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The night brought out a certain fearlessness in Kate. In those hours, she would move with speed and grace through the wooded lands that surrounded her home. She loved the night and the forest. Terrorizing mice, swatting fireflies, tussling with raccoons; this was what she lived for.
In the bold spirit of the previous night, she had rashly climbed a tree and settled down on a broad limb for a quick nap. But now, in the sleepy daylight hours, the height looked a great deal more substantial than she remembered it. Her paws balanced delicately on the branch as she peered down. She didn’t like this at all. The branches below her were scarce and thin. She had no idea now how she had gotten up here in the first place. Perhaps she could drop down to the next branch below her. She wasn’t sure it could support her, but she had to get out of this tree eventually. She set herself to spring, held the position for a second, and then lost her nerve.
The morning was now in full swing. The birds were out in force, singing their meaningless rhymes to the new day. Kate could never tolerate birds. They were infuriating little creatures who would flit above you, utterly untouchable and completely self-confident. Now a bird landed in Kate’s tree, and, recognizing her dilemma, smiled down on her with amusement.
The bird cleared his throat and sung a few lines of standard avian fare. Kate half listened as she debated with herself over making the jump.
“I found it in a willow tree,
In the high bows soaked in sun.
I kept it as I thought of thee
Now to the west with hope I run.”
It was useless, Kate thought, to try to reason with that little bird squawking away at the top of its lungs. She looked up and growled menacingly at the end of one stanza. The bird peered downward with a half smile, “Yes madam?”
“Could you quiet down for a second or move to another tree? I’m trying to think here.” She said irritably.
The bird smiled mockingly, “How about you move to another tree to do your thinking? I’m trying to sing here.”
The singing resumed itself as Kate fumed on the lower branches. Even as she tried to concentrate on her dilemma, she could not fail to notice that the lyrics had now taken a definite turn for the deliberately insulting.
“A kitty cat in May
Found her wandering way
Into a tree, and stayed
Until all her bones decayed
And with the wind, blew away.”
Kate now saw a branch extending out of the tree on the opposite side from the bird. It was also quite thin, but it could be a stepping stone to another branch, a little higher. From there the jump to the bird would be an easy one. Kate supposed that the bird had not even seen this branch.
Thankfully, a new poem was now beginning, and Kate found herself listening intently. It was unlike the other poems she had heard birds sing. It seemed all together more polished, more foreign and mysterious.
Salt in the restless air,
Reflections of the sun’s red glare,
And the fish, that sparkling grey,
Speed on down their thoroughfare.
Kate’s ears perked up. “Fish?” She asked tentatively. She remembered something about fish. Someone at some time many years ago had given her something called fish. She would never forget that meal.
The bird looked down irritably at being interrupted, “Yes, fish. The slimy things in the ocean you know?”
“Ocean?” Kate was becoming confused. This was not a word she was familiar with.
The bird stared down at her and sighed. “You don’t mean to tell me that you have never heard of the ocean?”
Kate became defensive, “No, why should I know about it?”
The bird frowned, “Well, I suppose you couldn’t know about it.”
“Well,” the cat began, and then hesitated. A moment of awkwardness descended in the tree. The bird cocked an eyebrow downward in an acute display of contempt. “Well, what is it?” Kate finished, her anger breaking through the awkwardness.
The bird seemed to consider the question before answering. “The ocean is much like a lake,” he explained, “only that it is many times larger than the largest lake. But I suppose that really tell the story.” The bird resumed its thinking pose and after a short time sung out a few short lines.
“Gentle blue in the brightest light
Tar black in the dark of night
To the greatest limits of my sight
And then much farther still”
Kate considered these few lines. She asked after a time, “How do you know about it?”
“Oh the migratory birds,” the bird explained. “They come through twice a year and many share their own rhymes with us. They pick them up from all around the world, you know.”
“So they told you poems about the ocean?”
