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Aloft by Stephen Bodio

Aloft by Stephen Bodio

Author:Stephen Bodio
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Published: 2013-12-31T16:00:00+00:00


JACOBIN—

white head just peeping out from its mane.

Uncle Joe had kept some fancy breeds—the tumblers, a few fantails—but nothing like these. The first birds to catch my eye were, I knew from my reading, Jacobins. They were a kind often pictured, but I had never made sense of the illustrations, which seemed to be a pigeon topped by a wheel or sunburst of feathers instead of a head; wherever the head was, it was not visible. Now for the first time I understood: “Jacks” grew circular rosettes on both sides of their necks that met fore and aft to form a sort of monk’s cowl around their small heads. Some were white and really, rather than metaphorically, resembled flowers; others, more interestingly, were black or rust red with white caps peeping like tonsured heads from their ruffs.

The Jacks sat placidly for the most part, or moved slowly, their ridiculous manes bobbing in the breeze. But the small African owls were as active as my homers. These were tiny aggressive pigeons, not much bigger than doves, with round skulls and short parrot’s beaks. They came in rich solid colors—black, sulfur yellow, dun, red, barred blue. Although they weren’t as exotic as the Jacobins, they had presence and personality.

The third breed was one I couldn’t put a name to. These had smooth black heads and throats, and black tails. Their heads were surrounded by a shell of hard, curly white feathers. All the rest of their feathers were white, including enormous muffs on their legs. They evoked lace, flowers again, feather boas, Victorian ladies’ dresses.

“Those are Schmalkaldener Mohrenkopfs from Germany. They may be the only ones in the country.” Mr. Anderson had noticed my amazement. In addition to the three very fancy breeds, the loft contained many plebian homers and rollers—the last a common flying tumbler. I guessed, correctly, that these were foster parents for the blinkered, dreamy Jacobins, the short-billed owls, the rare Schmalkaldeners.

My sudden want at the sight of these apparitions was something new. I had so far been fascinated by what my birds did and how they did it—action, homing, sport, the stimulating anxieties of race day. Now, suddenly, with these old pictures come to life, I was captivated by how they looked.

I never had much advice from Mr. Anderson. He was a rather remote ancient, not given to easy conversation with children. I only saw him once or twice after he gave me the birds, and it was possible to get the impression that he was waiting with well-disguised impatience to go back to his flowers and birds. Still, I owe him for the first stirrings of at least two future enthusiams: that of the collector and that of the breeder.

The fancy breeder’s impulse is to art, but I had not yet been seized by anything so sophisticated. All animal keeping is a mix of Edward Wilson’s “biophilia,” of naturalists’ curiosity, of, at least when it involves the higher animals, an impulse toward communication and companionship. But for



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