I notice that birds seem to be significant in your art and even your business name. Can you tell me the significance?
My particular interest in birds began when I formed a deep bond with a budgie named Zelda. I’ve kept my story about Zelda somewhat protected for years because it’s hard to describe my relationship with her in a way that does it justice. It’s hard to explain how knowing her enabled me to not only feel my strong maternal energy for the first time, but how our relationship led me to healing work. It’s hard to convey how a woman in her 20s was changed by her blue opaline parakeet.
In 1996 I adopted my brother Robb’s parakeet when Robb left to live in Japan. Zelda went to college with me in Bellingham. She was my study partner and a great flyer. She used to land right on my head and then groom me. She couldn’t talk, but she made an uplifting double-chirp sound, and at times she mimicked sounds.
It wasn’t until years later, though, when our deep bond formed. In 2002, Zelda developed liver disease. She almost died a few times. I had to change her diet (parakeets are very stubborn and hate change), give her medicine, and convince her that all of these changes were because I loved her. Fortunately, she believed me and made miraculous changes in her habits, including her contact with me.
When we think of cuddling with a companion animal we don’t usually think of cuddling with a bird, but in Zelda’s last year with me, she did just that. She used to love to sleep tucked under my chin when I was lying on the couch or bed. What trust she had in me. She was such a small, fragile being, so dependent on my care and on my ability to be gentle, careful.
Zelda did change her diet — a bit. Strangely, she developed a fondness for corn and black beans. She loved to perch on a plate on the kitchen table to eat. I couldn’t get her to enjoy greens (what the vet truly wanted her to eat), but corn was her favorite. I was in graduate school at this particular point in time and so I was at home a lot. I wrote poems and come lunchtime, we ate at the same table together. She understood the routine and ran back and forth across her perch when she knew it was our eating hour.
During her illness I took Zelda to see Reiki Master and Animal Communicator Polly Klein. I still have the cassette tape with our recorded session. I was astounded by how Zelda responded to Reiki. She came right up to Polly’s hands to soak in the energy (parakeets, if you don’t know, are often very scared of human hands). Polly suggested that I get trained in Reiki so I could give Zelda Reiki myself, which I did.
I truly believe that Zelda’s journey brought me to healing work, which I later honored by naming my business Rising Bird Healing Arts. I feel it every day: Zelda is one of my guides.
While there was some improvement in her health for that year, ultimately Zelda passed away in 2003. I held her in my hands and she died in my cupped cushion, skin to feather, breath to breath. And then breath gone.
I buried her with 50 tiny rose quartz stones in a container and planted a Japanese Maple in it, and I still have my “Zelda Tree” to this day.
In my final poetry manuscript for graduate school I begin Section III with this excerpt from a Mark Doty poem:
make me believe in God now
so little between spirit and skin,
any gesture so entirely themselves
And here is one of the poems I wrote about my Zelda years:
They weigh her in a little paper bag
on a gram scale, feel her belly for fat,
check her heart rate, listen to her lungs,
then strap her into a terrycloth straight jacket
the size of a pot holder
and clip one of her curved claws
to the vein. The blood drizzles out into two
tiny tubes for the sample, and the vet tech
dabs on styptic powder to stop the flow.
After the exam I take her to the infirmary,
a six by eight foot room lined with shelves.
The room smells like vitamins,
a musty mineral smell, and I place her
between another opaline blue parakeet
and a gray cockateil. A vermilion parrot wears
a paper cone around his neck and an iguana
is on kidney dialysis. My bird awaits
her second x-ray, and I must leave her there
as though I’m dropping her off at school
on the first day, dropping her into a room
full of new faces. The infirmary is lit and warm,
and an awkward silence settles between the animals
as they rest in their separate fragile bodies—
strangers in the waiting room.
with sweet chirps and soft loving feathers,