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Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds [Anglais] [Relié]

Chris Chester

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Description de l'ouvrage

15 septembre 2002
“There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” --William Shakespeare, Hamlet

B fell twenty-five feet from his nest into the life of Chris Chester. The encounter was providential for both of them.
B and Chester spent hours together playing games like bottle-cap fetch or hide-and-seek. They learned “words” in each other’s vocabularies. B developed a fetish for nostrils and a dislike of the color yellow. He grew anxious if Chester came home late from work. At bedtime he would rub his sleepy eyes on Chester’s thumb and settle to sleep in his palm. Chester ended up turning part of his house into an aviary and adjusting his social life to meet B’s demands. This was a small price to pay, though, for the trust and comfort of a twenty-five-gram friend who brought joy and wonder back into his life.
--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

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The kingdom of ornithology is divided into two departments-birds and English sparrows. English sparrows are not real birds, they are little beasts.
-Henry van Dyke, American Ornithology for the Home and School

I did wonder, if English sparrows were such bad birds, how they had gotten to America in the first place. To hear my father talk, the sparrows might have been delivered to the new world by the devil himself.
-Calvin Simonds, Private Lives of Garden Birds

". . . a whole room to a bird. My, my."

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.

A reality my friends find puzzling and my relatives, what's left of them, an eccentric aberration from doting on quadrupeds. My family was always firmly rooted in the feline camp. We were "cat people" spanning four generations, at least. My grandmother's canary and one or two preliminary parakeets she owned were, aside from an occasional dog, the only deviations from our love affair with cats. The first I remember was Elizabeth, a gray ill-tempered menace given to ambushing ankles, shredding expensive draperies, and biting everyone but my father. She disappeared (in answer to my mother's prayers, I suspect) the spring I turned four. The last was sleek, black epileptic Barney whom I discovered in our yard one summer while I was home from college. He was about seven weeks old and using our hedge as a fort from which he'd now and then debouch. Too fey to beg for food, he floated out of reach on the periphery of our vision until I made a contorted leap from a lawn chair and nabbed him skirting by. A few elastic ounces of fur and bone, he squirmed hissing from my hands and fell head first to the paving stones below. We always wondered if his infrequent grand mal seizures were a result of that no doubt painful blow to the skull. He became a good friend and a great favorite of my mother. When she was dying, he spent most days by her side, curled on her bed like a narcoleptic sentinel. He lived another eight years until, his kidneys failing, my father held him in a towel and wept as the vet rang the curtain down.

Prufrock might have been better served measuring out his life in the lives of his pets rather than with coffee spoons. Or, maybe not. I've lost eating utensils and remained unshattered. It is clear to me that a great dividing line runs through my time: Before B and after B.


I wasn't expecting a life-altering event to come my way, a deus ex machina to drop from the stage rafters and resolve issues of meaning and direction in a world I've frequently thought in need of less wrenching plots. Nor is this what B represents. In fact, to the extent I view him metaphorically, it is as a model of self-possession unblemished by artifice or facade. Like the Old Testament God he might with perfect justice say, "I am that I am." Deities and beasts inhabit themselves free from the heartache of coveting a plausible alternative; humans mostly work on their masks. Having finagled our way to the top of the food chain, we find the view from the summit soothing and assume mastery for ourselves of all things seen and unseen. B reminds me gently I'm more or less an idiot. When he brings a toy, drops it in my hand, and nudges around asking for a game, I think of Thoreau's words on being affected by a mosquito's faint hum, "There was something cosmical about it; a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world." Once in a while the tent flap falls open. If these glimpses are fraudulent, our spiritual leg pulled by renegade neurons, they're delusions worth cultivating when they point the way, however briefly, past dishes in the sink and beyond all the quotidian fretting that gobbles up so much of our lives. I may be misinformed, but I believe my time with B is filled with such glimpses. I hate to describe these moments as "transcendent" or "numinous," so let's just say they've been tranquil enough to hint at the divine. Very different from an underwear-staining encounter with a twitchy god in a flaming bush (an image of which I formed from the benign Episcopalianism in which I was raised) or from the exhilarating but frightening suspicion that creation itself is too unlikely to be true. As a child, I'd lie in bed and sense in the filigree of lapsing consciousness that comes with approaching sleep an unsettling enormousness stationed forever beyond reach or comprehension, a barrier, I now realize, of metaphysical imponderables welded together to form an overwhelming composite of everything I will never know. Many of my concerns fell into the "expanding universe" category like those plaguing Woody Allen's prepubescent alter ego in Radio Days. I was a depressed kid.

