June 17, 2017
On Thursday, I had the good fortune to be approaching Carleton Place’s tiny Gillies Bridge just as a woman was coming towards me, pushing a huge cage on wheels. As she came closer, I saw a flash of intense aquamarine. Closer still, and I realized she was transporting a magnificent parrot, perhaps two feet high. I asked if I might look at him and she kindly stopped so I could do so. She told me his name was Cooper and that he lived at the parrot sanctuary on Industrial Avenue. She was taking him out for the fresh air and his daily dose of Vitamin D. Because Cooper was staring straight ahead, I was able to admire the strong curve of his gleaming dark-brown beak and round white eyes. He appeared very content to be out on his tour of the bridge across the turbulent river and around town.
Walking home, I found his image stayed with me: his proud bearing, his startling azure plumage, his incomparable selfhood; what Gerard Manley Hopkins would call his haecitas. “My heart in hiding/ Stirred for a bird — the achieve of, the mastery of the thing.” In The Windhover, Hopkins is spellbound by the flight of a falcon. Even though I had not seen Cooper in flight, my heart was likewise stirred by his presence.
Since that encounter, I have found out more about Cooper, who is a blue and yellow macaw, and about Parrot Partner, the sanctuary where he stays. Parrot Partner is a registered charity dedicated to caring for rescued and relinquished parrots, and educating people who would like to adopt one. As the organization’s website explains, parrots can be hard to place because they are not domesticated. To develop a good relationship with wild birds like large parrots, people need proper training in their handling and care. Without this education, our attempts to train a parrot will fail dismally, with the bird going into either a fight or flight response, biting aggressively or plucking out its own feathers in self-harm.
At Cooper’s sanctuary, people are taught how to be a partner with the bird they wish to adopt, which means resisting all urges to dominate the parrot. “We are indoctrinated in coercion and force in our society,” Parrot Partner’s executive director Judy Tennant says in one of the illuminating videos on the organization’s website. “A good relationship with a parrot requires thoughtfulness and sensitivity, as well as training. It forces us to be a better person.”
This is a precept the young animal rights activists in my latest novel would embrace wholeheartedly, just as I do. On Saturday, I was lucky to see Judy Tennant again, this time at the corner of Bridge and Bell Streets, where she was wheeling a scarlet and yellow macaw. Because she was talking with a friend, I did not learn this parrot’s name; only that he could speak two words: “up” and “down.” While I admired him, he said “up, up, up.” “Don’t put your finger in the cage,” Judy warned me. Of course, I wouldn’t dream of it, particularly after having read so recently Charles Foster’s marvelous Being a Beast: Adventures across the Species Divide, of which more anon.