Chosen Futures
  • Wild Voices

    October 20, 2010

    The parrots are wild, free, and noisy.  I usually hear them first, and then I look up to see them wheeling across the sky, calling to each other as they fly.  Is their conversation simply practical?  “I know where to find good berries.  Take a right.”  Are they keeping in touch, chattering about not much in order to let everyone know they’re still with the flock?  That’s probably the truth, but I prefer to believe they are happy, calling out about the sheer pleasure of flying, of being alive, of being together.

    They don’t exactly belong here.  There are no parrots native to San Francisco, but there are now breeding flocks here.  The original birds escaped or were freed, discovered they could do fine here, and they have made themselves at home.  Apparently they have even developed their own San Francisco parrot dialect, so the chatter I hear is distinctive and local.  They feed mostly on non-native plants, and they nest in non-native trees, all of which have been introduced by humans who migrated and settled here.  Parrots have fewer natural enemies here than in their home territories, but the young are certainly vulnerable to the local hawks.

    The first parrots may have been inadvertent immigrants.  By now they have become part of the fabric of this colorful and unpredictable city.  In a sense, we are all also inadvertent immigrants in the unpredictable world we now inhabit.  We live with uncertainty about the economy, about climate change and agriculture, about the safety and reliability of many products of our scientific and technological discoveries.  Too many of us feel isolated, dependent on our own slender resources and savvy, afraid to think too much about the future because we don’t know how we will find our way in this strange landscape.

    The parrots are not isolated.  I don’t believe I have ever seen a lone parrot.  Sometimes when I hear them, I look up and see only two or three parrots.  More often there are groups of five or eight or ten; every now and then I see as many as thirty.  At that point they are hard to count, flying too fast for my eyes to single out each one, but also making the count irrelevant.  They are many, they are together, and together they make an impact.  They make enough noise so I have to pay attention, but they are unconcerned about my opinion of them, attending to what matters to parrots.

    People are not parrots, but we also need our flocks.  The parallels are obvious, yet they bear repeating:  We humans also need each other – certainly for survival, but also because life offers much more pleasure with companions.  We too need to attend to what matters most to us, making noise as we go about our lives, commenting on what we observe, attracting attention from others who may choose to join us.  And we can be surprisingly adaptable, creating new versions of the good life in circumstances we never expected to live in.  The more unfamiliar the territory, the more we need kindred spirits as flying companions.

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© 2020 Deborah Gavrin Frangquist, Chosen Futures