previous one.
It seemed a precarious existence to the crow. Should a ship of men arrive, bearing rats or cats or some combination of the two, the tufted titmice, long accustomed to their solitude, would be unprepared to respond. One could observe in their complacent perfection the seeds of their inevitable extinction.
Only obliquely did he share his thoughts with Uwetsiageyv. “Do you see, on this island, a greater balance of permanence or impermanence?”
“I see a paradise, like the one we found with the robins, except tailored a little differently to suit titmice,” the girl replied.
“Do you not admit some element of purgatory in your paradise?”
Uwetsiageyv had been taught that purgatory was a place of waiting for judgment. She considered just what the titmice might be waiting for and who stood in judgment over them. The meaning of the crow did occur to her—that the stasis of this island might not persist forever. At the same time, she considered the perspective of a titmouse, whose entire lifespan would likely come and go, before the perfection was perturbed. Although she pondered these questions well into the night and though she pleaded with the both the distant stars and their much nearer reflections in the surface waters to transmit in their radiation some insight into these riddles, she could not resolve to her satisfaction whether ephemerality was a virtue or a vice, a strength or weakness. It seemed both. There was an undeniable beauty in the moment, which was darkened by the shadow of a waiting doom.
The owl, nocturnal by nature, kept watch with Uwetsiageyv through the night, as she struggled with these thoughts. To be clear, he offered no advice or commentary of his own. Nevertheless, Uwetsiageyv found his stoic presence reassuring.
April 29, 2016
With no more than a few beats of their wings, they crossed the narrow channel separating the egg-shaped island from the smaller island. Some tufted titmice accompanied them, joining a number of local residents, who formed an entourage around the trio of visitors.
Exploring the interior of this island, they came upon a stone totem. Standing ten feet tall, it took an abstract, roughly cylindrical form, in parts reminiscent of a tree, a stone, and almost entirely eroded features of an ancient, forgotten god. From the central shaft, circular shelves extended. Some had bowls cut into them, which had filled with rain water. The surfaces of other shelves were level and covered with a velvet layer of green moss. Holes had been bored into the shaft at angles, home now only to larvae, but once used to hold sticks that imitated an array of branches. Absent the sticks, several of the tufted titmice in tow perched on shelves and the top of the totem. The remains of droppings on the stone indicated that these were not unusual perches. The structure as a whole conveyed an aura of solemnity, tempered by the capricious dancing of the titmice upon it.
Uwetsiageyv circled the form several times. Turning to the others, she asked, “What is it?”
“You don’t recognize it?” asked the owl, as if he had expected otherwise.
Uwetsiageyv looked again. “It’s sort of tree-ish...”
“It’s an island shrine,” said the crow.
“A shrine to whom?” asked the girl.
“To the island itself,” said the crow in a matter-of-fact tone, “and to the titmice and to the trees and to all the inhabitants of the island.”
“What do you do here?” she asked.
The crow answered, “The faithful make symbolic offerings to the local spirits.” Although he felt that such an explanation should have been unnecessary, he added,
“It’s a kind of prayer.”
The owl cocked an eyebrow. “In the lands where you were raised, did you not make, in the spring time, symbolic offerings to the trees around you, that they would bear fruit to sustain you and leaves to shade you in the coming heat of summer?”
As if entranced, Uwetsiageyv examined the titmice and the totem. Eventually and with some reticence she admitted to the owl, “No, we didn’t do that kind of thing.”
With his sharp beak, the owl snapped from a shrub a small twig with a few red berries attached to it and laid it on one of the shelves. He backed off and stood in silence. A few minutes later, Uwetsiageyv followed suit. The crow did not participate in the ritual.
She said no more but this encounter had a profound impact on Uwetsiageyv, for much later in life she known to be a great proponent of symbolic offerings, especially in the early spring, when the lands lie dormant with only the intimation of an eruption of vernal life.
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