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Monkey Business


Saturday, July 28In a matter of seconds, everything can change.Last night, after little sleep the past two, I shut down my computer around midnight. Another NFH deadline over, except for the Monkey Chronicles. I would finish it in the morning, I decided.I sat down with my cockatiel, Puka, to catch a bit of late-night TV. Puka – short for Pukana la, which means sunset in Hawaiian – loves to be with humans. He’s my movie and popcorn buddy. He loves to have his head rubbed. He loves to play with his bright pink paper clip. He loves green beans and millet. He loves corn flakes and spinach.At 2 a.m., I couldn’t keep my eyes open so I put Puka in his cage, and I went to bed. I slept until 4 a.m. – it had been a chaotic and rough week – my mind: too busy.Saturday – another sunny morning in Florida. Earlier in the week I had hoped to go to the water today – at least for a couple of hours. But not today – work to finish, despite that I was dragging.My mornings are pretty crazy: feed the dogs and cats, tend to the tortoises recovering from their injuries, sweep and clean. Then, it’s Puka’s time. I clean his cage and prepare his treats, and while I take a few minutes to read the front page of the newspaper and eat my cornflakes, he perches on my shoulder (he always gets corn flakes, too). This morning, I changed my routine.I let Puka sit on my shoulder while I fed the other animals. He had been outside with me a few times. I was told his wings were clipped. I’ve only had Puka three months. He was found in someone’s garden, and long story short, he ended up with me. He was my first bird. I had no idea that birds’ wings grew back after they had been clipped.We walked outside for one minute. As I turned to go back in the house, one of my dogs darted out the dog door and scared Puka. All of sudden, Puka flew off my shoulder and soared over the trees with the grace and skill of any bird in flight. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe it. For one second, I was in awe and another second, in shock.For the next four hours, I combed the neighborhood. I walked; I rode my bike, calling out for Puka. I met more of my neighbors. There’s a woman who lives around the corner from me. She’s always pulling weeds and tending to her flowers. I’ve always wanted to say hello, but she’s never looked up. Today, she did. I started to ask her if she’d seen a little, white bird with a yellow head and orange dots on his face, but I couldn’t get the words out. I was sobbing. She was kind and comforting. She walked with me for awhile. She told me to put my bird cage outside – maybe he would come back.I came home and called my sister. I was blubbering, barely audible. She had called me Friday – her 13-year-old Dalmatian, Sam, isn’t doing well. We share a love for animals.At 1:30 p.m., I hit the streets again. People I stopped were nice. I couldn’t stop crying, and I didn’t care. My feet hurt, and I hadn’t eaten. It was 90 degrees today in Florida, and humid. I couldn’t tell my sweat from my tears.Florida is thick with trees and foliage. Looking for Puka was like looking for a needle in a haystack. My head was spinning.After another two hours, I started home. About one block from my house I heard him – that familiar loud screech he belts out when he wants attention. I turned and moved toward the sound. I was getting closer.I frantically knocked on doors to get into backyards. Some people said they had heard Puka, too.It was another hour before I spotted him. I had camped out on an old wagon in the backyard of someone who wasn’t home. I kept hearing Puka but I couldn’t find him.When I finally saw him, he was sitting on a tree branch – nonchalantly looking around. I felt like a child who had just been given a brand new puppy. I called out his name, expecting that he would immediately fly down and land on my shoulder. Wrong!He didn’t move – for another hour. I found an old ladder in the yard, and I placed it against the tree and climbed up. I took a stick and held it up – it might be easier for Puka to get on the stick. Bad judgment again. I watched as my Puka once again flew over trees and out of my sight.I learned later on that you should never extend a pole or a branch to a lost bird because it frightens them. The experts say it can take days to coach a domestic bird out of a tree, despite the familiarity of his human’s voice.What now?My close friends in the neighborhood live across the street from me. Alan and Jane and their 13-year-old twin boys, Mitch and Zach, had just arrived home when they encountered me aimlessly wandering the streets. We all looked for Puka until dark. No Puka.Dark has come, and it’s midnight. I have to find a way to finish the Monkey Chronicles. I had interviewed the chairman of the Unity Party of America, and my half-finished column had been focused on the movement toward a common sense, middle-of-the-road third political party. But it seems trivial. I write about Puka instead.I made a choice today that in one second broke my heart. I’m tough on myself – some of my past editors have said too much. I have high expectations of others, too – maybe too high. Regardless, I’ll have a hard time forgiving myself for losing Puka. It was irresponsible. I have been too wrapped up in my business. I skipped over the chapter in the cockatiel book about his feathers -I didn’t have time to read all of it. If I had known they grew back, I would have never taken him outside.Someone might say, “It’s just a bird.” Well, I gave up on those people a long time ago.Others might say, “He’s a bird; he should be free.” And I agree. Cockatiels were captured in Australia and brought to the U.S. for human pleasure. That practice is now illegal, and they’re bred in the U.S. It’s all against nature.Puka might be free, but I’m not kidding myself. He loved his furry blue house, his toys with bells and his daily dose of millet. He’ll miss getting his head rubbed every night, and if I never find him, popcorn and movies won’t be the same for a long time. If he doesn’t land soon, he’ll be easy prey for hawks.I doubt that I’ll get much sleep again

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