Chris Chester, B and The Providence of a Sparrow
October 25, 2007 10:52 AM   Subscribe

'There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 't is not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is 't to leave betimes?'
Chris Chester, author of Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds, a meditation on his life with B, an English Sparrow which he raised from a hatchling fallen from the nest, died suddenly early this past Spring. His nephew Marc Mowery has created Chris Chester - born May 14, 1952 died April 17, 2007 to his memory and has posted 6 of 8 short videos of Chris and Rebecca Chester and the sparrow named B on YouTube.
And here is The Sorrow and the Sparrow: The Life and Death of Chris Chester
Excerpt and video links within

From B:
Mornings begin with "war bird." usually. sometimes he's not in the mood or I can't deal with it, drugged as I am from too little sleep, trying to reacquaint myself with the rigors of consciousness, confused by sunlight flouncing through the windows. But B's desperate when it's spring and swoops the room, turning, as Yeats would have it, in a widening gyre. Up to the mirror, tail flicking he checks, I think, his look. I move to the bed and he to the top of the towel-draped television. That tail: flick, flick, flick. Wings akimbo, beak parted a little, he assesses my opening gambit in a game that is our first rite of the day. "Bad, messy bird," I say, sweeping my hand back and forth across the bed. "Toss him outside; that's where he belongs. Just look at this room; germs, poop, and seed everywhere. To hell with birds, especially house sparrows." More flicks, a quick evacuation to lighten his load, and down he bears in a rush of wings, chirping, nipping my fingers, following quickly and precisely whatever reversals and arcs I make with my hand. I surrender at last, chastened for my slander. B struts atop my lifeless fingers, savoring his win. He dances and bows, chirps and pants. "Fierce, brave bird," I say, "you've slain your enemy, you've bested the foe."

He flies to his water dish to drink, and I sit on the little couch by the window. He'll join me presently and preen, working wing feathers first and then his black bib. Every few seconds he raises his head, scanning for cats and hawks that will never come. Small creatures are cautious, the burden of being prey seldom laid down. During his first
year he would flinch when light, glinting from a passing car, moved across the ceiling stirring racial memories of death from above. He has since learned to ignore it. He stretches his wings and combs them with his toes, wing and leg extending completely-a movement that has about it a sense of tai chi forms perfectly rendered. Often he sits on my shoulder to do this, just as often in the palm of my hand or perched on a finger. I can see his tongue, a pointed, triangular affair, working the plumes into the svelte vanes that form each contour feather. His beak reseals the barbules by zipping them together.

His grooming habits are as fascinating to me now as when I first became privy to them. Since his arrival as a naked blob of flesh in my flower beds, he's claimed my attention in a way that few other things ever have. I may be adrift in a limitless universe, but this bird on my shoulder drifts with me. At least once a day I catch him looking at his feet as if he's noticed them for the first time. Three toes in front, one in back, they seem (measured in human terms) large for his body. He looks at his feet, and I look at him, a circumstance more remarkable to my here-and-now than a billion galaxies spiraling outward to some
unfathomable denouement. Two citizens of a shared reality eyeing one another's improbable fortune.

In better times,

Chris Chester: Chapter 1

Chris Chester: Chapter 2

Chris Chester: Chapter 3

Chris Chester: Chapter 4

Chris Chester: Chapter 5

Chris Chester: Chapter 6
posted by y2karl (9 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

I've been reading the book, in bits and pieces, over the last few months. Utterly charming, and a wonderfully detailed look at a creature most of us see every day but hardly ever see.
posted by rtha at 11:08 AM on October 25, 2007

Wow. That is a profoundly affecting story. I don't think I can really process it right now, but thanks for posting it.
posted by freebird at 11:09 AM on October 25, 2007

charm etc aside, the mashing up of Shakespeare quotes mangles the meaning of what Shakespeare has given us in the contet of the quoted materials and these seeminly meaningful extdracts in fact are a bit contradictory.
posted by Postroad at 11:21 AM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

My wife read this, and saw him speak once. She was very saddened by his death.
posted by Danf at 11:45 AM on October 25, 2007

Thanks for the tip, y2karl. Never would seen any of this otherwise.
posted by mwhybark at 11:53 AM on October 25, 2007


It's a reminder.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:18 PM on October 25, 2007

Another enchanting little bird story (with nice photos and a happier ending) is A Hummingbird in My House: The Story of Squeak.
posted by cenoxo at 1:08 PM on October 25, 2007

Brilliant. Thanks, y2karl!
posted by briank at 5:48 PM on October 25, 2007

This made me cry...

I had a sparrow once. It's name was "Bird." My cat dragged it in through an open window when it was so fresh from the egg that there were still pieces of shell on it. My eight year old son saved it, and wouldn't let me do what I thought was the right thing... I was certain it would die. It didn't. He fed it from an eyedropper - chopped up worms in baby formula, rushing home from school to feed it, and staying up far too late to answer the hungery chirps. I found myself hunting worms by the creek, chopping them up with a kitchen knife specially designated for that purpose alone, and setting my alarm clock to wake up every three hours to feed "Bird." It lived. I watched as tiny pinfeathers emerged from what looked like the ends of shoelaces. Within a few weeks, "Bird" was recognizable as a sparrow to us. I'm sure "Bird" just thought he was one of us. We kept "Bird" in a 15 gallon aquarium, with a lamp nearby for extra heat. A small basket was the nest. A screen closed the top, and the whole setup kept away from the cat.

My son taught "Bird" to fly one day, taking precautions to set the cat outside, and holding "Bird" on his fingers, then raising his hand and letting it fall fast. "Bird" fluttered off my son's fingers and began to realize what his wings were for. Before long, "Bird" was flying all over the house, perching on our shoulders, eating lettuce out of our taco shells as we brought them to our mouths, bathing in a bowl of milk leftover from breakfast cereal, and then re-bathing in water... "Bird" was a smart bird. I bought a birdcage (large) and all sorts of bird toys. I made a cover for the cage, because "Bird" chirped loudly whenever we had to resort to the cage., only quieting down when we created artifical darkness. "Bird" liked to nestle under the beard of my son's father, pulling on his beard hairs until it hurt. "Bird" plucked at my hair and eyebrows, sat on my head and pecked me until I gave her a treat, ate canary seed and gourmet nuts. It was an adventure washing dishes - "Bird" would dive-bomb into the sink and splash and splash...

Eventually, we realized that "Bird" was probably a female house sparrow. She was entertaining, delightful, mean as a junkyard dog, funny, and endearing. I tried to let her go. I took her outside many times, and several times she flew to a nearby tree. She always came back to my finger. Or, my head. I even left her outside for several hours. As soon as I stepped back onto the porch, she was on my shoulder.

I miss that damn "Bird."
posted by Corky at 12:03 PM on October 26, 2007

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