‘The Magic Bird’ by Luvia Jane Swanson

The Magic Bird
As the boy awoke his jungle world awoke with him. Morning greetings trilled and trumpeted, squawked and chattered back and forth across the forest canopy.  Many shades of greens, reds and golds added to the chorus as the sun rose up and brought them into life. Each day this feast of sound and light was recreated, and the boy grew to recognize the voices. From his hammock he would send “good mornings” out to each bird or frog or monkey as it called. He’d stretch and yawn, and open up his eyes so they might drink their fill of color.

One morning as the boy lay in his hammock an unfamiliar sound caught his ear and brought him sharp awake. In among the voices of his morning friends rang out a new birdsong of the purest, clearest sound he’d ever known. The silver tones seemed to resonate within him, making his heart ache with joy and pulse with sweetness. The boy ran out into the forest to see who could possess such a voice.

He caught merely the barest glimpse of a large bird’s wingtip as it flew within the treetops. Even so, he could see it was the most marvelous of birds. Iridescent feathers shimmered in every shade and tone, catching and sending out sparks of light like rainbows after the afternoon rains. The beauty of the bird moved through the boy. It filled his chest with a heavy warmth and brought tears into his eyes. But the bird had emerged just for a moment before it was again swallowed up in the sounds and colors of the canopy.

Later the boy’s old grandmother noticed the change in his eyes and in his soul. She asked and he told her of the marvelous bird, wondering aloud who it could be. She shook her head and said it must have been the Magic Bird he’d seen. She’d heard its legend told once, long ago though it was. It can be dangerous, she warned, for those who come too near the Magic Bird. “That bird has bewitching powers…see, it has already put a change in you.”

The words of his dear grandmother had little effect, for all day long while the boy collected roots from the forest he could think of nothing but the bird. He dreamed and dallied through the evening meal until his mother wondered if he’d caught fever. That night in his hammock, such a wistful longing filled him that he could hardly sleep, but only half-dreamt, half-prayed about flute-like tones and splendid colors.

In the morning he arose once more to familiar trills and chatters of the jungle, but as he knelt to wash beside the river he was startled by the sound of liquid silver birdsong. He looked up to see the sparkling radiance flying toward him from across the river. As it turned downstream the boy jumped up to follow, calling out to it, “Wait, please wait for me.”

Higher and higher the bird flew and the boy pursued, leaving behind the river and the lowlands, across tall grassy plains into the foothills, then up and up tall mountains. Many days they climbed, the air grew thinner, cold and clearer, and the sun grew stronger. Still the bird flew higher and the boy pursued until they both rested atop the highest peak of the very tallest mountain in the land.

There the bird turned to offer him a seat upon it’s feathered back. But, it warned, in choosing to pursue the Magic World, the boy must leave behind his home. In doing so, he would forego all events and experiences that would have otherwise unfolded to become his life. “One does not return the same from the Magic World,” the bird explained.

It gently waved a rainbow wing across the boy’s eyes and bade him look with his heart while scenes of his life appeared. He saw the jungle with his friends and family, smelled flowers, smoke, damp earth, tasted fruits sweet and sour, listened to the morning music of the forest and his heart felt full and torn.

He lamented, “Oh, I couldn’t bear for you to leave me where I’d never hear your song or see your feathers, but I fear that I’m not ready. Maybe if I just returned to touch it all once more, then surely I could take my leave and follow you without regret.”

The bird nodded. “I will wait.”

So the boy returned home to where all was as he’d left it, but now he felt exquisite love and thankfulness for all to which he’d previously been accustomed. At the evening meal he savored the essence of each bite. He gazed deeply at his mother and endured her hugs without squirming. Again she worried that he might be ill, but the grandmother just watched, knowing and resigned.

All day long the boy relished every beauty and pleasure that he touched, saying to himself, “I’ll just go to fish with my brother one last time,” or, “One more taste of coconut milk for me, then I’ll be on my way to be forever with the Bird.” His state of rapture and anticipation continued as day after day he found one delight after another that he could not quite yet relinquish.

Bit by bit, as the days turned into weeks and then to months, the boy thought less often of the Magic life to come. He wisely told himself, “I’ll just take my time and finish with this world so that I’ll be absolutely sure and ready when it’s time to go.”

A year passed by, then two. Often the boy thought he had nearly completed his sampling of experience. Then he’d think of the new game he’d heard his friend speak of and told himself, “Better to wait and have no regrets.”

When the boy grew old enough to make his way in the world he thought, “I’ve never seen the city. Surely my earthly life would be incomplete if I never knew what wonders might exist there.” And so he moved away from the sounds and colors and the rich and heavy smells of his jungle home.