When B arrived, I was forty-one years old, engaged to Rebecca, and hoping to rise finally above the low-level angst I'd been living with all my life. I avoided taking antidepressants (viewing their use as vaguely unsportsmanlike), as if failing to overcome depression without chemical assistance were tantamount to cheating, an admission of failure on the part of my psyche to configure itself into something healthier. Better, it seemed, to endure a known quantity than to muck about inducing change on that little island of awareness I take to be myself. After all, depression can be as much a defining characteristic as any other mental state. When it came to taking pills, the old philosophical chestnut seemed to apply: "If I were someone else, would I still be me?" I knew all this to be nonsense, but early conditioning dies hard. My father said to me when I was eleven or twelve, "What have you got to be depressed about?" I had loving parents, a roof over my head, and food in my stomach. The logic of his question seemed unassailable. I don't think either of my parents ever considered or were even aware of the distinction between situational depression (Granny just died in a silo explosion) versus the free-floating variety (this beautiful, sunny day appears to me a dark emblem of what, exactly, I cannot say).

Baseline for me had always been slightly below sea level. Too modest a depth in which to drown but deep enough to suggest what life must be like for those truly debilitated by anxiety and sadness that doesn't go away. I suspect my mother and I had this in common and that her rather nonspecific complaints of "not feeling well" I recall from childhood were tendrils snaking out from that buried root. She died of cancer when I was twenty-three, long before I developed enough compassion and insight to know her better. A pity, it's likely we'd have found lots to discuss.

B, for example. The joy I take in him mingled with undercurrents of foreboding over that inevitable time when I shall lose him. If nothing else, depression teaches understanding of brevity as an ironic constant-that what endures also fl... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

"A wonderfully literate, oddball meditation on life and the power of rich friendships with small birds." --Los Angeles Times

"A story charmingly told, sprinkled with scientific information on birds, philosophical meanderings, the friendship that forms between human and avian . . . as mesmerizing as a bunch of feathers and dark eyes alighting in your hand." --The Sunday Oregonian

“I never imagined that one of the most illuminating books about birds would focus on the lowly house sparrow! I envy Chester for writing so beautifully, for being so funny while having such insight into the human as well as the bird condition, and for conducting such a fascinating and fulfilling love affair—who cares if it is with a bird!” --Marie Winn, author of Red-Tails in Love

"Frank, humorous and often surprisingly insightful. . . . Chester’s affectionate description . . . reads like an Ornithology 101 course delivered . . . by a boy completely smitten with a new best friend." --The Seattle Times

"Literate, eclectic, mildly eccentric, witty, and marvelous. . . . Reading a book in which the author delights in nature is itself a delight." --Salt Lake Tribune

“Chester offers us a curiosity, a contemplation, a substantive diversion into the providence of a remarkable creature named B. If Thoreau had not gone to the woods, but had instead invited a sparrow into his house, he might have written this book instead of Walden.” —Ron Carlson, author of At the Jim Bridger: Stories

“Heartfelt, warm, and entertaining. . . . Highly literate and filled with personal ruminations, avian research, and literary allusions, Chester’s writing style sets this book apart from other animal memoirs.” —Library Journal

“A charming and touching memoir, a welcome addition to the venerable literature treating the love between animals and people. . . . Will appeal to even the skeptical non-bird lover.” —Alison Baker, author of Loving Wanda Beaver: Novella and Stories

“Highly astute and humorous. . . . Filled with literary, historical, and scientific allusions, each so well-placed and –timed that one wonders at the author’s encyclopedic mind.” —Missoula Independent

“Chris is a role model to be emulated by others who work with birds. . . . His extraordinary sensitivity to a few common captive sparrows reveals how much we humans can learn about the needs and the actions of our feathered friends. The book is a delight.” —George Archibald, Co-founder of the International Crane Foundation --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.6 étoiles sur 5  48 commentaires
41 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Great Writer - Great Story 18 février 2005
Par Amazon Customer - Publié sur
I bought this book on a lark. Typically when I do such things I go unrewarded. I am pleased to say that that this time I was rewarded. Chester is a great writer who is loony about birds, or maybe just cuckoo. Regardless, the story is very genuine and presented in a non-sappy manner which is much appreciated in our world of over-produced drivel. Whether or not you lovebirds I recommend that you swiftly go out and buy this book. Unless you are a solitaire old curmudgeon I think that you will read this and then go crowing to all of your friends about how good it is. Now excuse me while I creep back into my hole.
32 internautes sur 32 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 There's something about these birds... 20 décembre 2005
Par Julia Webber - Publié sur
I came across this book by complete chance- I didn't even know it existed until I found it staring me in the face from an endcap at the local bookstore. I was quite suprised that someone had written a book about raising house sparrows. I found my first house sparrow when I was 12 years old, and then raise 2 more that had been abandoned. My experience with the birds was strikingly similar to Mr. Chester's. He does a wonderful job in illustrating the fact that dogs and cats aren't the only animals that can be intelligent pets with personality. Most people seem to think that anyone who dotes upon a bird is a bit wierd, after all "it's only a bird." "Only", indeed.

