In Search of the Paradise Flycatcher
Today would have been the hatchday of my dear pet bird, Tashi, who passed away back in November. A hatchday is like a birthday, except that it is the anniversary of the day she hatched out of an egg. Tashi was no ordinary bird, and I’m very grateful that she entered this world 8 years ago. I’ve never had another cockatiel, but Tashi was the perfect pet — friendly, playful, and affectionate. She is remembered every day, but especially today.
Tashi’s tale begins in India, in March of the year 2001, before she was hatched. I had just finished up a job working as a private tutor for an American family traveling the world, and I found myself in McLeod Ganj, a small town in the lower Himalaya mountains. The Dalai Lama lives there, and every year thousands of Buddhist people come to hear his talks from all over the world. I didn’t know much about Buddhism at the time, but I decided to go hear him speak.
The pass to get into the Dalai Lama’s temple cost about $2, and that gave me entry to hear him speak for 6 hours a day, for 14 days straight. He spoke in the Tibetan language, but I bought a cheap radio and headset in a shop so that I could hear the instantaneous translation on FM transmission. Inside the temple courtyard, we had to sit cross legged and everyone was packed in knee to knee. If we brought a mug, little monk boys would run through the rows and give us chai just like the big time monks get. And I could see the Dalai Lama, one of the world’s only living holy men, as he spoke.
It was amazing, but the crowds were a bit unbearable, and there were lines to get through a metal detector at the entrance. So, I found myself going to hear him speak, but sitting outside of the temple where I could lie down on a blanket and gaze off into the mountains.
It was there that I discovered the birds. Every day, I would sit and listen to the Dalai Lama and watch as stunning flying creatures danced and swirled in the sky. Some of them, it turned out, were vultures. They were equally majestic as the hawks and kites and other birds of prey. I also saw small birds that I had never seen before, as the Dalai Lama’s talk of compassion swelled in my ears. After a few days, I went to a used bookstore in town, and bought two books: one about Buddhism and the other about birds of the Himalayas. After a few more days, I realized that the talk was beyond my comprehension. I was too distracted by my surroundings to really take it all in. After 8 days of the teachings, I stopped going. I kept reading both books, but I spent my days exploring in other ways. Often, that meant wandering down roads looking for birds.
There was one bird that was featured on the cover of my book that I knew I needed to see. It was called the Paradise Flycatcher. It was a small white bird with a long, long tail that supposedly whirled like a streamer when it flew. At this time, I was feeling a bit lost and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that this town had a lot to teach me. And I knew that I had to spot a Paradise Flycatcher. So I went looking.
I wandered and I watched and I pulled out my binoculars. One day, I went down the hill to a Tibetan art center, and instead of looking at the art, I kept searching for the Paradise Flycatcher. I found the feather of a different flycatcher bird, but never spotted that white dancing tail. After hours of searching, I saw some steps leading to the roof of a building and made my way up to catch a better view. From the top of the building, I could look out and get a little view of the area. All of a sudden, I looked closely at the trees around me. A whole new view appeared as I realized that the trees were filled with small parrots. I had never before seen a wild bird that had so many colors! The birds were playing together and kissing and cleaning each other. I had this profound feeling that there was a whole other world taking place in the trees but most of the time we live our lives just looking at whatever pops up in front of us. I’ll never forget that moment.
I never saw the Paradise Flycatcher, but I did do a lot of thinking during the next two months that I spent in India. I came to the realization that I wanted to be a teacher for real when I came back to the States. So I came home to work towards that goal, without ever seeing that dancing white tail.
With a few other steps along the road, I eventually made my way to Innovation Academy, which was called Murdoch Middle School at the time. My first year teaching at Murdoch was extremely hard, and it taught me that there’s no such thing as a natural teacher. There’s a lot of learning and practice that’s necessary, or at least that was true for me. I did have some amazing students who were very patient with me. One of those students was a girl named Tiana who was a true creative soul and a real bird lover. Tiana always talked about her birds, and even brought one of her lovebirds to school, curled up in her shirt. When I saw their mutual love, I knew that a bird would be a good pet for me.
I did some research about the best birds for new owners, and the best breeder in the area, and that’s how I found my cockatiel. I named her Tashi, which is a Tibetan name that means “auspicious or good fortune.” And then I fell in love.
One of my favorite things to do with Tashi was play music with friends. She loved to meet new people. Whenever a new guest came over, she would hop onto their shoulder and sometimes even lick their face. If you were lucky, she’d chirp along to your music. She loved being with people and every day when I got home from work she would race to the door of her cage to come out and play.
I never saw the Paradise Flycatcher but now I realize that the most wonderful things in life aren’t so complicated to find. You just need to look right in front of you.
I feel very thankful to have had such a sweet friend for this time in my life. She is missed dearly.