we have a hedge. i still love thinking that small sentence to myself, loving the green fence that lines two sides of our little yard. the thick weave of slim branches and ficus leaves is lovely to me, because i still get tired sometimes of barely glimpsing roofs over the top of tall, cement walls. the hedge is protective, though it's tiny pockets of space and vulnerability to strong clippers make it feel less like the wall it's really meant to be. it's alive and quiet, and the untrimmed side we share with a neighbor lends its space to a party of songbirds.
in the colder months, they sang with astonishing punctuality, striking up at seven in the morning and again at six in the late afternoon. now they sing all day, turning our open windows into transparent speakers, white squares of sparkling, soprano, free jazz-like sound. i'm as fond of them as i am of the hedge; like the garden snails, they're easy pet company, needing only an adequate place where they can make a little home.
a fondness for birds is something often seen--and heard--in the neighborhood here. almost every street has a house with a songbird cage, hung like an earring from a concrete eave, housing a pet that preens and sings out its simple company.
i have also visited at least one home where the collection of caged birds were colorful, talkative, beautiful, and almost certainly not legal. it seems that the predilection for feathered friends with pleasant voices can also reveal a darker side, beyond the restrictions of a too-small cage; bird trafficking is apparently no small business.
still, most birds singing for their caretaker's pleasure don't share such a shadowy history. theirs, a long one in latin america, seems to speak more toward a desire for ambiance and company, or beauty, or both--and i immediately think of books. hernán cortés wrote of the aztec rulers' hundreds of birds in well-cared captivity, and the most unforgettable novels of garcía márquez include caged birds in their magical character casts. isabel allende is one, as well, to breath life into pet birds, sharing a bit of action with them inside her sensational stories. my mother-in-law asked me once if pet birds were as popular in the united states as they clearly seem to be here. i had to say no, both in reality and in that other world called fiction.
i'm glad my new reality includes our own band of birds, glad to form a tiny part of this long songbird tradition. but i'm especially glad that i don't have to keep my singers in a cage. instead, we have a hedge. i love thinking that small sentence to myself.