The Pearl, Part III

oliver explains


For the next part of our story, it will be important to know something more about Sally.   Unlike William and Freddy, she had traveled far and wide and seen many things in her wanderings.   She had seen a great deal of what we'll call 'life'.   By that I mean the life, and the lives of real people, the 'human beings' who lived on Nantucket Island and also the people who lived inland, far from the sea.   Now Sally would have her chance to share what she knew with her friends.   We need to know, too, that Sally had a very big, warm, open and loving heart, considering that she was only a bird and not a big one at that.   Because she had traveled and seen so much, she understood that 'life' for some of the people on land was a hard struggle.   They couldn't always find food by catching a fish or eating kitchen scraps.  Unlike birds, who fold their wings and sleep almost anywhere, the 'human beings' had no 'coat' of feathers to keep them warm and dry.  They needed to live in shelters, which they called 'houses' and houses weren't always easy to find.   Of course, not all the human beings had these problems in the same way.   Sally understood that some of them lived a life almost as carefree as a bird's, while some of them had to work very hard to find the things that she and William and Freddy took pretty much for granted.

And now, because Sally understood all this, we'll see that it makes a big difference in what happens next.

First of all, Sally had more to tell her friends about pearls.   It happens that she knew quite a bit more about them beyond the fact that they come from inside an oyster.   That evening, as William rocked at anchor and Freddy swam around them in slow circles, Sally perched on William's mast and told this story:

"One night", she said, "I had flown inland to a big city called 'Providence.'   I was looking for food." Sally mentioned that the name of the city had a special meaning that she didn't fully understand, but another bird, a sparrow, had told her that it meant something like "If you look for it and trust 'Providence,' you will find it."   Sally thought that was a strange enough meaning for the name of a city, but she was hungry and decided to give it a try.

Another seagull had suggested Sally look into a way of finding food that he called 'dumpster diving'.   This was not like diving into the ocean for a fish.   Instead, it meant diving into one of the giant metal containers parked outside buildings called 'restaurants,' where the human beings often ate their meals.   That's where the kitchen scraps were thrown after the humans had eaten.   Sally understood that well enough now from following the cruise ships.   She had been circling and gliding high above Providence that night, looking for a likely dumpster when she noticed something else.   On a busy avenue below, Sally saw a man and a woman standing amid the passing crowd, looking into a brightly lighted shop window.   What caught Sally's eye was that the woman seemed to have many bright, shiny, twinkling 'stars' attached to the top part of her body.  

Many birds, and seagulls in particular, are attracted by small, shiny objects and will sometimes dive down from high in the sky to pick one up from the sand.   Besides that, Sally was, after all, a 'woman' too--and just like any female--bird or human--she couldn't help but notice that this other female with the shiny stars attached had her whole body covered with rich and beautiful plumage.   'Plumage' meant feathers to Sally, and she knew from experience that some birds are much prettier than others.   She considered her own plumage quite modest, but when she noticed another bird with especially nice feathers, she couldn't help being curious.   Now, Sally glided down and perched atop a streetlight to have a closer look.

Just at that moment, the man and the woman turned from the shop window and went inside.   Sally swooped down to the street to see what would happen next.   Inside, she saw the man and the woman were now talking with another man who was standing behind a very large glass box on the floor.   Sally was amazed to see that the box was filled with hundreds of twinkling stars just like those on the woman's body.   Now the man was taking the stars, one by one, out of the glass box and showing them to the woman.   Then, wonder of wonders, among the stars he showed her was a 'pearl' very much like the one that William had.   This pearl was not so large as William's and it was attached to a shiny metal circle that the woman used to attach it to her finger.   The woman put the metal circle on her hand and admired the pearl for a long time.  

Then something happened that was a mystery to Sally for quite some time.   The man reached into his pocket and took out a flat, black, folded thing.   He unfolded it and took out a bundle of green papers.   Then he began putting pieces of paper down on the glass box in front of the other man, one by one, until he had made a large stack.   The man took the papers and put them into his own pocket.   Then he put the pearl into a tiny, silver box and handed it to the woman.  All of them seemed very pleased now.   The man and woman were smiling when they came out of the shop and walked away in the evening crowd.   Sally flew away too, circling and gliding back to the
seashore, but her mind was racing with questions about what she had seen.   She had an idea about where to go for the answers.

It was late now.   Sally told William and Freddy she would continue her story tomorrow.   William turned on his red flashing light.   Freddy dived down to the oyster bed to rest and Sally tucked her head under her wing and fell asleep, while William rocked her ever so gently on his mast.

