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Well Dressed and Badly Behaved – Remembering Dicky
Dr. Lawrence Blair Reflects on the Passing of a Favorite Companion – Dicky – a West Papuan Black Capped Lorikeet and the Passing of the Years of Our Lives
(1/6/2012) Bali resident, Dr Lawrence Blair is the writer, presenter and co-producer of the internationally acclaimed TV series Ring of Fire, an Emmy Award nominee and winner of the 1989 National Educational Film and Video Festival Silver Apple awards. Well Dressed and Badly Behaved
A sought-after international speaker and renowned documentary filmmaker, Lawrence makes his home in Ubud with his wife, Aly, and, until recently Dicky, his pet West Papuan Black Capped Lorikeet.
Sadly, Dicky died over the just passed Christmas holidays. Lawrence Blair contributed the following piece to Bali Update, fondly remembering the passing of his move-loved feathered friend.
By Dr. Lawrence Blair
Lost my parrot this morning and buried him in the garden to feed the roots of a banana tree.
We called him Dicky (for Ridiculous) on the principle that a sense of that is the key to humor and a sense of humor is the key to Life, and he kept us in stitches of laughter.
We shared four perhaps unhealthily close years before his dramatic demise. I’ve had lots of wonderful animals over the years, wild and domestic, including the endangered West Papua Black Capped Lorikeets, famous for their talkative and inventive natures, but Dicky was an eye-opener.
He had become my ‘daemon’, accompanying me everywhere either on my shoulder or dangling by a couple of claws to some part of my clothing. He’d learned to fly down to the ground to relieve himself when necessary, to save on laundry bills. I’d decided to take the risk of not clipping his wings, (for what is a bird if it cannot fly?) so he could freely swoop about the house and garden, and periodically land on my shoulder to whisper affectionate nonsense. He was fond of playing ‘vanish from his shoulder’ without my noticing. Houdini-like he would transfer himself to a bookcase or mosquito net as I was walking past, wait for me to notice his absence, and then demand to be collected again.
But outside, on my bicycle, he knew better than to take off, in a foreign land of foreign birds and roving gangs of cocoanut squirrels, which strongly resented his demeanor and attire.
Black Caps can live for 40 years, but Dicky just lived 4. I’d got him as an almost featherless fledgling, off a villager in Indonesian West Papua on the Arafura Sea. I was leading some adventurous tourists there at the time, on a smart yacht, and when we got him aboard we found his foot was so swollen and infected from a cord tied tightly round his ankle, that we thought he might lose it. With careful medication, he only lost a toe. Several years later a slammed car door crippled his other foot, leaving him with a grotesque limp, which in no way diminished his athletic skills or sense of importance.
Since I couldn’t fly with him back to Bali from West Papua without first getting his registration permit as an endangered creature, it was six months before the posh vessel delivered him back to me. By this time he was a spoiled ‘sea parrot’, used to living high off the hog on such delicacies as caviar and imported Japanese plums, so he needed a bit of discipline, but his eating habits remained bizarre. He couldn’t stand papayas, was indifferent to mangoes, but thrived on bananas, scrambled eggs, chips and imported grapes. He would dunk his mouthfuls in water before eating them. Black Caps in the wild reportedly live mostly off flower nectars, extracted with a long tongue equipped at the end with a little crown of prehensile tentacles - a disconcerting instrument when used to plumb the eardrum while driving in the fast lane.
At night, or when I’d had enough of him, he was relegated to his cage, suspended from the verandah ceiling outside. He went through a period of throwing bits of his food to the floor in order to fixedly observe the various creatures attracted below him – lizards, toads, other birds and various species of rats. I imagine they all thought he was a bit of a Lord Fauntleroy.
He had a small stuffed toy, a baby eagle, suspended on rubber bands, which he mercilessly beat up and made love to in equal measure. When the bands broke, and the eagle lay on the bottom of his cage for half a day – he stared at it, motionless, for over an hour, willing it come alive, perhaps, or merely grappling with the mystery of death.
He was too young to be a good talker, but he seldom shut up. He could produce numerous kinds of human laughter, from the genuinely amused to the deeply sarcastic, and would say Hello with dozens of inflections and volumes. He could bark like a dog, meow like a cat and spoke the languages of all the wild birds so accurately that they’d be lured into the garden and shocked by the source. This would amuse Dicky.
He certainly belied the traditional wisdom that parrots only ‘parrot’ sounds without understanding their meaning. I returned home with him one day to find a stray white cat sitting under his cage. I pointed at it and said ‘pussy cat’, which Dicky repeated perfectly. A few hours later I visited my neighbor who’s white rabbit was free in the garden. I pointed at the rabbit and Dicky said ‘pussycat’. No cigar, but getting there. But he was only 4 years old, which isn’t to say he hadn’t matured in other respects.
