The Lost Cockatoo
One morning, bright and early, all the birds in the forest – except Owl, who sleeps during
the day – were awake and going about their business in a brisk and cheerful fashion. Blue Jay was flying from Douglas Fir to Ponderosa Pine to Elderberry Bush, perching on each one long enough to sing his song of possession, warning other jays to keep their distance. Hawk was circling big swooshes high in the air, playing in the updrafts and breezes. Mallard was paddling on the lake, diving now and then for the water plants that made up his breakfast. The Covey of Quail were skittering across the forest floor, pecking up seeds and chattering among themselves.
It was quite an ordinary morning. After the storm the night before, the sun was shining and the woodland folk were happy. Deer was grazing in the meadow by the lake. Chipmunk was scurrying around, collecting the seeds from Ponderosa Pine‟s cones and storing them in his cheeks. Snowshoe Hare was so pleased with the world that she was doing bunny hops and leaps along the banks of the creek just before it joined the water of the lake. Black Bear was sunning herself on the little beach and wondering if it would be too much trouble to get up and dig water lily bulbs for breakfast.
Into this little community came Cockatoo. Cockatoo was new to the forest and none of the residents had ever seen him or any of his relatives before. They were greatly astonished at his gorgeous topknot of pure white feathers. It was quite the most elaborate headdress any of them had seen on a flying creature. Blue Jay had a very handsome crest of blue feathers. Mallard had shiny feathers on his head that changed colors – green and
purple and blue, all shimmery and lovely. Woodpecker had a bright red head. The Covey of Quail had a very cute little headdress of a single feather with a big black spot on the end. Even Deer had a set of extremely showy antlers that branched into many symmetrical points. But no one had anything to equal the elegant magnificence of Cockatoo‟s topknot.
Of course, the birds and other creatures of the forest didn‟t know Cockatoo‟s name at first. He flew out of the woods and over the lake and came to rest on a branch of the willow that grew on the lakeshore. It was Blue Jay who drew the creatures‟ attention to the new-
comer. Blue Jay always made a big deal out of everything that happened in the forest. Sometimes he made a big deal out of nothing at all. But this time they had to agree that something had happened. Blue Jay flew to the willow and perched near Cockatoo. Mallard swam over and looked up at them. Black Bear sat up and took notice. Snowshoe Hare stopped doing her dance and came over to see what all the excitement was about. Deer watched from the meadow for a few moments then, seeing that Cockatoo was no danger to him, he walked over to introduce himself.
“Who are you?” demanded Blue Jay. Blue Jay was always blunt.
Cockatoo tossed his head. He did not like Blue Jay‟s tone. “Who are you?” he asked, just as bluntly as Blue Jay.
“I‟m Blue Jay. What are you doing in this forest?”
Cockatoo was getting very irritated by this rude blue bird. He turned his back on Blue Jay and addressed himself to Deer. “My name is Cockatoo,” he said. “I‟m a stranger to your forest. I live in a house with Christie and Bruce.”
Snowshoe Hare was puzzled. “What is a house-with-Christie-and-Bruce? I‟ve never seen
anything like that in the forest.”
There was a murmur of agreement among the birds and animals.
“Neither have I,” said Black Bear. “Is it a den or a nest?”
Now Cockatoo was puzzled. What were these creatures talking about? He cocked his head to one side and looked at them, trying to tell if they were teasing him.
“I have seen a house,” Deer said quietly. “Over on the other side of the lake, through the fir wood, and down the hill. There are many houses and they are not in the forest.”
“That‟s right,” said Cockatoo. “I live far away from your forest.”
“As far away as the hard black river?” Snowshoe Hare asked, her eyes big with wonder.
Cockatoo looked puzzled. Deer smiled as he saw that Cockatoo didn‟t know how to
“Yes,” Deer said. “The houses are across the hard black river. Not only across it but on the other side of the big woods. When I was a fawn, my mother told me never to go close to that river. She said it was very dangerous and those giant hard-shelled monsters would as soon crush the life out of an animal as not.”
All the birds and animals shuddered. They had all heard gruesome tales of the fate of animals and birds that crossed the paths of those monsters.
“I have spent many hours studying those terrible beings,” Blue Jay said seriously. “I cannot understand how they can go so fast. They run faster than you, Deer, or you, Snowshoe Hare, yet they look like giant turtles. And their paws are round and they have no legs at all.”