As the boy’s life took him further from the jungle and deeper into the world of human society, the memory of the Bird grew increasingly unreal. He longed instead for the company of his fellows in the taverns and for their jokes and stories. In time he doubted that his childhood meeting with the Bird could ever have taken place. “It must have been a dream,” he decided, and let it go at that. And so his life went on, as did the lives of all he knew, with little memory of his jungle youth and none at all of the wondrous Bird that had once so captivated his heart.

One day the boy went on a journey to the home of his childhood. He no longer ran barefoot along the forest floor and his graying hair had long ago been cropped short about his ears. But he recognized the earthy smells and was cheered by greetings sounded by long-forgotten animal friends.

That night he slept near the riverbank in his hammock. Rising before dawn to once-familiar morning sounds, he began to recall an image from so long ago, of one special birdsong and feathers like the brightest rainbow. And as his memory cleared he suddenly recalled the agreement that the Bird had made to wait for him, remembered the passion he had felt in its pursuit, and knew a new sense of sadness. How undeserving he had been, he thought. So many opportunities and so much time had passed. He had no doubt that he had strayed so far as to have finally lost his chance to journey to the Magic World.

A chastised boy returned to the home he had made in the city. He no longer sought the company of lively friends with their entertaining stories, and no longer took pleasure in the beauties of his world. In his shame he believed himself unworthy of life’s joys and so became an outcast from his very soul. He began to drink, not now for the pleasant lightness of heart that it had once brought, but to dull the senses that still cried out in their desire to celebrate life. Day by day his misery grew as he condemned his wasted life, then pitied his miserable condition.

The boy was now an old man who wandered. He had lost his city home and lived as he could, begging as often as not. And so it was that in his wanderings one day he found himself beside the river, gazing into the deep rushing water. He had not eaten that day or the one before, so at first he thought himself delirious when the water seemed to change in color. Then he recognized the change as a reflection on the water’s surface. He looked up to face the wondrous Bird of his youth. Only this time he felt none of the old exhilaration, for he believed that he had long since lost his right to claim the grace of its favor.

The Bird peered steadily at the boy, and as he met its gaze he was surprised to learn that it had never left him, but, as promised, had been waiting patiently. In that moment of awareness, he realized it had been his own self-censure that had blinded him to the Bird’s presence. Tears came as the boy’s old body relaxed. He felt relieved, but also troubled, for still his plight remained. “Please,” he asked the Bird, “Tell me what to do. I’ve tasted all of life that I might ever care to, but my heart still clings to my world. I long for nothing more than for the freedom to go with you, and yet my mind has not found that freedom.”

The Bird nodded, saying, “Go and see the Lady of the river. She will help you.”

So the boy stepped into the river to seek the Lady. She appeared at the edge of his vision as a silvery, fluid shimmer. Her gown flowed out in liquid ripples and blended with the water’s currents. He felt from her the comfort of familiar, loving welcome. This was one he’d spent much happy time with in his youth.

She pointed to the water’s surface, alive with swirling currents where bubbles arose and popped again as they flowed downstream. A rainbow, from reflected sunlight, seemed to dance inside each bubble. The Lady showed him how to see the bubbles on this river as entire lives within the boy’s world. Every living creature had its own bubble, which briefly and magnificently shone before becoming, once again, indistinguishable in the stream of life’s river. Next she pointed out the bubble of the boy’s own life. He watched as it changed from newly formed, when he had first seen the Bird, to this point when it had already passed its fullness.

Seeing that the rainbow bubbles were created from the play of river and light had no effect upon the boy’s dilemma. Ardently, he loved the illusion and wished that each bubble could be real and complete in itself. He suffered because he knew it was not so. An anguished boy cried, “How can I dispel this obsession and become free to accompany the Magic Bird?”

Once more, the Lady of the river pointed to the water, but this time what she showed him was the way the pattern of the bubbles looks to one who sees it from the Magic World. This viewpoint, she said, was the reason that no one ever returned unchanged from that world.

Observing now, he noticed that the light, reflected on each bubble’s surface, emanated from the Bird’s land. When the bubble popped the light returned to its source in the Magic World. In the outpouring and intake of rainbow rays he saw that nothing was lost, or even changed; that nothing could ever be lost. It was just an endless dance of possibilities. Each bubble, once popped, could continue downstream in its liquid form or could arise again as another bubble; could last long on the surface or pop as soon as it was formed.

At last, the boy filled with joy. For the first time since he had met the Bird so many years ago, there was no struggle. He would go with the Bird and become part of the outpouring of light. He’d see what it was like to be on the creative end of the world dance.

The boy returned to the high mountaintop where he had once asked for more time to experience his world. The Bird was there, waiting as agreed. The magnificent wings opened wide in a near blinding display of rainbow light. The boy stepped into the embrace. As he immersed himself in the beloved brilliance there came to be a merging of boy and Bird…and off they flew together, as one, toward the Magic World


© LuviaJane Swanson   1997