Charming debut chronicling a life-changing relationship with a flock of birds, which inspired both a documentary film (same title) and a romance with the filmmaker.
Thirty years ago, Bittner moved to San Francisco as a dharma bum, Beat seeker, odd-jobber, and musician. Before long, he was homeless and penniless, but for 14 years he stayed true to his hungry but rather aimless spiritual journey, refusing to submit to working at a deadening job, anxious but ready to stay only a step ahead of the gutter. Eventually, he took a position as a housekeeper to an elderly lady in return for a rent-free apartment next door to her home on Telegraph Hill. There he met the parrots, a wild colorful flock with humorous eyes, “as if they concealed the punch line of some joke.” In short order, they twined. Bittner was respectful of the birds’ wildness even while he sought a close communion with them. He tendered food as well as his company, and ultimately the parrots gave him their trust, or at least what passes as such. The author recounts in unpresumptuous and garrulous fashion the days they spent together, one man hoping to touch the thrum of the universe and a flock of blue-crowned and cherry-headed conures willing to provide a glimpse into an altogether different plane of existence. The special appeal here lies in Bittner’s ability to rouse in the reader the giddiness of his time with the parrots: the grace of having a few of the birds live inside his apartment, the pleasure of learning their calls and pecking order, the strange moments of eye contact, the canny instances of cross-species communication, his care of the individual birds when they fell ill. “At times,” he writes, “all of us sense a poetry in the universe—strange coincidences that speak to us in a strong way.” Via parrots? Why not, when Bittner's relationship with the parrots is profound enough to spark envy.
A pleasure and an education.