Monday, November 27, 2006

And the Caged Birds Sang ...

A hot July morning in 1982. We were in Hsinchu, Taiwan, and were staying at the Visiting Faculty Residence at National Tsing Hua University. A colleague of my husband’s from the University of Arizona who had been on sabbatical there had told us to be sure to get up early and walk up the hill behind the university. He promised a delightful surprise.

It was first light, but we could already feel the oncoming heat and humidity that would make walking almost unbearable after about 6:30 a.m. We set off along the road and found ourselves surrounded by cycling townsfolk balancing two, three or more bamboo bird cages on their bicycles. We reached the crest of the hill and discovered a beautiful path along the top of a steep wooded ravine. The villagers hung their bird cages on the lower branches of the trees and began their Tai Chi routines. As we walked along, many of the villagers stared at us. Most of the men had little or no facial hair, but an elderly gentleman, looking as if he’d stepped out of a Chinese classical painting, pulled on his long, whispy white beard and laughed and pointed at my husband’s thick black one.

Suddenly we heard wild birds singing high in the trees. The melodies were complex and beautiful. Soon the caged birds began to imitate them and there was an amazing exchange of enchanting music to accompany the quiet movements of the townsfolk. After about an hour, the caged birds were returned to the bicycles and taken silently back to town.


This occurred long before I had becoming interested in birds and I don't know what birds were singing in the wild or what birds were in the cages. I've since learned that Hsinchu County is a prime birding location. I'd love to return.


Laura said...

Pam, what a compelling and beautiful story, so well told. I can see the last scene so vividly, with the mind's eye. Thank you for this.

Chancy said...

I wish I could have been there to partake of those magic moments.

I wonder if the caged birds were lamenting their loss of freedom or just happy to be alive?

robin andrea said...

This is such a lovely story, so beautifully told. I feel bad for the birds in their cages, but perhaps they were honored pets brought out to hear their wild relatives.