The novelist Jane Austen once said … oh don’t roll your eyes; I’m not going to go into raptures about Mr. Darcy or debate which of the bazillion filmed versions of Pride and Prejudice is the most swoon-worthy. I’m going somewhere completely different with this, trust me. Anyway, the novelist Jane Austen once said of her snobbish, manipulative character Emma Woodhouse that she was a heroine nobody would like but her creator, meaning Austen herself. This proved to be inaccurate; people love Emma, whereas the one heroine of her six finished novels that inevitably comes in last place is Fanny Price of Mansfield Park. This is for good reason. Emma is rich, beautiful, clever, and has a fun-flirty relationship with rich, handsome, caring Mr. Knightly. Fanny is quiet, modest, morally upright, and in love with her cousin Edmund, though she’s too quiet, modest, and morally upright to do anything about it. Plus, come on. Her name is Fanny. Really, Jane?
But Austen was onto something important with Ms. Price. It’s easy to love an Elizabeth Darcy or an Emma Woodhouse, all wit and vivaciousness. It’s another thing altogether to perhaps be rival to these sparkling beauties but lacking their dynamic personalities. Yet shy people, reserved people, people who can’t muster a charming façade or toss clever quips—they want the same things everyone else does, and that includes being loved. They too deserve to be heroes sometimes.
And now I’m going to talk about our parrots.
Phoenix and Fred are both green-wing macaws, which despite the name means they are mostly bright red. Boston is a blue-and-gold macaw, which means he is exactly those two colors. All three are large for pet birds, but green-wings are slightly larger than blue-and-golds, and red is red: nearly impossible to ignore. As such, whenever we’ve had our boys out in a public location, inevitably Phoenix or Fred will be the center of attention. It doesn’t help that the two big red guys have certain attributes that make them fan favorites. Phoenix is the best at flying, and Fred is the most approachable. Boston is … puzzling. He was a runt when we got him, slow to develop, slow to shake off his baby-bird tics. He seemed to try to make up for this by learning to climb, and then fly, a lot sooner than Phoenix, and for a while Boston was definitely Top Bird. I liked this. Before we got Fred, Boston was my favorite. He was named for the Boston Marathon, and I had hoped that the runty bird who had been slow to grow would, like the completely non-athletic girl who didn’t start running until she was 37 (me), ultimately triumph.
And then, as is wont to happen in both novels and life, complications ensued.
Boston began to lose confidence, ultimately faltering as Top Bird and letting Phoenix claim that title. He also seemed to let Phoenix boss him around quite a bit. When Fred came onto the scene, we hoped that perhaps things would change, but they didn’t. If anything, now Boston was getting picked on by both bigger birds. Because it’s more fun to work on a bird habitat than a human one, we ignored the crumbling plaster walls of the living room and instead K redid the aviary such that each bird had his own separate area complete with perches, foragers, and toys. These were large areas, each still a good ten times bigger than the biggest macaw cage you’ve probably ever seen, but still we worried. Macaws are social. Now they were isolated.
I myself have been guilty of neglecting poor Boston in my writings lately. Fred is just so darned personable and quirky and cute, I can’t help but dote on him, and the story of how he went from being completely grounded to suddenly flying is truly astounding. But Boston was my first favorite. I’d had such hopes for him—and for me. Given that Boston Marathon qualifying times recently got faster, I’ve started to think it’s going to take a miracle for me to get there. Fred flies now; how many miracles can a person expect to witness?
Maybe one more. Boston, you see, is Top Bird again. Over the last week or so, ever since the boys have been separated, Boston has been flying like an ace. We’ve created a “macaw mini-golf” course in our big field, with a bunch of different perches set up in a looped circuit; K will let a bird go, walk to one of the perches, and the bird will meet him there. In the past, Boston has stunk at this, but now he’ll get in a good three or four perfect rounds in the course of an evening, better than Phoenix ever did. What’s more, he looks like he’s having fun out there. He’s confident, assured. Maybe he just needed to get out from under the wings of his two big brothers, so to speak. Maybe he needed to see that he’d be just fine on his own.
Or perhaps I’m anthropomorphically projecting. Perhaps, but I do think that rather than seeing the way animals are like us, we do more justice to everyone by seeing the way we are like them. Animals aren’t saints. They can be bullies, and worse. But we can see this in them, and ourselves, so we could change if we wanted to. They can also be unlikely heroes. It isn’t always the flashiest creature that triumphs. Sometimes it’s the quiet one in the back. They’ve been there for a long time, but it’s OK. They’ll move forward yet.