A while back, I decided to convert one of the bedrooms in my house to a combination exercise, reading and music room. Besides a bed for the occasional out-of-town guest, the room also contains a treadmill which I hardly ever use, a writing table piled high with books I have yet to read, a big boombox on which I play mostly classical music when I’m reading the local morning paper or the Sunday New York Times, and two fairly large bird cages. My father used to raise large Brazilian parrots, but I am not quite as ambitious.
Up until a year ago, I had four lovebirds, a pair in each one of the cages, but then the older pair, whom I named Papageno and Papagena (from Mozart’s The Magic Flute), suddenly died within months of each other, perhaps because they were truly inseparable. And then, when the younger pair, whom I named Gustav and Alma (Mahler), went through the motions of procreation, I placed a nesting box in their cage. Soon they were in and out of there. After a couple of weeks, I checked, and found three eggs in the box. Another five or six weeks went by, with lots of activity, and then I sensed something was terribly wrong when Gustav and Alma stopped popping in and out of the box. With great trepidation, I opened the box, and found that only one of the three eggs had hatched. The baby bird was about two inches long, was partially covered with feathers, but it was clearly dead, even though its little body was still warm to the touch. I felt remorse and guilt about having named the parents Gustav and Alma, because in real life the Mahlers also lost one of their young children, for whom Gustav wrote the very sad Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”), based on the poems of Friedrich Ruckert. These days, Gustav and Alma continue to be very affectionate with each other, grooming and feeding each other, but I don’t see them mating anymore. Perhaps they are still grieving over the loss of their one and only offspring.
Meanwhile, I could not bear to see Papageno and Papagena’s cage sitting sadly empty, so a couple of months ago I went to a local pet store and bought, not another pair of lovebirds, because Mozart’s lovebirds could never be replaced, but four parakeets instead, two of them blue, and two of them yellow. I’ve never had parakeets before, but I liked the way they chirped when I approached them. The two blue ones already seemed to be a pair, so I named them Robert and Clara (Schumann). The people at the store said one of the yellow ones was definitely a male, but that the other one was still too young to determine its gender, so I named the male Frederick (Chopin) and the asexual one George (Sand). Whatever gender George might turn out to be, they also seemed to be a pair. And now my house is filled once more with the songs of nature. The birds are happiest when I am in the room with them, reading the paper and listening to classical music. They like whatever music I put on, but definitely seem to favor Vivaldi’s guitar concertos, and old Maria Callas recordings of Puccini arias.
I am now glad to report that George is, in fact, female. But something strange is happening in their cage. While Robert and Clara (Schumann) continue to spend a great deal of time together, as do Frederick (Chopin) and George (Sand), in recent weeks I’ve noticed George in flirtatious dalliance with Robert, to the annoyance of both Frederick and Clara. But George always returns to Frederick, and Robert to Clara, then all seems well again, though only for a while. I really have no idea what’s going on with these parakeets, but I’ve now also put two nesting baskets in their cage, in the hope that they might soon produce baby parakeets. Will these be blue or yellow, or green if of mixed parentage? Just like America itself, divided politically into red and blue states, with the odd purple one emerging hither and thither.
In any case, if I do get baby parakeets, of whatever hue, and they start to make their sweet baby chirps, maybe the grieving lovebirds will be inspired to give it one more try. The nesting box is still in their cage, and maybe enough time has passed so that the scent of untimely death can now be replaced by that of new life.