A Different Blue Page 4

Jimmy had loved birds. If woodworking was his gift, bird watching was his hobby. He had a pair of binoculars, and he would often hike to a high spot where he could observe and document what he saw. He said birds were messengers and that if you watched them closely enough, you could discern all sorts of things. Shifting winds, approaching storms, dropping temperatures. You could even predict if there was danger nearby.

When I was very small it was hard for me to sit still. It actually still is. Birdwatching was hard for me, so Jimmy started leaving me behind when I was old enough to remain at camp alone. I was much more responsive to woodcarving simply because it was so physical.

I must have been seven or eight the first time I saw Jimmy get really excited about a bird sighting. We were in southern Utah, and I remember where we were only because Jimmy remarked on it.

“What is he doing in these parts?” he had marveled, his eyes fixed on a scrubby pine tree. I had followed his gaze to a little black bird perched halfway up the tree on a thin branch. Jimmy went for his binoculars, and I stayed still, watching the little bird. I didn't see anything special about it. It just looked like a bird. Its feathers were solid black – no flash of color to draw the eye or brilliant markings to admire.

“Yep. That's a Eurasian Blackbird all right. There are no blackbirds native to North America. Not like this guy. He's actually a thrush.” Jimmy was back, his voice a whisper as he looked through his binoculars. “He's a long way from home, or else he's escaped from somewhere.”

I whispered too, not wanting to scare it away if Jimmy thought it was special.

“Where do blackbirds usually live?”

“Europe, Asia, North Africa,” Jimmy murmured watching the orange-billed bird. “You can find them in Australia and New Zealand too.”

“How do you know it's a he?”

“Because the females don't have the glossy black feathers. They aren't as pretty.”

The little yellow eyes peered down at us, fully aware that we were watching. Without warning, the bird flew away. Jimmy watched him go, tracking him through the binoculars until he was beyond sight.

“His wings were as black as your hair,” Jimmy commented, turning away from the bird that had enlivened our morning. “Maybe that's what you are . . . a little blackbird a long way from home.”

I looked at our camper sitting in the trees. “We're not a long way from home, Jimmy,” I said, confused. Home was wherever Jimmy was.

“Blackbirds aren't considered bad luck like ravens and crows and other birds that are black. But they don't give up their secrets easily. They want us to figure them out. We have to earn their wisdom.”

“How do we earn it?” I wrinkled my nose up at him, baffled.

“We have to learn their story.”

“But he's a bird. How can we learn his story? He can't talk.” I was literal in the way all kids are literal. I would have really liked it if the blackbird could tell me his story. I would keep him as a pet, and he could tell me stories all day. I begged for stories from Jimmy.

“First you have to really want to know.” Jimmy looked down at me. “Then you have to watch. You have to listen. And after a while, you'll get to know him. You'll start to understand him. And he'll tell you his story.”

I took out a pencil and spun it around my fingers. I wrote, "Once Upon a Time" across the top of my sheet, just to be a smart ass. I smirked at the line. As if my story was a fairy tale. My smile faded.

“Once upon a time . . . there was a little blackbird,” I wrote. I stared at the page. “. . . pushed out of the nest, unwanted.”

Images gathered in my head. Long dark hair. A pinched mouth. That was all I could remember of my mother. I replaced the pinched mouth with a gently smiling face. A completely different face. Jimmy's face. That face brought a twinge of pain. I moved my inner eye to his hands. Brown hands moving the chisel across the heavy beam. Wood shavings piled on the floor at his feet where I sat, watching them fall. The shavings drifted down around my head, and I closed my eyes and imagined that they were tiny pixies coming to play with me. These were the things I liked to remember. The memory of the first time he had held my smaller hand in his and helped me strip away the heavy bark from an old stump rose in my mind like a welcome friend. He was talking softly about the image beneath the surface. As I listened to the memory of his voice, I let my mind trip back across the desert and up into the hills, remembering the gnarled claw of mesquite I had found the day before. It had been so heavy I'd had to drag it to my truck and hoist it, one side at time, into the truck bed. My fingers itched to peel back the charred skin and see what was beneath. I had a feeling about it. A shape was forming in my head. I tapped my feet and curled my fingers against the paper, daydreaming about what I could create.

The bell rang. The noise level in the room rose as if a switch had been flipped, and I jerked from my reverie and glared down at my page. My pathetic history waited for embellishment.

“Turn your papers in. And please make sure your name is at the top! I can't give you credit for your history if I don't know that it's yours!”

The room was empty in about ten seconds flat. Mr. Wilson struggled to align the stack of papers that had been shoved in his hands as students exuberantly vacated his classroom, eager for other things. The first day of school was officially over. He noticed me still sitting and cleared his throat a little.

"Miss . . . um . . . Echohawk?"

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