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White Blue Jay

by Dylan Tepper

I am content, lying beneath a sun-dappled tree, gazing over the grassy hill and the line of trees that reach out to touch the sky. It is peaceful here, serene. Flickers of sunlight stream down from the spaces between the leaves and glitter on the forest floor. They seem to shift and shimmer across the dirt, dancing like little stars in a universe of rotten leaves and six-legged things. The sun shines brightly overhead. Tendrils of light reach for me and caress my skin with their soothing warmth. A pair of robins perch on the branches above me and produce a rhythmic melody, a peaceful little song that reminds me of summers long past. Memories creep into my mind: images of parks and pools, beaches and bicycles; it puts a wan smile on my face. I miss those days. The summers were longer, the weather was better, and my life simpler. I was a happier child than I am an adult. There was one summer, I can still remember it clearly. I had followed a winding dirt path through a dense forest as I searched for wildlife. Back then, I had the time to explore and uncover sights and sounds all new to me. I still envy the child I was. I wish I could have prepared better, braced for how much change I’d have to experience and how many burdens I would have to shoulder.

There was a small stream or brook blocking the rest of the path, but I remember distinctly that there was a set of three broad stones protruding from the cold water. It was almost as though they had been placed there intentionally. Perhaps they were. With a hop, a skip, and a jump I crossed from stone to stone to stone and landed on the other side. Pushing deeper into the forest, I heard a bevy of sweet sounds. Up in the branches, assorted songbirds sang their tunes. Robins with their red bellies and timid disposition, mourning doves with their soft hoo-hoos; a few nuthatches racing up and down the tree trunks, and big black ravens who peered at me from on high before sounding their great shrill caws and taking to the wing. Something in the underbrush caught my eye: movement, the sound of little feet shuffling through the thick vegetation. I held my breath and stood stone still. A pair of chipmunks emerged hastily from the bushes and ferns. They were small and round with big soulful eyes and a slim white stripe running down their cream-colored backs.

I always liked chipmunks. It was squirrels I disliked; they were nasty black rodents with rat faces and bushy tails of wiry fur. At my house, they had always bullied the local chipmunks over food. Soon they had driven them away altogether. But here in this heavenly forest, there weren’t any squirrels to scare them off now. The pair ran straight up to me, regarded me warily for an instant, and then dashed into a nearby burrow by the foot of a great oak tree.

For some peculiar reason, I had taken a great interest in it. The trunk was oddly thick and weathered, long grooves and fissures ran up and down the bark, and dark spots scattered across its length. The branches were particularly gnarled and there seemed to be a scarcity of leaves about them. In some areas, moss clung heavily to it along with sprawling patches of lichen. This was an old man, I thought. The branches were his limbs – old and frail and bony. The moss and lichen were his beard, a carpet of living color that covered his wrinkled flesh.

I approached it slowly but tripped over something and nearly fell face first into the dirt. Knotted roots jutted out from the ground, pale-white and reaching up at me like grasping talons. I caught myself before I could fall but I must have made some ruckus for a surge of feathers and flapping wings burst from the tree and painted the sky black as they whipped through the air. From their screeches, I had assumed they were crows. They had an ugly call, abrasive and loud, and sharp enough to split an ear. But the closer I studied them, the more their feathers seemed to shimmer and shift from black to blue.

Blue jays: their shrill call pierced my soul like a razor blade. Its pitch was deadly and unending and though I tried to remain unmoved, I broke in the face of their raving cries. I wanted to run, to flee from the storm of feathers circling above but I found myself rooted to the floor, transfixed by the swirling black and blue and white. White. It remained perched on a crooked branch, alone. While all its brethren took to the sky, one clung to the canopy in defiance. A part of me wondered whether it took offense to the intrusive calls as well. I knew blue jays to be bullies. Often, I would see them mobbing other songbirds and even driving away hawks and herons. But to bully one of their own is a notion hauntingly human. The bird’s feathers were an unbroken stretch of blinding white and its eyes were a searing red. Yet I knew it for a jay because of its unmistakable crest which exhibited the same undeserved confidence as its peers’. The bird regarded me without a hint of wariness or fear, its bright red eyes studied me as though to read me like a tome. My pores were words on a page for it to consume in its delight. I cannot recall it ever once blinking in the few moments we stood face to face, two intelligent creatures reaching out to one another. I cannot say what the bird thought of me, but I can attest that in my humble opinion, it was a soft milky star in a galaxy as harsh and cold as the blue jay’s song.

I was content to bask in the presence of a White Blue Jay.