Ornithologists affirm that male and female Black Caps are so alike that the only way to sex one is by sampling its DNA or waiting to see if it lays an egg. However, unless I’m being overly sexist, Dicky was a boy. He had recently taken to furiously humping his toy eagle or, to my long-suffering wife Aly’s distress, her, or my, clenched fists. He was discouraged from this at first, but then we thought why should he be subject to our anthropocentric qualms. It wasn’t much skin off our noses, and it didn’t take long anyway, before his claws tightened excruciatingly, he spread his wings in a Fan of Praise, and then sat in dazed silence.
He never remained silent for long. For his was the world of sound.
Sometimes he would just make parrot sounds. At others I’d turn my head to look at him on my shoulder and, his beak an inch from mine, staring into my eye, he’d produce a long riff of human language sounds in my own voice. A wild parrot would have been forgiven for thinking it was perfect English. He was a small parrot, but he could get right down on the register.
He was most interested in copying emotionally charged language – particularly picked up off the TV. Screams, expletives, shouted orders, ‘Helps!’ His preferred channels were Discovery and Animal Planet, which he watched, head–cocked, occasionally mimicking, as various creatures bellowed and hissed and whinnied across the screen. There was a period when I had to constantly change my cell phone’s message tones because he was annoyingly learning to imitate them.
Like all Black Caps he was also a water parrot, needing frequent, explosively enthusiastic baths, after which he’d resemble a sort of avian Chucky from hell, which he found amusing in the mirror. When I swam in the pool or the sea he’d ride my head, with his wings spread. As a youngster, he had to be prevented from climbing onto the dinner table and trying to take a bath in the water glasses.
When he thought I was spending too much time on the computer he’d lunge for and detach, with lighting léger-de-main, the finger tabs of my keyboard, one after another. I couldn’t remove them by hand myself, and my computer technician said he couldn’t either, and they needed a special key. Once Dicky learned this was forbidden, he adopted the different approach of landing ostentatiously on my desk, scattering my papers, and slowly lurching towards me with his beak scraping the wood ahead of him, as if pushing a wheel barrow – a gesture of submissive affection.
This morning, the monsoon wind and rains were kicking in, but I raised an umbrella over our heads and cycled, as usual, down a lane to breakfast on the beach. A sudden gust turned the umbrella inside out with a pop. Dicky took off like a helicopter and sailed over the wall into a hotel garden. Within seconds I was round the wall and retrieving him, clinging to a low branch, stunned, as two guilty dogs came up to me wagging their tails. ‘Parrot was screaming. The dogs were playing with him’, someone told me.
The bird was wet and deeply shocked, but with no visible injuries. I took him home, clinging to the inside of my shirt, but he wasn’t right and for the next few hours he went steadily downhill. Just before he could no longer stand up, he wheel-barrowed his beak unsteadily towards me along the back of the sofa I was lying on with him.
I then took him into bed, where Aly joined us. It wasn’t long before he abruptly raised his head, arched his back, spread his wings in a giant Fan of Praise, ejected blood from his nostrils, and died. Like a phoenix dying rather than being born.
He was a small parrot, with a very large charge in him. I buried him beneath the banana tree, with his toy eagle.
I loved him - less for his constantly surprising skills and sensitivities, as for his extraordinary self confidence, his happiness, his ability to entertain himself for hours: his tendency, when I covered his cage with a cloth for the night, of climbing immediately up to his sleeping corner with a contented croak, yawning and going fast asleep. No hesitation, as I might have had, on knowing the curtain was being drawn on a wonderful day: only that the curtain was going up on a wonderful night.
I never expected his death to be so ridiculously painful.
A grown man glued to a small bird. A pathological projection? A fetish fixation? Even a psychological ‘fashion statement’, as I sometimes saw in the reproving eyes of strangers. After all, as Anais Nin said:
“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”.
I don’t doubt that I’m incapable of seeing him, or any other creature, as it really is, but he did confirm how powerful and reciprocated inter-species love can be, and how such sophisticated evolution can be concealed in such deceptively simple packages. All this intelligence and versatility were already there, long-earned and ingrained in his genes. And thus all this humor and inventiveness, plus more than we can imagine, is moving through his wild tribe – the great rainbow clouds of Black Capped Lorikeets, unseen by man, in the remote jungles of New Guinea.
My mind tells me that Mr. Ridiculous (Dicky for short) was a fleeting glimpse of those two undying mysteries: Love and Intelligence in Nature. But my heart is taking longer to catch up.
Yet here we are again, on the brink of a new beginning, the iconic year of 2012, and yet another chance to dance in the Now, with all it may bring – if there’s room in us for it. I wish you, my dear fiends, and myself, a coming year of greeting the nights with the same joy with which we can greet the days, and of remembering that what we love most dearly are but symbols of what we cannot see.
Bali - December 18, 2011