Be aware that this book is a memoir, not a textbook. Mr. Chester does talk about himself. A lot. That's what people do in memoirs. But he certainly does include a wealth of information about sparrows in general, and his bird in particular. The reviewers who claim otherwise did not read the book (and admitted this themselves.) The book is about not just a bird and not just a man, but also the relationship between them and how this relationship made the man's life infinitely richer. "Providence of a Sparrow" shows that even "pests" and "junk birds" (as house sparrows are commonly called) have value. I hope that people who have never had a relationship with one of these birds enjoy the book as much as I did.
42 internautes sur 44 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Praise and defense for a wonderful book 4 avril 2005
Par Reading Reverend - Publié sur
The factual inaccuracies by Jack Crenshaw in his review of this book cry out for correction. I am a retired Lutheran minister, and I have read this wise and lovely memoir twice. Once for myself and once to my wife who is legally blind. I can say in no uncertain terms that Chester is NOT an atheist -- militant or otherwise. In fact, near the end of the book, he specifically refers to himself as agnostic. Nor does he ever say or even imply that people who attend church are, in Mr. Crenshaw's words, "misguided idiots." Chester does take issue with religion being "pitched" like any other commodity. As he puts it when referring to slogans on a sign in a church parking lot near his home, "It would appear that institutions charged with maintaining the intangibles of spirit and morality feel they can no longer rely on either the depth or beauty of their core beliefs in order to remain competitive, resort instead to the expedient of vacuous catch phrases tarting up their parking lots." This sounds to me like a defense of religion, not a condemnation of it.

I must also address the previous reviewer's assertion that this book contains no information about birds. Had Mr. Crenshaw actually read the book through, which by his own admission he did not, he would have found a wealth of information about birds in general and about house sparrows in particular. And yes, there is a good bit about Chester's life, but why shouldn't there be? "Providence of a Sparrow" is, after all, the story of a deep and tender relationship which develops between a man and a sparrow. The book couldn't very well be a tale of a relationship unless both of the principal players were described. I sincerely believe that Chester does this in a balanced and thoughtful way. By the end of the book, I felt that I knew man and bird as well as I know my closest friends.

But perhaps Mr. Crenshaw's most troubling inaccuracy is his suggestion that Chester doesn't love birds. Anyone who comes away from this book with that impression doesn't, in my opinion, know what love is. Perhaps a blurb on the inside cover by George Archibald, cofounder of the International Crane Foundation, says it best: "Chester is a role model to be emulated by others who work with birds . . . His extraordinary sensitivity to a few common captive house sparrows reveals how much we humans can learn about the needs and actions of our feathered friends. The book is a delight."
17 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 I laughed...I cried...I marveled at his words. 20 mars 2005
Par greenbeaned - Publié sur
Oh my! I finished this book yesterday and I can't find the words to describe how much it's meant to me. I wish I'd known "B." I wish the same about the author, his wife and the "friends" that live with him in his home. I'm not over it. There's this need to know more and to comfort the author somehow. His words were so tender, so descriptive. Many, many times I would sit back...grinning or pondering his words. I disagree with those who declared the book needed an editor. The way it's written is part of its charm. I looked forward to the way it was "woven," back and forth. I always felt I was right there with him. I wept last night but I wouldn't have deferred reading his book for the world. I thank him for telling B's story. All life is noteworthy.
15 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 "Providence" Satisfies on So Many Levels! 2 mars 2004
Par Grey Ghost - Publié sur
Don't be deceived by the title. This would be a gem of a book even if it WERE only about the author's life-altering relationship with a house sparrow. Fortunately, "Providence" is so much more, and ultimately so much more satisfying, as it roams with humor, poetry, candor and intelligence over many aspects of the author's life--his marriage, childhood memories, his struggle with depression, the death of his father, his philosophy about life and the afterlife, and so on. I alternately laughed out loud, cried, and nodded knowingly--sometimes within the space of a single page; I read passages aloud to my wife, who found it equally hilarious, poignant and profound. Chester's word choices are often unexpected--exquisitely so--and the cadence of his prose is captivating. "Providence" is, simply put, one of the best books I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
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