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|The Last Carolina Paroquet Pet|
|Fiction by Sally Blanchard (This article is copyrighted and may not be reprinted in any form without permission of the author)|
|Not too long ago when lush green forests dominated the landscape and marshes had long secluded fingers, there lived a beautiful green parrot with a golden orange head. Its raucous screeches blended with the honks and gronks of geese and herons. The Carolina Paroquet now only exists in natural history books and the specimen drawers of museums.|
|1. Jereb and his father always looked over the remains of the freshly killed paroquets when their neighbor, Benjamin Pratt, shot them for eating fruit from his orchard. Jereb’s mother cleaned the carcasses and put the meat in a stew she made for the family. It was a tasty meal, but Jereb could never bring himself to think of what it was he was eating. His father mocked his queasiness, telling him that the birds were dead anyway and they might as well go to a good use. Jereb loved to sit on the hill and watch the flocks of paroquets fly over. When they came too close, he ran over to the neighbor’s orchard screaming and yelling, trying to make them fly away so they wouldn’t be shot. Mr. Pratt was always ready to defend the fruit with his guns. The trouble was once one of the birds fell to the ground, the others circled around the injured bird in a frenzy. It often looked to Jereb as if they were trying to lift their fallen comrade and take him to safety. His father told him that was a ridiculous notion — after all, they were birds and didn’t feel pain, much less compassion.
“Look father, there is one still alive!” Jereb exclaimed as they walked through their neighbor’s orchard. “I guess Benjamin isn’t as good a shot as he professes to be. Let’s put it out of its misery,” John Mansfield said as they walked toward the flopping bird on the ground, “I will break its neck.” “Wait father! I think the wing has just been shot; can we save it and keep it as a pet? Please?” As Jereb picked up the green parrot, it bit him viciously drawing blood from his finger. “Ah yes, a fine pet that will make for you Jereb! It would be better in the pot,” Mr. Mansfield said mockingly. “But father, it is so frightened and in such pain,” Jereb pleaded as he covered the squawking parrot with his shirt. Jereb’s father asked, “Where will you put this new pet of yours? It certainly can’t go in the house! Your mother would never approve of that!” “Father, it will need to be watched until its wing heals. I’ll keep it in one of Mr. Pratt’s orchard crates in my room,” Jereb suggested.
|2. The injured parrot struggled as Jereb inspected and cleaned its wing. Most of the right wing had been destroyed and part of the left wing was damaged so Jereb knew he would always be responsible for its care. He decided not to tell his father about this for fear he would not be able to keep it. He certainly did not want his new friend to go into the stew pot. In school, Jereb had recently learned a Greek myth about a man who made himself wings of wax so he could fly but they melted as he flew closer to the sun. Because of this story, he named the paroquet Icarus.
He placed Icarus on his bedroom floor and set an orchard crate over him. At first, the bird thrashed when he came towards it. Jereb would kneel down, lift the crate and gently cover the bird with a warm flannel shirt. After a minute or so the paroquet would settle down especially when the boy would gently rub its head. Jereb was convinced Icarus was a young bird because its feathers were so soft. The parrot even begged for Jereb to feed it. Jereb’s parents had told him they couldn’t afford to have extra food going to feed the parrot so he gathered all the food from the hills surrounding his home. He had watched the flocks long enough to know what the paroquets’ favorite foods were. He picked berries, flower buds, and seeds and brought the bird various grubs he pulled from the tree bark. After a few days, the paroquet readily ate whatever food Jereb brought to him. Occasionally, Jereb would even sneak into Mr. Pratt’s orchard to bring Icarus fresh fruit. Jereb knew if the old man caught him picking a piece of fruit he would not dare to shoot him!
|3. After a few weeks, Jereb built Icarus a wood and wire cage in his room. He faithfully cleaned the cage and cared for the paroquet. He handled him every day until the bird started to enjoy being a part of Jereb’s life. Once Icarus was in the new cage, he got his screeching voice back. Jereb’s parents weren’t pleased with this, but they had begun to realize how much their son cared about the parrot. Icarus had become very tame and trusted Jereb completely. The bird also seemed to know that he could not fly. Each day after school, the boy took Icarus for a walk. They would pick berries and seeds together and Icarus taught Jereb about other natural foods he liked to eat. Jereb could not understand why these handsome paroquets were so persecuted. The common cocklebur was one of his companion's favorite foods. Jereb believed that the paroquets were doing farmers a great service by eating these prickly burs that would get caught in the fur of farm animals and caused them other serious grievances. Jereb often told Icarus that every farmer should be delighted when the wild flocks visited their land to devour the cockleburs. Of course, the affable bird never disagreed when Jereb discussed such serious matters with him.
Sometimes in the rain, Jereb would place Icarus on a tree branch and the bird would spread his damaged wings and prance around like a fool. Jereb would join in and dance in the rain too. His mother always said he would catch his death of cold but Jereb had too much fun not to take Icarus out in the rain.
In the summers, the boy and the parrot would sit together at the top of the hill and watch the flocks of Carolina paroquets fly through the valley below. Icarus would call to them. Jereb was sad to know that the parrot would never be able to join a wild flock again. Sometimes, a group of birds would respond to his calls and fly towards Icarus but Jereb would stand up and wave his arms at them so they would fly away. He had become very vigilant about scaring the flocks away from Mr. Pratt’s orchard. As winter approached, Jereb found new games to play inside to keep Icarus happy but if the weather was at all nice they still went for their walks.
Icarus was quieter in the winter but when the spring arrived, so did the flocks of Carolina Paroquets and the exiled bird would find his most raucous voice again. Jereb wondered where the birds went in the winter but thought that they must spend their time where the winters were more pleasant and food was more available. Even if he couldn’t see them, Jereb could always tell the size and location of the flocks by the intensity of his pet’s calls. Although Icarus clearly loved Jereb, the bird seemed as if he so wanted to join with the flocks. Secretly, Jereb hoped Mr. Pratt would leave another injured bird that he could keep so that Icarus would have a partner. Whenever he heard the guns go off, he would run to the orchard. But unfortunately, Mr. Pratt was too good a shot and there weren’t nearly as many wild paroquets coming to the orchard.
|4. As Jereb grew into a handsome young man, he remained dedicated to Icarus. He fell in love and married a young woman from the local village. At first, the woman was put off about sharing her husband’s affection but once she realized how important Icarus was to Jereb, she decided to become friends with the bird also. Jereb and his new wife moved into a small house he built on the hill overlooking the valley. Icarus had his own special window to watch for the wild flocks of paroquets. Each spring, the bird announced the arrival of the paroquets. He called to them as he watched them fly by. Mr. Pratt passed away and his family let the orchard go so the paroquets were welcome to feed on what fruit grew there. But even if there was more fruit for them, there were less and less paroquets.
Soon there were no arriving flocks for Icarus to announce in the spring — only a few stragglers now and then. And then one year, there were none. The only raucous calls of the Carolina Paroquet echoing in the valley were those of Icarus greeting Jereb when he came home from working in the fields. Eventually, Jereb’s young son joined him and the paroquet on the foraging hikes in search of food for Icarus. The three of them would sit together on the knoll devouring berries. One day, when Jereb returned home, there was no greeting. Icarus had lived a full and contented life as Jereb's companion. The valley was silent as Jereb’s son stood quietly watching his parents bury their faithful parrot companion. Afterwards, in the very spot he and Icarus had shared for so many years, Jereb sat with his son and they shared stories about Icarus and the lost flocks of the Carolina Paroquets. Perhaps the memories of the beautiful green paroquets with the golden heads would live longer if his son also cherished them.