What do you do when there’s nothing left to do? When you’ve exhausted all options, done all that’s possible, and yet desperately ache to do something?
I wish I knew.
On Friday afternoon, my wonder parrot Kiwi flew away. We’d been sitting on the back porch – me on the bench, she on my knee – when she started fluffing up like she was getting cold. I went to scoop her up and bring her inside, but instead of latching onto me as usual, she took off. I watched her soar above the marsh behind our house, turn back and fly between the houses next to us, and on across the street. I immediately ran inside and got my older daughter. We rushed out front, scanning the trees, calling “KIWI!!” Our neighbor across the street came out, concerned. I went over and together we searched behind her house, but no sight of Kiwi. Afterward I went next door and spoke with more neighbors, calling for Kiwi from their deck above the river. Nothing. No sight, no sound.
In the 10 years we’ve had Kiwi, I’ve taken her outside countless times. We’ve even traveled to the beach and back – all without a leash or harness. In Philly her refusal to leave my side became a joke, with neighbors repeatedly asking to hold her, and Kiwi steadfastly refusing. She’d simply fly back to me the minute I’d release her onto someone else’s arm or head. Since moving to Maine, Kiwi has flown off a few times from our backyard, but never far. The furthest was to a tree on an adjacent street, where neighbors lobbed a nerf ball into the branches until Kiwi startled and flew down to me. The other two times she’d merely gotten spooked and flown into a tree on our property, only to return shortly on her own.
This time was different. Kiwi had taken off, WAY OFF, and I hadn’t seen her land. When Friday afternoon turned into night and there still was no sign of her, I lit a fire out back and sat watching, not wanting to go in without her. I texted my husband and younger daughter, who were in San Francisco at the time, and let the rest of my family know as well. I posted on Facebook, hoping friends might have advice. I created a lost pet ad on Craigslist. I signed up with Parrot Alert and 911 Parrot Alert, who created fliers for Kiwi. At 5 am, as soon as it was light out, I printed out fliers, sealed them in plastic bags to ensure they’d be watertight, and went to hang them. I posted all but one and returned home.
My older daughter was walking to hang the very last flier at the trailhead at the end of our street when she HEARD KIWI SCREAMING! She called my cell phone and I literally TORE out of the house, running down the sidewalk several blocks until I heard my beloved parrot. Kiwi was in a neighbor’s backyard across the street. Her green feathers blended in perfectly with the needles of some super tall pine trees, and it took some doing to spot her. The neighbor came out to see what the commotion was, and to try to help, but Kiwi quickly took off again.
We found her in a grove of trees a couple blocks further west. She’d conveniently chosen a spot adjacent to a yard sale that’d just started, so for the next THREE HOURS we were pretty much the free entertainment for the neighborhood. Kiwi would flit from tree to tree, about 50 feet up, responding to our near-constant calls of KIWI!! with her own squawking loud voice. It was a spectacle to behold. A kind passer-by stopped on her way to the sale, and afterward went to Petco for advice. She returned with the suggestion that a cooked egg might be the cure – or in this case, lure. I ran home to make one while my daughter kept watch. I drove back in minutes with a full plate of birdseed, trail mix, and a scrambled egg. Kiwi looked at me, slightly interested, but within another half hour had taken off again.
My daughter and I were absolutely dejected. After 3 solid hours of coaxing, our necks ached from being craned back and we were both hoarse. We saw Kiwi fly off, but didn’t see where she’d landed, and she wasn’t responding to calls. We decided it was time for a break. We drove home to collect ourselves (read: eat and use the bathroom) before returning to the search. The biggest catch in this whole effort? My husband and younger daughter were on a flight home from San Francisco. They’d be arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport that evening and we’d shortly have to leave to go pick them up. The clock was ticking. If Kiwi didn’t wise up and come home with us soon, she’d be spending another cold night outside.
Within an hour we were back down the street. We spotted her in another tall stand of trees – this time with a clear, straight flight down! We alternated between standing, squatting, sitting, and straight-out pleading while Kiwi gazed down at us and (I kid you not) PREENED HERSELF. She couldn’t have conveyed a clearer F@CK OFF unless she’d hired a skywriter. Knowing the tight time line, and my desperation to get her back, our cries to her reached fever pitch – PLEASE KIWI, PLEASE COME DOWN! KIWIIIIIIII! Until, she simply flew off.
