Truly Virtual Web Art Museum




by Rodney E.J. Chang

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We had two pigeons, in a small coop, on our back porch. The black and white female pedigree up residence first, having been captured under a rigged cardboard box at the Honolulu Zoo.



It was all in fun during a picnic on the lawn on the zoo grounds. I wanted to show the next generation how as kids we merely used discarded items to catch birds. Just a cardboard box, a stick to prop one side up, some string to pull when a bird entered, and a piece of bread for bait made a successful trap. After they were amazed how the makeshift setup caught one – I let one of the boys pull the string, I was about to release the demo prisoner. But the children nagged to keep the stray as their prize, so we sneaked it home in the cardboard box.



The bird was placed in a cramped rabbit cage that stood about three and a half feet high and rested on a two feet by two feet side. Our “Easter Bunny” had recently gone down that hole of no return, due to neglect after the holiday had passed. So the empty cage was available backyard accommodations for the pigeon. We had flipped the cage onto one end to make it higher than its intended horizontal layout. Now it better accommodated birds that preferred no perch higher up, rather than be afforded more floor space like for rabbits that were ground bound.



With just the stray from the zoo in the cage, the children soon said it looked lonely and needed a “girlfriend.”



When we made a trip to the local pet shop for koi food for the fish in the pound, the children spotted some caged pigeons at the rear of the store. I ended up paying for one. The over-the-hill looking “scrub” (common) with ruffled, white feathers emerging on its body, once a uniform brown (the kids nicknamed him “Grandpa”), now had a sleek, racing homer pigeon as his young cage mate.



Disappointingly, the youthful female disliked the older male. The primped pedigree was downright nasty to the once homeless male. Every time he attempted to get close to her on the perch, she’d nip at him to beat it. No way was she subtle in telling the “old goat” to keep away from her away. Must have hurt, physically as well as emotionally. So the two slept each night at the extreme ends of the one wooden perch placed in the cage. No romance developed as the children had hoped. They got a lesson in rejection.



After a few weeks, I conceded that there wouldn’t ever be any eggs to show the little ones what pigeon squabs look like. It was a family decision to give the birds their freedom, in order that they be afforded the opportunity to find their preferred mates in the wild. We figured the brow old-looking male would return to the zoo, just three miles away, and take up its previous life of merely competing for crumbs tossed by zoo visitors. I wasn’t about to buy a new pair, now felling fortunate not to find myself potentially saddled with a cage full of pigeons needing larger accommodations.



With the door unlatched and left wide open, out flew each bird, each in its own direction, until they both disappeared in the sky. It appeared that that would be the last time we’d see the pair, never becoming a couple. It was a solemn moment for the children, as the birds had become almost like house pet, due to the defensive flapping and pecking... The aggressive behavior kept the kids from developing the intimate relationship developed through cuddling or stroking, thereby converting animals into personal pets. But they had become familiar household creatures by just being around the house. So we took souvenir photos of them for the family pet album before the release.



But after a few days, to our surprise, the pigeons came back after all, and together at that, to the elation of our three children, York, Travis, and Jessica. I felt satisfied that the passing on to the next generation of the marvel of homing pigeons had been accomplished. Lesson learned in the nature of pigeons and their innate homing instinct. Imagine wild things making the decision to return, only to be once again confined in a tiny cage, instead of remaining free in the wild. Yes, indeed, the children were amazed.



Ah, the power of free food and water, I secretly thought to myself.



After that, the birds came and went as they pleased. Not like normal pigeons that quickly return after a spin around the sky, reenter their cage to gain some nourishment, then roost and care for the chicks. No, not this pair. We had to maintain an “open door policy” for this cage.



These two, almost never home at night, behaved like delinquent teenagers. They were even once spotted gallivanting in a valley five miles away, surprising my wife as she drove out that way to market at Costco. We hadn’t seen them for over a week. Yet, that day when they were seen from the car, the birds once again arrived at home in the late afternoon. It was as if spotting my wife in the car had reminded them of “home”. After partaking of some food and water, once again the pair flew off to who knows where. These two pigeons were truly unusual independent types, rarely using the cramped cage to roost at night. Maybe they weren’t stupid after all. They had the best of both worlds. Come for the free meals, and then remain homeless but free by perching in these above the streets. Interestingly, as far as we know, the pair never joined a flock.



We were proud that our daughter Jessica had just got selected to participate in her school’s afternoon “Story Telling & Oral Communications Class” for children in the gifted student program. The children had the assignment of sharing with the others about their pets. At the moment, the birds were all that a notch up from the koi that swam mindlessly in the pond. She had nothing else to select. Come to think about it, there were earthworms and cockroaches in the yard…



Our fourth grader informed us that she was keeping a record of the birds’ comings and goings to use it for her upcoming group presentation. But Jessica, right years of age, was having a difficult time in keeping a “journal” of her unreliable “pets.” Their homing schedule was unpredictable. She couldn’t draw a decent graph to predict their returns that she had hoped to share with the class. Many a day she would come home from school, hurry to the back of the house, only to be disappointed, once again finding the cage empty.



Our daughter asked us if we wanted to read what she already wrote.



“Sure, darling. I’d love to,” said her mother.



I also dutifully read it to show interest in Jessica’s school activities. It turned out to be much more amazing than the predictability of avian homecomings. Here is what the eight year-old wrote:



We passed the next valley from our house. We are on the freeway, about seven miles from our house. We are stuck in morning traffic. I think we will be late for school.



My brother York who is eleven is sitting in the back seat. Mom is dropping him off at his school first. It is about eight miles from our house. We have only one mile to go to get to York’s school. Then she will drive me to my school.



Our car is moving so slowly. Mom said she thinks there could be an accident somewhere in the front. York’s school starts before mine. He might be late for class. Maybe I will be late too.



I am sitting in the front seat with my mother. My brother is in the back. Suddenly York said to us,



“I saw them!”



“Who?” asks Mom.



“Our birds.”



“Now? That’s impossible, son. Stop joking around.”



“No, I’m not joking.”



“Where, which side of the car?” Mom asked.



Mommy looked up at the sky, not watching where she is driving. Our car swayed as Mom tried to stay in the middle lane. But she was trying to look up out of her window at the sky too. Horns honked loudly. I got scared. Guess Mom was not staying too well in her lane.



“I never saw them this faraway from the house,” I said. I needed to be sure. I’m keeping records for my school project.



So I ask my brother, “Are you sure, York, that it’s not some other birds?”



“Jessica, I am sure I’m not wrong,”



“How can you be so sure?” asked Mom. “Birds can alike when they’re way up in the sky and the sun is glaring in your eyes.” Mom still couldn’t see them because now she was watching the road more carefully.



“Because, Mom,” said York, “they’re right outside my window, just flying only about then feet away. Keeping up with our car.



“And,” York added, “They’re looking right at me.” Now I also saw them so I waved. Then I saw them looking at me too.



We never did see those two again. But after that last encounter in the car, I suspect York and Jessica, from that day on, endeared that pigeons as “true” pets.




Another story by Rodney E.J. Chang