Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Parable

I learned many important life lessons from my big brother. He was both my idol and my nemesis as I was growing up. As adults, we’ve developed a friendship that I truly treasure. This weekend I will be travelling to New Mexico to celebrate his marriage to a fine lady whose love has brought him much joy. I couldn’t be more delighted. So, in honor of my big brother’s impending nuptials, I thought it would be appropriate to record one of the stories he taught me many years ago…. I’m sure I won’t get the details all quite the way he told it almost 40 yrs ago. Still, I have always remembered the main themes of the story and it has helped me more than he knows.

The parable of the bird, the cow and the cat.

Once upon a time there was a Robin named Ralph. Ralph lived in a farmer’s field, hanging out with the other birds. He enjoyed finding fat juicy worms to eat and preening before the lady robins. Life was good.

However, every fall, it came time to fly south for the winter. That was a lot of work! It took many days to reach the winter nesting grounds. It was just plain exhausting to make that long trip. One year as all the birds were preparing for the annual journey; Ralph started complaining some about what lay before him. “Man, every year it’s the same old thing. Fly south. What for?? All that work just to have to turn around and come back again in the spring. That’s a lot of wing flapping! It makes me tired just thinking about it.”

Jake, one of the crows, heard Ralph’s lament. With great sympathy he said to Ralph: “Hey buddy, I know what you mean. What do those old birds know who keep insisting that we do this year after year? They are locked in senseless tradition. I tell you, I’ve had it with all this back and forth – go south, go north business. I’m a bird, not a lemming. I’m sick of mindlessly following the crowd. I say we DON’T go off with everybody else this year. How about it Ralph? You and Me! Let’s team up and just stay here this winter. Sure, I hear it gets a bit cold during the winter months. But Farmer Brown has that nice big barn where the cows sleep. We can go make nests in the rafters. We’ll be safe and warm and dry. Just think of what a great time we can have relaxing and having fun here all winter instead of chasing the crowd back and forth on those foolish migratory patterns.”

Jake’s suggestion sounded wonderful to Ralph. The robin really did not want to have to do all the work of flying south. So the two birds made a pact. When the rest of the flock left, they would stay and make their own fortunes.

The other robins were quite concerned. The elders warned Ralph not to listen to Jake. They pleaded with Ralph to come with them when it was time to go. But Ralph would not be deterred from his plan. So when the day came for all the birds to begin leaving on their trek south to warmer lands for winter, Ralph and Jake remained behind.

The first few weeks after the departure of the other birds were just great. There were still plenty of fat worms in the ground, easy picking now that there was no competition from others. Jake and Ralph flew back and forth over the fields and into the treetops having a grand old time. They laughed raucously about the foolishness of all those other birds who were no doubt flapping themselves into exhaustion while the two of them were living the high life right where they were.

However, as the days began to get shorter the temperatures dropped. It got cold. There came a big storm, and the ground froze. After that, Ralph began to wonder if he had made the right decision. Worms were no longer available. And his beak got frosted over as he sat up on his perch in the trees.

Still, not wanting to admit that maybe the other birds had been right all along, Ralph puffed himself up with bravado and insisted that he needed to go on a diet anyway. Eating all those worms had made him rather fat. He would eat some seeds and insects for a while and be just fine. He added a bit more twine and leaves to the nest for proper insulation from the cold and determined that he was going to have a grand adventure.

But then full winter hit. Late autumn had been bad enough. Winter was miserable. All the leaves came off the trees and the ground was covered with snow. There were no seeds to be found and the insects were few and far between. He was hungry much of the time. Then, as it got colder and colder, even the insulation in his nest up in the rafters of the farmer’s barn was not enough to keep Ralph warm. He shivered constantly and his beak began to chatter. He was miserable.

Worst of all, one morning when Ralph woke up, he discovered that Jake was gone. There had been no discussion or goodbye. The crow just left. How could he? After all, it had been Jake’s idea to spend the full winter there in the first place. Then, at the first sign of real difficulty, the crow up and left, abandoning young Ralph to his own devices. What a mess!

Now Ralph was left all to himself with no one to console or help him in his plight. He started to wheeze and sneeze. Little chunks of birdie snot were running out his beak. He was running a fever. He was sicker than he had ever been. What’s a bird to do in a situation like this? He thought longingly of the nice warm winter grounds where his friends were now comfortably living, with plenty of fat juicy worms for the taking. Overwhelmed by the tragedy of his plight, poor Ralph began to cry. Finally he succumbed to the cold and fell from his nest, landing in a frozen heap on the ground. As darkness began to overtake him, Ralph the Robin was feeling very sad and sorry for himself.

About that time, Bessie the cow happened to walk by. Not noticing the bird at all, she dropped a huge stinking cow pie right on top of Ralph’s head. Oh gross! Now he was not only alone, cold, and hungry he was covered in stinking cow crap. He consigned himself to an ignominious death there on the dusty floor of the barn in a pile of poop and wondered if his friends would miss him.

However, much to Ralph’s surprise, he did not die. As a matter of fact, after a few minutes he began to feel better. As it turned out, the cow pie was WARM. It thawed out Ralphs frozen feathers and melted his icy beak. Sure, it stank something awful. But this was the first time he had actually been warm in weeks. So maybe it wasn’t such a terrible thing to have happen after all. He was so relieved to feel this lovely warmth seeping through his whole bird body that he popped his head up and began to sing.

Ralph’s song attracted the attention of Chloe the cat. She was quite curious to find the robin sitting on the barn floor all covered in cow dung. After walking around him once or twice Chloe asked Ralph “Hey, what are you doing down there?” Ordinarily Ralph avoided cats. He’d heard they were not to be trusted. However, his fever made it difficult to think straight and he had been alone for such a long time that by this point he was happy just to have someone new to talk to. So he struck up a conversation with the cat. He poured out his heart, telling Chloe the whole pitiful story of how he had been misled by Jake the crow and ended up on the barn floor in December when he really should be off in the south with his friends.

Chloe smiled her barn cat smile and purred to her new friend….”oh my dear Ralph, that is a terrible tale. I am so sorry you had to have such a dreadful experience. I would love to help. How about I clean you up and get you out of that stinking mess?”

This was good news to Ralph whose head was swooning from the stink. He readily agreed and said he would very much appreciate it, if Chloe did not mind.

“Not at all” assured the cat. So Chloe began to use her paws to dig away the dung most carefully. After the worst of the mess was gone she began licking the little bird with her soft pink tongue that tickled like wet sandpaper. Together they giggled at the absurdity of the whole affair. Once each and every feather was cleaned Chloe got a sharp gleam in her eye, smacked her lips and pounced on little Ralph to eat him up.

As she pinned the bird down with her sharp claws he cried out in horror: “What are you doing? I thought you were my friend!” To which Chloe replied. “Well, yeah, but I am a cat and this is what cats do. What did you really expect?” And then she ate him up, bite by bite.


#1 – Listen to the wisdom of your elders. Often the things they are trying to teach you really are for your own good.

#2 – Be careful who you believe or trust

#3 – Not everyone who craps on you in your enemy

#4- Not everyone who gets you out of crap is your friend.

#5 – If you are warm and safe, even if it’s in a pile of crap, be grateful and keep your mouth shut!

1 comment:

Anna Maria Junus said...

And never trust a cat!