That was the last time I saw my parrot. She soared above the houses, heading further back into the trees. I never saw her land. It took everything I had to get into the car that afternoon. I spent the rest of the day anxiety-riddled, worried sick about Kiwi. We returned from Boston that night in the cold and dark. There was no hope of searching for Kiwi until the next morning, when I resumed efforts, this time with my husband by my side. Sunday and Monday were spent retracing steps throughout the neighborhood, down Westbrook and adjacent streets, through the Fore River Sanctuary, up Congress Street to the Stroudwater Trail, along that to the highway, and back. I’ve walked almost 30 miles since Friday. The sorrow and fatigue have taken their toll. Today, Tuesday, I’m so sick with a respiratory cold I can’t get out of a chair. I’ve spent the day gazing out the window at the falling snow – YES, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SNOW that’s been falling steadily since this morning, praying that somehow Kiwi is safe. That she flew south to Brazil to join the rest of her flock, or at least to Philly, where she once lived happily and where April brings FLOWERS instead of frozen rain.
So the question remains, what do you do when there’s nothing left to do? I’ve scoured the streets, endlessly scanned the trees, called Kiwi’s name till I’ve lost my voice. I’ve posted fliers in real-life and online. I’ve listed Kiwi missing in ads and different websites. I’ve called the local animal shelter, two animal control offices, and left a message at Seymours Bird Sanctuary, in the off-chance someone’s seen, heard, or rescued Kiwi. I do it all as much for myself as for her. Because apart from accepting she’s gone, there’s nothing else I can do.
It’s been 4 days. Her cage is on the back porch, where we moved it Saturday morning hoping for her return. I don’t know how long it’ll sit there, door open, a physical reminder of what I’ve lost. For now, the squirrels climb in and out, happily munching the food, enjoying the novel source of entertainment. Each time I walk past it, or into the now-silent office, where Kiwi sat with me for hours these last weeks while I wrote my next cookbook, where she rang her bell for attention, or chewed on my sweater, or pooped on the floor, I ache inside. Where her cage used to stand, is now just a big empty space in front of the window. The room, the whole house, feels naked without her. For such a tiny creature, Kiwi had a HUGE personality! I took it for granted she’d always be here. I’ve had a beloved pet die before, but I’ve never had them up and leave. The feeling is different. For one, there’s no closure. No body to hug and kiss and mourn. The added worry of her state of health is another. The worst thing though, is just the lack of goodbye. We’ve buried pets before or had them cremated. Their grave or ashes are something tangible to cling to. Hollow, certainly, but something. All I have now are shell casings, a few scattered feathers, and Kiwi’s blankets – the ones I used to cover her cage with every night when I put her to bed. Yesterday afternoon, I picked them up off the piano bench and wrapped myself up in them. I sat on the floor in her now-empty cage spot, picking at the chewed areas, at the bits of dried parrot poo, sobbing, aching for her to come home.
I miss Kiwi because I love her. I know she cared for me too, her devotion was legendary, yet Kiwi chose to be free. She chose to fly away because she wanted to, and because she could. Kiwi may have been my pet, my birdie friend, but she was also an intrinsically wild creature. I am now broken with grief, and may never see her again, but my one consolation is that she enjoyed the life of a free bird for at least one glorious day. As great as our time was together, filled with fun and interspecies friendship, a part of me always felt Kiwi deserved more. She deserved to be with other birds, to know true love, to have the freedom of real choice. Keeping her locked even part-time in a cage, albeit a really nice one, wasn’t choice. It was captivity. I know part of the reason I rarely clipped her wings, and why I frequently took her outside, even to the beach – was because I wanted to just be with her, freely. She could have flown away at any time, but she didn’t. Not for almost ten years. And for each of those days I am grateful.
Birds are amazing creatures. Incredibly smart, interesting, willful, fascinating, sometimes infuriating, often messy, and at least in Kiwi’s case, outrageously loud. But even kept as pets, as much as they may love us, they are wild at heart. I’ve spent a lot of time since Kiwi flew off faulting myself, wondering whether I made a terrible mistake taking her outside on Friday, or whether I’d not been giving her enough attention. All of these worries, the sadness, the sorrow of not knowing, feel like a leaden suit I can’t shake. My heart is broken. I’ve spent years taking Kiwi’s presence for granted, loving her, and assuming she’d be with me pretty much forever. Now that she’s gone I realize the truth. Kiwi isn’t lost. But I am, without her.