“They tell us poems about everything!” exclaimed the bird, “They have seen so many amazing things: icebergs, reefs, great rivers so wide across that you cannot see from bank to bank.”
Kate sat silently, trying to imagine such a river, but the idea easily surpassed the capacity of her imagination. Meanwhile the bird was quietly picking through lines in has head and occasionally throwing out disjointed couplets.
“The river in the mountain grooves
How quickly there the water moves.”
The bird had closed its eyes; its attention was in another world. Kate eyed the branches that provided a pathway up the tree. She had a chance if she would take it.
“The river in the green meadows,
How gently there the water flows.”
The bird dug through its vast repertoire of poetry and began to piece together an old poem which the little bird had once known by heart. As the lines came to him, he sang and as he sang the lines appeared before him.
“Where do you go?
Thou mighty flow
Upon which I have set to float
Every hope of a young bird
And got back not but misery.”
Kate yawned and relaxed back as the bird sung. Some far away part of her mind was calling for her to pounce, but the action seemed so far away. Farther away than the ground, farther away than her home, farther away even than the bird’s stories and claims. And though she would not have admitted it to herself, she was beginning to enjoy listening to the little singsong voice.
“Where have you been going all these years?
Always surging to an end,
Caring not for the hopes and fears
Of a chickadee at the river bend.”
If I fly out then I can see
Where you clear the final tree,
But then another river bend
Shrouds you again in mystery.
Do you remember when she flew out?
Said no river could hold her way.
Laughing at my fear and doubt,
Said she’d be back within the day.
For a second the bird paused as it dug through its memory for the rest of the poem. Kate sat uncertain of what to do. It had begun to occur to her that it was profoundly wrong for any cat to sit in such clear reach of any bird without taking the opportunity. She began to wish that she could somehow put herself out of the range of the bird. Every course of action began to seem fundamentally flawed.
“I have many times been told
By those few who claim to know
Down the river are cliffs of monstrous height
From which the water falls day and night
And the sound alone possesses the might
To bring the mountains down.
And beyond that there is a land
Of torches and of desert sands
And then a city of wealth untold
Where the sun reflects the gleaming gold
For miles around the castle’s hold.
Then into the rocky hills we go
As the river picks up speed
Speeding through the narrow straits
That lead down to the sea.
And from there the grey-blue sea
Goes on forever in every direction.
But as I think of these things I have been taught,
What I find plastered on every thought
Is her; soaring down the slick cliff wall
Of the thundering waterfall.
Her under a pure starry sky
Among the dunes and desert sands,
Sheltered from the blustering winds
That beat upon her caravan.
Her in the halls of kings
Or stepping through the marshes and reeds,
Now swooping down the treacherous streams
That lead down to the sea.
And from there the blue-grey sea
Goes on forever in every direction.
Kate leapt. It was so easy. She landed noiselessly on the branch above her and to her left. Two more leaps and she was right on top of the small bird. Her jaws closed on the tiny skull and a twitching, lifeless body fell out of the tree.
The sun inched its way up the eastern sky, and Kate sat in her tree, confused, worried and still a frightening distance off the ground. Sleep eluded her on her perch. The sounds of the woods seemed constantly in her ear. She shook her head in annoyance and lay down again. The noises of the woods were still outlining themselves painfully. She shook her head again and then paused as a slow realization started to dawn on her. It was she who was the one intently listening to the woods. With a grunt she rolled over and got upright. It was quite bright out by this time. Slowly the birds were ending their morning symphony and going about their business. But as the other songs died off, a new distant song became audible. Immediately Kate’s attention latched on to it. She struggled to make out far off words sung in a familiar grandiose tone. A slight chill entered Kate as she listened. The other birds had almost ceased completely now, and she could almost make out the words of the distant bird’s song. The tone went up and down, gently then quickly, and then with remarkable clarity it sung out across the woods and echoed away into silence, “And from there the blue-grey sea goes on forever in every direction.”