"For the Birds"
by Harold Kulungian

       Now that the cold and damp season of the year has finally arrived--the most Yin season--when we need to strengthen ourselves with strong Yang food, without eating much animal food, which can be depressing, it is fascinating to observe how my pair of brown and white tropical finches are responding to their food opportunities.

       I have various root vegetables drying in baskets, which I use in my winter cooking: burdock, turnips, beets, parsnip, and carrots. As the raw weather begins, I love especially to cook the roots overnight in a clay pot, with bacalao (heavily salted white fish), lentils, beans, hard leafy greens, and onion, with roasted kelp at the bottom of the pot.

       The smoky flavor of the toasted seaweed is very appetizing in winter, and provides ample minerals to help turn my creeping in grey hairs, due to a little Macrobiotic cheating, back to jet black. The late Lima Ohsawa (1899-1999) has been an inspiration in this regard; her hair was still black in 1993, at the centenary celebration of her deceased husband, when she was 94.

       Well, my tropical finches, who were born in captivity and never got any any avian training from their elders on how to forage for roots in a temperate climate in New England, are demonstrating their healthy instinct in knowing just how strengthening dried roots are this time of year.

       Both the cock and the hen have quickly jumped on the dried roots, nibbling away with great pleasure, especially on the sweet beetroots. You can see in their eyes how much they appreciate this Yang winter food! The cock has been breaking off the thin rootstems and carrying them to his nest with great gusto!

       So the pair are stocking up on these delicious roots which make strong intestines, and also lining their nest with these twigs, since sitting on them is very strengthening also. The intense absorbency of the dry roots will keep the birds' skin dry and help with the transpiration of body wastes in this damp season when our pores are not open due to the cold.

       The beauty of living with these wild creatures provides wonderful companionship, since they don't talk too much to disturb one's thoughts. But they do talk back and forth in a low voice as they fly from one room to the other, where I have plenty of straw baskets they can nest in.

       I bring in various organic materials, which the cock plunders freely, including the hairs off my head, to line his nest. They have dried grass, burlap, hemp, and wood shavings. I've stopped inspecting their nest, high over my south window, since they've shown themselves over the years to be quite capable of keeping it clean, with no assistance needed.

       In any case, their droppings are an innocuous white powder from their birdseed (mainly millet) diet, and do not attract any bugs or give off any odor whatever.

       I do have just one conflict with my birds, however, in achieving a just modus vivendi. Their sleeping hours are from sunset to sunrise, while mine are considerably less. So they get wakened when I come in at night and turn on the light; and also in the early morning when I awake a couple hours before sunrise. Both of them used to complain vociferously for me to turn out the light and let them sleep undisturbed.

       But I love the early morning hours for reading in bed; so I turn on my bed lamp and reach for a good book, meanwhile telling the finches, "You've got all day to sleep while I'm away." However, the cock is not so easily persuaded, and has developed his own imperious strategy for dealing with my interruption of his sweet dreams under the wing of his dear spouse.

       He reluctantly climbs out of their nest, flies to my bed, and alights on the book I'm reading. Then he leans forward and stares me in the eyes, as if to say: "You won't dare push me off this perch! And I'm not going to let you turn the page. You will have to put the light out and go back to sleep."

       And he is right: with those piercing brown eyes looking right through me, and all the gorgeous coloring of brown and white, how could I possibly think of wanting him to be gone? But I have shown him my dexterity in pulling the page from under his feet, without disturbing him, turning it, and going right on with my reading. Gradually he gets bored from his non-success in staring me down, and flies back to his nest to comfort his spouse who is also unhappy at being aroused so early. By now, they have reconciled themselves to the slight inconvenience of making up the lost hours of sleep during the day while I'm away.

       I advise anyone who wants to study Yin/Yang to get a pair of tropical finches and enjoy their companionship. Unfortunately, this female does not lay any eggs. It's a sterile marriage, but nevertheless a very successful on in every other regard. I suspect it was the chemicals (so-called "vitamins") that the pet-store puts into the birds' water, making it yellow, which has caused this biological disability to produce eggs.

       But there is nothing that can be done about that. The chemicals in the water are apparently mandated by law, presumably to prevent the spread of avian diseases. And like the forced use of drugs on humans too, the treatment is usually iatrogenic, causing new medical problems that then remain insoluble.

       Nevertheless, if you want to liven up your living quarters with some sprightly life that appreciates each new day with joy, and never tires of the simplest wholesome diet of seeds and roots, and lettuce in the warmer weather, and cabbage also, you won't find better house companions than a pair of tropical finches.