Over the years, we’ve had a lot of pets – dogs, cats, a bird, a guinea pig, a hamster, fish- creatures big and small and everything in between. I’ve come to believe that all creatures, wild or domesticated, have a soul agenda.
They, like us, come into this life to experience certain things. Once their experiences are completed, they check out and leave us, their humans, bereaved and humbled. Today, in late October as I write this, I realized that our Dusky Conure, Kali, died 14 years ago this month, in 2005, st the age of 5, in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma.
Kali was a present for Megan’s 10th birthday.
We bought her at a wonderful pet store where many of the birds that are sold are hand-raised in the hatchery. We even knew her birthdate – 6/4/2000, a Gemini! We couldn’t adopt her until she was a certain number of weeks old, so every afternoon, Megan and I drove up to the store to spend time with Kali.
From the moment we brought her home, she got along famously with our golden retriever, Jessie. Our three cats didn’t seem to know what to make of her and never bothered her. My dad, who was living with us then and in a wheelchair, got a real kick out of her when she rode on the back of his wheelchair or on his shoulder and stroked the side of his face with her beak.
At first, she spent her days on our back porch, always out of her cage, where she could see other birds in the yard. Rob taught her to say a few words, which she eagerly used whenever one of us were within range.
As she got older, we would move her cage and its stand outside every morning, beneath a large schefflera tree. Her cage door was always open and it wasn’t long before she learned to climb onto the top of the cage and then into the tree. She would climb down only when the spirit moved her to splash around in the large bowl we kept on top of her cage. Every evening at dusk, we moved her and the cage inside again. She would crawl inside her little hammock, roll onto her back, and sleep the night away. Kali was the paragon of embrace the moment.
We took her and our dog with us on car trips – to my sister’s place in Atlanta, to Cedar Key, to Key West – and always, she traveled on top of her cage, vigilant, absorbing everything. Sometimes, she cuddled with Jessie
In 2004, she laid a couple of eggs and sat on them for a full straight month before we finally were able to dispose of them. They weren’t fertilized and were beginning to rot! Relieved of the need to sit on the eggs, she returned to her roost in the tree outside.
2004 was a bad year for hurricanes in South Florida. During two hurricanes that hit our area, Rob, Megan and I brought all the animals in with us, into the back bedroom. As rain and wind pounded the hurricane shutters, as the power went off, as the streets started to flood, Kali was perfectly happy on top of her cage or huddled into the little cloth cocoon where she slept at night.
But she was always delighted afterward to climb up into her tree in the back yard. And it was her tree. When other birds came around, she made it clear that although they were welcome, she was the boss of this tree.
The fall of 2005 was difficult. My dad died in September and a month later, Hurricane Wilma roared into town. Fortunately, Wilma was traveling fast, but she was intense. The front part of the storm tore apart back yards, hurled fences away, ripped down power lines, ripped off roofs. The eye of the storm passed right over our area and suddenly the sky turned blue, the air was balmy, the sun shone. We knew we had about 30 minutes to walk outside and access the damage before the back side of the storm hit us.
The first thing we noticed was that Kali’s tree had been split down the middle, the top of it lobbed off as if some monster had taken a huge bite out of it. In retrospect, I realize it freaked me out, which was why I didn’t take any photos of it. The tree had begun its life in my parents’ back yard and when we had moved, I’d dug it up and potted it and brought it with us.
There wasn’t much time to think about it. We cleaned up what we could and hurried inside as the back of the storm came at us.
Thirty minutes later, Wilma had moved on and a cold front swept in. No one had electricity and all over the neighborhood, generators now chattered away. We put Kali outside near her tree, but it was apparent that she wasn’t happy about its ruined condition. Then something spooked her – a generator, one of us moving too fast or something, and suddenly she took off into the dusk, squawking loudly. We ran after her, thought we saw her perched on a pole, but then it got dark and she stopped squawking. We kept walking around the area, calling for her, but she didn’t squawk back, didn’t appear.
It got down into the 40s that night and I worried about her out there, in the cold. The next morning, Rob found her across the street, burrowed under some wet leaves, shivering. Not a single vet office was open, we were helpless and just tried to keep her warm. She died a day later, laying on my chest. In some way, the ruin of her tree presaged her death. And because that tree had been born in my parents’s back yard, it also closed a chapter in my own life.
An unwelcome synchronicity.
We buried her under the tree. About a year later, we noticed the tree was recovering. Where it had been split in half, leaves were sprouting on both sides of the split. Now, 14 years later, that tree is a powerful presence in our backyard. Its split trunk has spiraled off into two trees. I like to think of them as Kali on one side, my dad on the other.
Quite often, we humans don’t fully realize or appreciate the impact these animal buddies have on our lives until they’re gone. I like to think that Kali is zipping around outside somewhere, part of a wild flock of parrots that often passes over our dog park at dusk. Or that she and my dad are playing chess somewhere in the afterlife. Ridiculous, right?
But maybe not. There’s so much we don’t know about the matrix of reality.