Chipmunk had taken her seeds home and now joined the meeting, though she stayed at the edge near a large rock that she could shelter under if need arose. She kept a sharp lookout for Hawk and a wary eye on Black Bear. Now her curiosity prompted her to draw attention to herself by asking a question.
“Have you been to the houses, Deer?” she asked.
“Yes. When I was young, I traveled extensively. I have crossed the hard black river many times and eaten the sweet apples that grow near some of the houses.” He scowled around
at the animals and birds and shook his antlers warningly. “But it was very foolish of me to go where my mother told me not to go. If you are wise, none of you will ever go to that river or venture to the houses on the other side of the big woods.”
“If it‟s so far and so dangerous, how did Cockatoo get here?” demanded Blue Jay.
“Why don‟t you ask Cockatoo?” said Black Bear.
“All right, I will,” said Blue Jay. “Cockatoo, how did you get here?”
“I flew. I flew and flew and flew. Do you remember the storm last night? I got caught in the wind and it was dark and the clouds covered up the moon and the stars and I got lost. Then it began to rain and I took shelter high in a tree but a big branch broke off and nearly hit me as it fell to the ground. I was so scared and cold and wet! I flew away from that tree and I was afraid to land until the storm was over. Finally, the rain stopped and the wind died down and the sun came out. Now I‟m here but I don‟t know where here is
and I don‟t know how to get home again.”
Cockatoo was so tired and overwhelmed by his troubles that he was almost in tears. Just then the Covey of Quail came out of the underbrush by the creek and skittered across the beach. They stopped and looked all around at the animals gathered under the willow and they looked up at Blue Jay and Cockatoo in the tree.
“Who is that?” asked the astonished Covey of Quail. “We‟ve never seen that bird in the forest before.”
“That‟s Cockatoo,” Chipmunk told them. “He‟s lost.”
“Lost, indeed,” said the Covey of Quail. “If he‟s lost, why don‟t you show him the way home?”
“I can‟t,” Snowshoe Hare said. “I don‟t know the way to his house-with-Christie-and-
Bruce. I could show him the way as far as the hard black river but after that I would be lost myself.”
“The hard black river!” exclaimed the Covey of Quail. “Don‟t you go anywhere near the hard black river,” begged the Covey of Quail earnestly.
“Don‟t go near the hard black river,” mimicked Blue Jay sarcastically. “Don‟t go near the
hard black river.” Blue Jay sneered at the Covey of Quail. “How is Cockatoo going to get home if none of us can go near the hard black river?”
“Why he‟ll have to stay here in the forest where it‟s safe,” said the Covey of Quail.
Several birds and animals nodded in agreement.
“But I don‟t want to stay in the forest,” wailed Cockatoo. “I want to go home. I want to see Christie and Bruce. I want my own perch. I want my breakfast.”
“Breakfast?” wondered Chipmunk. “Breakfast was a long time ago. It‟s nearly time for lunch.”
“What do you eat?” asked Mallard. “You‟re welcome to join me here in the lake for breakfast or lunch either one. They‟re all the same to me. And dinner, as well.”
Blue Jay laughed raucously. “Weeds, Mallard. Cockatoo doesn‟t want weeds.”
Mallard ruffled his feathers and glared up at Blue Jay. “I‟m sure my „weeds‟, as you call them, are far tastier than those old dried up seeds you eat, Blue Jay.”
“Now, now,” said Black Bear. “Let‟s not argue about whose food is tastier. What I want
to get to the bottom of is this house-with-Christie-and-Bruce business. What exactly is it, if it isn‟t a den or a nest?”
Cockatoo was still puzzled but he did his best to answer. “A house is where people live.” Seeing that most of his audience didn‟t seem to understand, he tried to explain. “You know what outside is. This, where we are now is outside. Well, a house is inside.”
Snowshoe Hare‟s face lighted up. “Oh, I see. Like a hollow tree.”
Cockatoo wasn‟t sure but Black Bear was.
Black Bear nodded. “Yes, Snowshoe Hare, inside is like a hollow tree. Or a cave.”
All the animals and birds nodded. They all knew what hollow trees and caves are.
“But what about the Christie-and-Bruce?” Chipmunk insisted.
“Christie and Bruce are people,” Cockatoo explained. “You know about people, don‟t
you?” he added, doubtfully, looking around at the creatures.
