For Mother’s Day 3 years ago, David and Daisy decided “Mama needs a pet”. I used to breed canaries, and after Daisy was born we generally had a canary or two in residence. The house was always filled with birdsong. so a canary seemed the obvious choice.
On a warm day in May, they drove me to a place called Birds Plus out in the San Fernando Valley. The store had many different kinds of birds. But front and centre was a large aviary filled with canaries. There were German Rollers, Norwich Fanices, which look as if they have got their feathers on upside down, Gloster Canaries, which looked as if they are each wearing a little toupee, and a bad one at that, and some other canary varieties I was not familiar with. There are some that have feathers that look as if they have a reptilian scale design on them.
I had been standing in front of the aviary for a minute or two, when a particular bird caught my eye. He was a nice plump little male with rust and grey coloured feathers.
My daughter called me over to look at another aviary, I told her I had already found my bird.
“But Mom, you haven’t even looked at all the birds. Look, there are hundreds.”
So I went over to where she was “bird watching” glanced at the birds in that aviary, noticed they were all hens, and told her I wanted a male, and once again told her I had already selected one.
She followed me over to the first aviary, I pointed to this chipper little fellow, and said,
“My mind is made up, anyway I’ve already named him.”
Her eyes rolled back in her head.
“Oh my God, what did you name it?”
“His name is ‘Caruso’.”
I looked back at the bird, wagged a finger at him and said,
“And you had better live up to your name.”
We found a very large cage with an ivy motif running down the sides as a sort of decoration. It was expensive, but the kids would not let me chip in. It had an ornamental stand of the same Victorian white, with curled feet.
The pet shop owner told me I could feed him anything green, the darker green the better. He forgot to exclude avocados from this list and I almost killed Caruso when I gave him a bit of my avocado one afternoon. The next morning I found him huddled in the corner at the bottom of his cage puffed up to twice his size. I rushed him down to the "small animal hospital" and miraculously he survived. The other no-no is onions.
They put him in a little paper bag with air-holes in it for the trip home.
Caruso lived up to his name beautifully. In the mornings, I would clean his habitat, then take him out onto the verandah, where we would breakfast together every good weather day.
I would share a piece of banana and a blueberry or two from my breakfast of bananas, blueberries, maple yoghurt, almonds, and Just Clusters cereal from Trader Joe’s, then I'd turn on my iTunes and play Little White Bird by It’s A Beautiful Day. It was one of his favourites, he’d almost knock his socks off trilling to the harmonising voices coming out of my MAC. He was also fond of Joan Baez’s clear natural coloratura on One Johnny Cuckoo. In fact he liked most songs that had the word “bird” or the name of a species of fowl in the title. It was uncanny.
Frequently other birds would come to visit with him or a hummingbird would buzz by looking curiously into the cage. Sometimes a bird would come into the house to say hello and then not be able to find its way out.
On rainy days or in inclement weather he would sing whenever I turned on the water in the kitchen or shower. He loved the sound of running water.
If I had to go on tour, the kids would “bird sit”. They would take him to their store where he was the delight of the customers, especially the toddlers. The kids live upstairs above the store. They couldn’t keep him in the house because of Bonnie and Clyde their two cats. It would just be to tempting.
Christmas of 2008 I decided my daughter and her husband and his mom and dad and little sister and I would all spend the holidays at my fly fishing lodge in Washington. What to do with Caruso. I don’t trust him to be left with strangers. A bird sitter friend wanted $50.00 per day to take him in. That was crazy.
I bought a small hamster cage, outfitted it for travel and called the airlines to see how I could take him on board with me. The summer before, I had found a very large bird cage at a jumbo sale, in the event he might join me for future summers. I packed all of his favourite things, a tree branch, a mirror, his bath tub, his disco ball and swing, and off we went to Washington.
Little did I know I was headed into the worst winter since 1865. When I arrived at the lodge the snow was thigh high. I rushed up to my atelier, where I live when I am in residence, cranked up the heat to “baking” and moved him into the new big bird cage. It was outfitted with new perches, a nest, a hollow plastic apple with a perch and all of his accoutrements from home. He took to sleeping in the apple.
The next morning I was nudged from sleep by bird song. He certainly did live up to his fancy moniker. That bird did not stop singing all day, and long into the night. With northern light flowing in through the vast expanse of windows and the heat permeating the air, I guess he thought he was in the tropics!
I began driving up instead of flying during the summer and holidays so he could join me. It is very expensive to take a bird on a plane.
Yesterday we got a clear break in the weather so I took him outside and put him on his special table next to the teakwood umbrella table where I sit. I went up to the kitchen to make Red Peppers with Capers and Anchovies, I could hear him out there singing. Sometimes they won’t sing in the fall or winter. The weather has been so miserable here, I was happy to know he was having a good time.
I went downstairs to write up the pepper recipe. After a few minutes, my house guest John came to tell me Caruso was dead. I ran upstairs to the verandah, he was upside down in the cage with one leg seemingly hooked onto the end of the perch where it joined the cage. I yelled to John to get some whisky thinking I could revive him with the alcohol fumes, I even breathed gently into his little beak, in an attempt at CPR, but it was no use… he was gone.
I remember sitting there, last night, in one of the Queen Anne chairs, holding him in my hands, Jasmine, John’s little Japanese Chin dog came over and placed her front paws and her little pug nose on my knee. The look in her brown eyes almost broke my heart.
Caruso now rests in a small egg-shell blue Tiffany box awaiting a proper funeral.