Thursday, February 28, 2013

The bird master, part two

 Eventually, the land was filled with birdhouses. A number of different traditions, each one of them  internally consistent, made specific kinds of birdhouses which were passed from generation to generation.

Because birds rarely, if ever, came to live in the houses, eventually the people  began to make up stories. They concluded that birds needed special things inside the houses to attract them; and a whole culture wealth around furnishing the houses with all kinds of different things that birds would like. A whole set of series developed around this, with arguments and counter arguments, leading to more and more elaborate furnishings for every type of bird house. Some of them eventually ended up stuffed half full with artificial eggs, decorative objects, and other supposed attractants.

One day, a new bird master, traveling from a distant land, came to the city where the bird houses were built. Familiar with all the habits and practices of birding, he encountered the local birdhouse practice with curiosity. He sensed that there was something strange about the understanding of these people; but he didn't want to offend them.

After pondering the situation, he finally approached a young man who was building a birdhouse in a very fine shop that specialized in such items, in one of the quieter neighborhoods of the city. The young man was in the process of filling the birdhouse with a set of exquisitely detailed artificial eggs.

"Why are you doing that?" he asked the young man?

"Why, we've always done it this way," said the young man. "Every birdhouse needs to be properly equipped with the things that go in it."

 The birdmaster was completely baffled. "You mean, you don't use your birdhouses for birds? You just fill them up with things?"

 The young man laughed out loud. "Of course they're for birds. But why would a bird ever want to move into a house that didn't have the proper things in it?"

 The bird master paused for a moment.

"I don't think you understand birds very well," he replied. "It doesn't work that way at all.  Or, perhaps I should say, it does work that way, but you still have it all wrong." The tone of voice in which he replied was quiet, accommodating, yet grave. For some reason, it stopped the young man short. He realized this man knew something he didn't.

" If that's the case, then what does a birdhouse need to have in it to attract birds?"

 "Ah," replied the bird master. "That's just the thing. In order for a birdhouse to attract birds, it has to be empty."

  Now it was the young man's turn to feel bafflement. "What do you mean?"

"A birdhouse is designed to receive the bird," said the bird master. "Anything you put in it will prevent the bird from wanting to come in. The bird doesn't want your things; it has its own ways. You can only  create a space for it: an empty, quiet space. Then you have to wait very quietly and exercise great patience. Birds will never come in the midst of noise and agitation."

" Anyway," he continued, "what you're doing might work, but it's never the best way."

"What is the best way, then?"

"Birds actually prefer to nest in trees. Your people seem to have cut all the trees in the area down." And he handed the young man an acorn.

"But that will take many years," complained the young man, eyeing the seed in dismay. "Possibly a lifetime."

"Yes," said the birdmaster, smiling gently. "But look on the bright side. You're still young."

And he went on his way.

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