“People!” shrieked Blue Jay. “Don‟t talk to me about people. People give me a pain. They‟re always coming to the forest, terrorizing the forest folk, chopping down the trees
– ask Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir what they think about people – even tearing up the
“Well,” said Deer reasonably, “people are also God‟s creatures. They have to eat and have shelter the same as you. You build a nest, don‟t you?”
“Of course I build a nest,” Blue Jay admitted. “But I don‟t chop down the entire forest to do it. If I did, there wouldn‟t be any place to put the nest or any point to nesting there.”
Chipmunk shuddered. “My grandmother told me tales of the olden days when the people
came and destroyed most of the forest where Cockatoo comes from. I hope they never come here to do that. She said that all the forest folk and the birds and everyone lost their homes and had to find new ones. Some of them came here but most of them went other directions, far, far away.”
“People aren‟t so bad,” Cockatoo protested. “My personal people, Christie and Bruce are very nice and kind.”
“Then why did you fly away from them?” Mallard wanted to know.
“I didn‟t really mean to,” Cockatoo answered. “I was teasing Bruce by flying just out of his reach in the backyard when he wanted to take me inside for the night. Christie called him and he went to see what she wanted and that made me angry, that he forgot all about me as soon as his mate called. So I flew up into the top of Poplar Tree and sulked. It was almost dark when Bruce came back to get me and I was still sulking so I flew toward him, then veered off. I did that a few times and Bruce kept calling to me and telling me what a pretty bird I am and while we were doing all that, the wind started to blow. I didn‟t pay any attention at first, then a strong gust caught me and blew me out of the yard. I tried to fly back but the wind was so strong and it was completely dark and cloudy and I got all mixed up and turned around and couldn‟t find Bruce anymore. So would one of you please show me the way to go home?”
“You are a very foolish bird,” Black Bear said. “If your people are indeed kind to you, you have repaid them very badly. They must be worried about you.”
“I know I‟ve been a bad bird,” Cockatoo said sulkily. “But I‟m sorry and I want to go home. I‟m so tired and hungry and homesick.”
“It seems to me,” said Snowshoe Hare, thoughtfully, “that you should eat some lunch and
rest for a while and then some of us can show you the way to your home.”
“That would be sensible,” twittered the Covey of Quail. “That first part. But you should stay here in the forest where it‟s safe.”
“No, Cockatoo should go back to his house-with-Christie-and-Bruce,” said Black Bear.
“Every creature should live at home because there is so much to know about living. It would take too long for Cockatoo to learn how to live in the forest. He doesn‟t even know how to get food. Do you?” he asked the white bird.
“Not here,” Cockatoo answered. “At home Christie gives me fruit and nuts. But I don‟t see any fruit or nuts here.”
“We have lots of fruits and nuts,” Blue Jay exclaimed indignantly. “The forest is simply crammed with good things to eat.”
“Well, that‟s not much help to Cockatoo since he doesn‟t know what they look like or where to find them,” Deer said.
Chipmunk spoke up. “I‟ll bring Cockatoo some of my pine nuts and Blue Jay can show him where the elderberries are.”
And that is what they did. Cockatoo ate a great many elderberries and quite a few of Chipmunk‟s pine nuts. So many, in fact, that Chipmunk was almost sorry he had offered them. When Cockatoo was full of lunch, all the creatures gathered at the beach again.
“Thank you,” said Cockatoo politely. “I feel much better now and not so tired, either.”
“If you‟re ready, then, I‟ll show you the way home,” said Deer.
“I‟ll show him,” Mallard quacked. “I know the way perfectly. I fly over there twice every year when I migrate.”
“No, I‟ll show him,” Blue Jay said. “I‟ve often been to the hard black river.”
Deer spoke up. “I‟ll show Cockatoo the way home.”
So it was arranged that way. Deer pointed his nose toward the hard black river and started walking. Cockatoo called goodbye to all the creatures who watched him begin his journey home. Then they all went back to their own affairs and Black Bear decided it would be worth the trouble to dig water lily bulbs out of the lake bottom for her lunch.
Cockatoo flew faster than Deer walked so he had to stop and perch on a tree branch now and then to let Deer catch up. It‟s hard to follow if you‟re in front of the procession. There were lots of things to see, though, so Cockatoo didn‟t mind waiting a few minutes at each stop. He saw gorgeous butterflies fluttering through the trees and the cutest little family of porcupines waddling along. Once he landed on one of Red Fir‟s lower branches and heard a buzzing kind of noise. It got louder and louder and he looked and looked. The buzzing sounded pretty scary. Finally, Cockatoo looked down at the ground and saw a whole great big bunch of Wasps coming out of their nest in the ground. He didn‟t know their names but he knew he‟d better get out of there. As fast as he could, he flew back to Deer to warn him.
