Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Migration of the Wild Parrots

Each year around the beginning of school several separate flocks of wild parrots fly into my neighborhood, perch on the tall ancient Tulip trees which ring the adjacent cul-de-sac and make a musical racket for a week. Then, as suddenly as they arrive, they are gone, wending their way south to the rainforests of South America where they will vacation for the winter.

This annual event is something of an appreciated local mystery. As September rolled around, bringing with it the faintest wisps of autumn air, I and my (then) young kids would walk to the school bus stop. They were scrubbed and shiny in their new sneakers with bright monagrammed L.L. Bean backpacks hanging heavy on their tiny frames while I arrived tousled and flanneled with a second coffee in my hand.

The parrots had already come and we could hear them before turning the corner. “Squawk! Shriek! Chatter! Coo,” were sung in canon. There must have been fifty of them. As do most birds, these colorful carolers especially liked singing in the early morning. “They’re baaaack,” my first-grader son said, smiling, showing the gap where just the previous night a baby tooth had come out traveling along with the summer’s last corn-on-the-cob. His kindergarten brother skipped happily while their baby sister, strapped securely to the carrier on my back drummed my shoulders enthusiastically. We looked up at the trees as we rounded the bend and saw them high up, their wildly bright colors in delightfully sharp contrast to the solid swath of green. Greeting the other kids and moms who were doing some nice chattering of their own, we caught up, compared summers, remarked on how all the kids had gotten so tall and turned to listen to the concert in the trees.

Fast forward nineteen years. Those kids are grown and have made their own migrations. A new flock takes their place each September. That baby on my back is in her third year of college on the west coast. And still the parrots come. They are an even larger group now, it seems. The conventional speculation has always been that this musical migration began as a couple of escaped pets who went feral and multiplied rapidly. Since parrots can have an equal life span to humans, it is likely that some of the shriekers heard this year are the very same birds of years past.

During the recent hurricane, one of those towering Tulip trees came crashing down. There, where the line of green had been for so long unbroken, is now a gap, like the smile of a first-grader missing a tooth. Growing up here on Long Island I have weathered hurricanes before, but I cannot remember a more devastating one than Sandy. How scary it was to hunker down as light flickered and died, hearing the crack and crash of trees in the distance, winds howling, sirens screaming. We woke to havoc and wreckage all around us. That next morning, I took a walk in the eerie morning light to survey the local damage. The downed Tulip lay across the bus stop street like the giant in Jack-and-the-Beanstalk. In the lower trees I could hear the peeps of cardinals and the coos of the mourning doves.

I walked to what had been the very top of the Tulip. “This is where the parrots roosted,” I thought, imagining what it might be like to perch so high up in the sky. I worried that, come next September their ever-growing clan would find overcrowded conditions on the tops of the remaining trees. Or, even more upsetting, might they find better accommodations elsewhere, leaving us entirely? We shall see. For now we clean up, repair and rebuild, move ahead and await their return.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Be Well

I am the middle child. I have one older brother and one younger brother. I am the only girl. My older brother is an architect, working for the New York/New Jersey Port Authority. He has designed subway stations and tunnel air vents. I'm not sure what else. He also wrote a book about breaking into field of architecture. He is a very good writer. But this entry is not about him. It is about my other, younger brother. Seven years my junior, he also is an excellent writer and appropriately so, since he is an English professor by trade. A confirmed bachelor, he is dedicated to his work and married to his beloved house. Eight years ago, this younger brother was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. That previous Christmas, I noticed his hands shaking and his gait unsure. "What is wrong?," I asked him, hoping he would disclose job stress and general winter malaise. But he didn't. "I don't know," he said. Even his voice was tremulous, although that could have been attributed to being confronted with his private mounting fears. "Please," I implored, "go to the doctor and get checked out." Fast forward. Since that notable Christmas, both our parent have died. I was divorced from my husband of 27 years (because I finally came out as gay, but that is a story for a different day) and four-out-of-five of my kids have moved on to college and beyond. I am, thankfully, still healthy, strong and active. My brother, long since diagnosed, soldiers on as best he can. He goes to his neurologist regularly (the same doctor who followed our mother through her progressive Altzheimer's Disease and subsequent death) and consumes a continuous cocktail of powerful drugs to calm, prompt, enhance and regulate his ailing body. He must be careful not to fall in the shower, and must allot extra time in the morning for the simple (to most of us!) task of getting dressed and eating breakfast. Shaking hands and compromised swallowing are ever-present worries. By all accounts, he is doing well. He continues to teach, drive, and go about his life with an impressive amount of grace, energy and courage. We talk on the phone and meet for lunch on a regular basis. And I have come to look forward to his regular parting salutation. "Be well," he always says at the end of a phone call or visit. I am humbled by this. I know it is a habitual response like "see ya," or "take care," but his careful choice of words moves me nevertheless. I am well. He, not so much. Yet his consistent hope is for MY well-being. It is not a small thing and it is not lost on me. "Be well. Be well.."
Right back atcha, bro.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

This Is My Town

Sandy blew through here last week on my birthday. All her hellfire and fury were unleashed on us up and down the northeastern coastline. Her equal-opportunity wrath scourged poor and rich alike, and, especially for the poor, continues to inflict pain in her cold and devastating aftermath. This is my town. It is a sweet Main Street community tucked into a neat little neck of land on the northwestern shores of Long Island. There are massive trees lying on the ground or leaning precariously on power cables, their exposed roots ripped violently from the earth. Lines for gas fill-ups wind down and around the main thoroughfare. Homes without electricity sit dark and dismal in the night. But, as is often the case in storm aftermaths, neighbors come out to greet neighbor, and offers of a hot shower, or a spot by a warm fireplace with a hot bowl of soup abound. In my town, the local high school - itself without power except for the gasoline fueled generators powering a bit of the sprawling cafeteria - became a community mecca where townsfolk could come, re-charge their cell-phones, have a snack, and share war-stories with their neighbors. After power was restored to the town library and the community center, they too became oases of subdued activity. Despite the havoc wreaked with our lives here, one would be hard-pressed to find any loud complainers. As the power gradually returns, and, along with it, a semblance of normal life, the talk one hears is often of a grateful nature. "What we have been is inconvenienced," is the common thought. "While others on the south shore and Staten Island and New Jersey and other places have experienced real tragedy." Today is election day. I drove early to my assigned polling place, which also happens to be my church. The power is still down there, and, for the first time, I voted using a paper ballot. The volunteers, some of whom also have no power at home and were hoping for a bit of warm respite today, were cheerful and helpful nonetheless. Many of them will sit in that cold cavernous room all day without any percolating urns of hot coffee to keep them going. This is my town.