The next day dawned bright and clear.   Sally was up early.   William was still asleep as Sally fluffed up her feathers and got ready to leave.   She gave William's bell a few little pecks with her beak.   "I'm going to find some breakfast," she said. "I'll be back."  "Okay, Sally dear," said William.   He gave a couple of sleepy dings. "Have a wonderful day.  See you later."  Sally flew off in lazy circles toward a cruise ship she saw passing in the distance.

Later that afternoon, when Sally returned, she found William and Freddy playing their favorite game, 'Tugboat'.   Freddy was swimming around and around William churning up the water with his tail.   Then he put his nose against William's big tank and pretended to push with all his might.   William, of course, didn't move.   He couldn't because of his chain.   "I think you've run aground, Captain," Freddy bubbled.   "You're stuck on a sandbar.  I'll have to go for help."   William and Freddy laughed and laughed.  Then Freddy swam around again till they were ready to start over from the beginning.   Sally laughed too.   She was pleased to see her two friends having fun.

As the sun began to sink in the west, William and Freddy were tired of playing.  They settled down and asked Sally if she were ready to continue her story.  "Oh, yes," she said.  "I've been thinking about it all day."

Here's what she told them: "When I left the man and the woman on the street in Providence, I flew down to the harbor to sleep on a big, black pole sticking out of the water.   It's called a 'piling'.   It used to hold up a pier where ships were tied.   Now it's just a convenient spot for sea gulls to rest on.  I couldn't sleep very well, though, because all I could think of was the mystery of the pearl and the stack of green papers.   I knew what I was going to do, though.   Next day I would go to see my friend Oliver, the owl.   He would know the answers to my questions."

"Oliver lives in a barn a few miles from the beach.   That's where he sleeps, all day long, every day.   I had to be careful because Oliver is usually very grumpy about being awakened in the daytime, but going to see him at night is out of the question.   Oliver goes 'hunting' at night, looking for field mice to eat.   At those times, he is in a fierce, bad mood.   If he saw me then, he could easily forget that I am his friend and he might try to eat me." 

Sally did find Oliver that day and here's what he told her.   Oliver said, "The human beings are very strange.   Just like birds, they like small things that are bright and shiny.   Some of them have very large collections of shiny things, but unlike us, who only pick up these things out of curiosity when we happen to see them lying on the ground, the human beings place great value on them.  It's hard to explain 'value' to a bird because the only thing we really 'value' is food and we can always find that if we just fly around for a while.   For us, everything else is 'free', which means we never have to think of it at all.   But life is not so easy for the humans.   Many of the things they need, including food, are hard to find.   Here's the tricky part.   When a human being can't get something he wants for himself, he will get it from another human being in exchange for a stack of green paper."

Sally laughed out loud at this queer idea.   She ruffled her feathers and shook them.  She flew off her perch in the barn and made a circle in the air.   She was still laughing when she sat back down next to her friend on a big beam high above the barn floor.  Oliver, however, was not laughing.   He opened his huge eyes very wide and turned his head all the way around until he was looking behind himself.   Sally saw that Oliver was in a serious mood.   She didn't want to upset him.   She stopped laughing.

Oliver adjusted his spectacles, which were really only the feathers around his eyes.   Then he said, "If I may go on now...  "  Sally closed her beak very tightly to keep from laughing any more.   She would have liked to laugh because now Ollie looked just like a 'college professor'.   She might not have been able to help herself if she had ever seen a college professor, but she hadn't.   So she sat still and waited for Oliver to speak.

"There are many very odd things about the human beings that would be too hard to explain here.   To understand them, it might only be necessary to know that they can't fly.   This is a great handicap.   Since they can't move about easily, they often have to work very hard to gather the stacks of green paper they must exchange for what they want.   And much of what they 'want' are the shiny things you saw last night inside the shop.   Once upon a time, the humans used to exchange the shiny things for what they needed, and so they had to carry a large sack of shiny things around with them all the time.   This was very inconvenient.   Eventually they exchanged the heavy sacks for green paper, which was much easier to carry."

Sally was amazed.   She was so surprised by what Oliver had told her that she sat quite still for a long time, while she pondered this information.   Then she gave Oliver a little peck on his cheek, thanked him for his help, and flew back out to sea to visit with William and Freddy.   Night had fallen by the time she finished her tale that day.   William and Freddy were as amazed as she was.   They thought and thought until they were too sleepy to think any more.   Then they all fell fast asleep and dreamed dreams of shiny things and stacks and stacks of green paper.

click here for part IV

 2011 by Kendell Kardt