“Thank you, Cockatoo,” Deer said. “You are right to be scared of Wasps. They are very quick-tempered, especially when anyone gets too close to their nest. We‟ll go around this way.”
So Deer and Cockatoo made a wide detour around the Wasps. They came to the hard black river and Deer stood back in the trees to watch before venturing closer. He and
Cockatoo saw a few of the monsters that looked like giant turtles go by. Deer got as close to the river as he could without showing himself and waited until he could see no monsters in either direction.
“Come on, Cockatoo!” he cried and bounded across the hard black river. Just as he leaped the berm, a bright yellow monster came hurtling down the river, nearly frightening him out of his antlers.
Cockatoo flew across and they met under the boughs of Douglas Fir. Deer stood a minute or two getting his heart slowed down to normal while Cockatoo cocked his head and wondered why Deer and the others found the hard black river so scary. But he was very tired, much too tired to worry much about others‟ feelings.
Deer began to walk and Cockatoo flew after him and passed him by a few feet. As he waited, he wondered if it would be easier to walk the rest of the way home than to fly.
“Deer,” he said. “I‟m so tired. I think I‟ll walk for a little way.”
Deer smiled at him. “Little Cockatoo, it would take you hours and hours to walk all the way home. It might even take you the rest of today and all night. Perch in my antlers and I‟ll carry you for a while.”
That made Cockatoo very happy. He fluttered up into Deer‟s antlers and perched on the highest one, way out on the end. He could see everything from up there.
“Although you are small, compared to me, Cockatoo, you are not weightless. Perch on one of the tines close to my head. Then I won‟t get tired so soon.”
Cockatoo did as Deer asked and his weight no longer disturbed the balance of Deer‟s antlers. Soon Cockatoo was fast asleep, bobbing along in his antler perch. It was nearly dusk when Deer stopped. Cockatoo was so used to the motion by then that when it stopped, he woke up. He fluttered his wings, stretching them out, and ducked his head up and down a few times. He looked around and saw that Deer had stopped in a copse of Spruce Trees.
“Are we almost home?” Cockatoo asked.
“Yes, we are,” Deer answered. “Just through these trees are some houses. Fly near them and see if you recognize any of them.”
Cockatoo launched himself into the air excitedly. He was almost home. He could smell his neighborhood. Once he was out of the Spruce Trees, he could see the houses and yards and gardens. He flew in a circle around the houses. There it was! There were Christie and Bruce out in the back yard, sitting on the deck. He flew into the yard and swooped down close to them.
“Maximillian!” Christie shouted. “Maximillian, you came home.”
Bruce jumped to his feet and ran out into the yard and Christie followed him, quiet now, afraid they‟d spook him. They both stood very still, their hands outstretched for him to land on. Cockatoo flew to them, then around them, then back to the woods where Deer was waiting.
Deer‟s curiosity had gotten the better of his caution and he had stepped far enough out of the woods so that he could see Cockatoo and his people. The people seemed happy to see Cockatoo and the one with blue skin below and orange skin above left the bigger one, the one with blue skin below and green skin above. But she came back a moment later, holding out a flat kind of rock with things on it that smelled like the sweet-tasting apples Deer had stolen in his youth.
Cockatoo perched on a branch of Spruce Tree.
“Thank you,” he said to Deer. “Christie and Bruce are here and I‟m very happy to be home. Soon there will be nuts and fruit and I know Christie will give you some, too. Come to the fence with me. People are not very intelligent, I won‟t be able to make them understand the great service you have done me, but they are kind.”
“I think my mother was right,” said Deer. “It is best for me not to get too close to the people. I‟ll go back to my own home now, back to the forest.”
“Be careful crossing the roa – the hard black river.”
“I‟ll be very careful, Cockatoo. Goodbye.”
Cockatoo flew back to the yard and to his people who took him inside at once, afraid he might fly away again if they stayed outside. Deer went safely back to his forest home, where he told all the birds and animals about Cockatoo‟s home and the people who were blue below and varicolored above. Some of them, who had never seen people thought he was telling tall tales but the others, who had seen people, knew he was completely truthful.
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