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December 18, 2000

red-cardinal-bird.jpg (42294 bytes)We don’t have cardinals in California--at least not around here. The first time I ever saw a cardinal was maybe 10 or 15 years ago when we were visiting friends in Annapolis. I was really taken with the birds. I never saw such a beautiful thing in my life. Forget those screechy peacocks...give me a cardinal.

I didn’t see another cardinal until three years ago, when I spent a month living with my friends Mike and Bill in Houston. Bill had just been released from hospital, and so when Mike was at work, Bill and I would sit in the living room and watch the birds at the bird feeder. Mostly chickadees, crows, and doves, but in the time I was there, a couple of cardinals joined the rest. It was a magical time, sitting there with Bill watching those beautiful birds at the bird feeder.

After I came home again, Bill would write to me from time to time and tell me about the birds at the feeder, and especially keep me up to date on the activities of the cardinal family. I was cleaning out my office the other day (thud) and came across a note from Bill which he included in an envelope of photos he sent of pictures he’d taken of the bird feeder. The cardinals are blurred, but he knew I’d like to see them, so he took pictures of them for me.

On top of my computer is a beanie baby cardinal. I found it when we went to Ohio to visit Jeri a couple of summers ago. I thought it would be perfect to send to Bill, so I bought it. But when I brought it home, I really liked it. It brought back wonderful memories of watching birds with Bill as well as the good time we had in Ohio with Jeri, so I kept it. When Bill was hospitalized for the last time, I happened to find another beanie baby cardinal and sent it to him. It arrived in time for his birthday and when I talked with him on the phone, he told me that he had the bird with him by his bed. Several weeks later, Bill was gone. But every time I see a cardinal I think of him.

Birds seem to remind me a lot of death. There was a time when David was a teenager. We were not getting along well at the time and on this particular day, we drove to visit my mother. We passed through a field that had been recently ploughed and there were birds flying above it. But they weren’t just flying. They were flying in formation. They were flying close together in such a huge number that the sky seemed to be filled with this twisting, turning, swooping, soaring corkscrew, an amorphous shape that changed continually as the birds continued to fly. It was such an amazing sight, that we stopped the car and got out to stand there and watch. The troubles we’d been having melted away as we stood there, transfixed by this incredible phenomenon. For years after, we would refer to that very special moment we shared. And thus, when David died, I wanted to have a bird put on his grave marker. A bird flying up into the heavens, as I imagined David had now done. (the bird is not on the new marker...when we decided on a joint grave for Paul and David, we removed the old one.)

Ironically, at David’s memorial service, one of his friends got up and spoke about a time when he and David had watched a white owl in flight and said that after David died, he’d seen a white owl. Later, another of his f riends told me that twice when he passed the same spot on the road in Paso Robles, a white owl flew right past the window of his car. And at the same time, I had a note from a friend who was in Thailand when David died. She said that birds are supposedly a symbol of death and afterlife and that the morning after David died, she’d seen a white peacock. She brought me a picture of the peacock.

So I’ve just kind of accepted that fact that birds are somehow symbolic for me. When I go to the cemetery and find a couple of birds sitting on the tree near the kids’ grave or walking around nearby, I always greet them warmly. The other day when Char and I were driving to Sacramento, we saw a cloud of birds much like David and I saw years ago. It was only the second time I’d ever seen such a sight and I have this feeling that it means something. I just haven’t worked out what yet.

But whenever I see a cardinal, I smile because it takes me back to Houston and sitting with Bill watching the birds at the bird feeder.

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