Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Anteater and the Macaw

Happy Holidays from the Ranch! 

We've been gathering our smoked turkey, cranberries, and yams. The pie crusts are safely tucked away in the fridge. It will frost tonight. We have much to be thankful for.

Dori, Mooka, & Andrew
It is our anniversary, which we celebrate over the course of two weeks-—from the time we climbed the chipped gray steps of the court house and signed the documents…until we spoke our vows on Wilder Ranch, north of Santa Cruz, led by our friend Kat, with our dog Kiwi in attendance.   

This morning we awoke to a message from Chile, from a student of Andrew's father Addison, in 1959 at Yale. It is about the most inspiring reason to put up a new story since his last friend contacted us. 

The first story Andrew picked off the pile was this one, The Anteater and the Macaw. Ironically it is a story about love, but not like you would expect. 

Dig it.

The Anteater and the Macaw  

by Addison Ward

An anteater was strolling through the jungle after a good dinner one afternoon when he fell in love with a macaw. She was a marvelous creature with bright blue wings and orange underparts, a strong aristocratic curved beak, and the strident voice of one accustomed to being obeyed. It was little wonder that the anteater lost his heart; as he gazed at her it seemed to him that his own life had hitherto lacked color and distinction.

For her part, the macaw was simultaneously repulsed and fascinated by the stranger’s long tapering snout, his great claws, and the coarse dry hair of his bushy tail. She was pleasantly surprised by the contrast between his dark uncouth appearance and his gentle manners, and as they talked she felt a sturdy and calm sense of purpose which her other suitors lacked. Before the afternoon was out they had become engaged, and two days later they were married by a kindly old crocodile who wept as he pronounced them man and wife.

For three weeks each of them was an immense world of delight to the other. They talked endlessly of their early lives, and the familiar past took on a new significance by being shared. Their strangeness to one another made each of them feel mysterious and fascinating. They marveled that two such different lives should fuse, and they hunted together through their earlier romances in search of some sign which would help them to understand the miracle of their love. Other times they were content to sit in silence, he brooding on her quick beauty, and she basking in his restrained power. Shared silences, they agreed, were sweeter than all conversation, and this agreement itself inspired new wonderment, new confidences and revelations.

In all this time the anteater somehow made no mention of his work. It was not precisely that he was ashamed—what shame could he have before the mate of his soul?—but to speak of so earthy a matter would have violated the hushed, religious intensity of their communings. At the macaw’s insistence they had set up housekeeping in the jungle not far from the place of their first meeting, and every morning the anteater kissed his bride and went off into the swampy savannah to hunt for termites’ nests, muttering in vague terms about his vital role in nature’s economy. When he returned the macaw would have a heap of palm nuts cracked and ready for his lunch, and he would pretend to eat them, waiting until her back was turned to knock them into the underbrush with his snout.

Then one morning when he returned home he saw from her face that she knew: perhaps she had followed him into the swamp. She looked at him curiously, and when she spoke her voice had a harsh raw edge he had not noticed before:

“Do you know that you’ve never told me what you do? I mean all morning, when you’re away at work in the swamp.”

The anteater snorted nervously. He had dreaded this moment, and hated himself for dreading it. “You might say,” he began, “that I’m in the extermination business. You see, my love, the harmony of nature depends on an equilibrium of forces, a system of checks and balances…”

“Don’t try to fool me,” said the macaw coldly. “You’re an anteater and you know it! You spend the whole morning poking your nose into ant-heaps. And then you come home to me with that same nose…”

“It’s not quite like that,” said the miserable anteater. “First there’s the matter of finding a termites’ nest; it requires a high degree of professional skill, I can assure you. Then I rip open the nest with my great hooked claws. None in the swamp can do it more deftly. And then…” He ran his long, thread-like tongue over his jaws and paused. “It’s a useful trade,” he said feebly; then, as she shrieked with raucous laughter, he continued wildly, “Yes useful! My people have been honest and hard-working for generations! What have yours ever done beyond sitting in the tree tops admiring their own feathers?”

The quarrel surprised both of them by its bitterness; it seemed to have its own life apart from them, so that every effort to recapture their earlier harmony only made them lacerate each other more cruelly. They found themselves saying things they did not know they had thought about each other; she taunted him with his degrading work, his myracophagic*  dullness, his lack of style; he replied that she was vain, flighty, and little better than a common parrot.

They made it up of course, and for a while the quarrel made their love seem stronger than ever. They agreed (and marveled at their agreement) that such outbursts were an inevitable part of deep love. But something had changed and they both knew it. Their moments of passion were intenser than ever, but in the silence that followed each of them felt a fierce and hostile loneliness. They blamed each other, and fresh quarrels started. The anteater now found that the bright feathers that had won his heart were brash and gaudy; her aristocratic beak seemed cruel and cold, and her harsh voice tortured him. To escape from these thoughts he threw himself into wild and foolish efforts to please her: he renounced the society of anteaters, aardvarks and armadillos; he had his bushy tail dyed purple; he even made sporadic efforts to like palm nuts. But all these sacrifices seemed only to deepen the gulf between them. His appetite fell off and his work began to suffer; he watched indifferently while huge armies of ants cut paths through the jungle, devouring everything in their way.

When the macaw announced that she was pregnant all of the anteater’s old adoration flared up. Together they picked out a site on the river bank, and the anteater dug a great hole in the mud with his snout while the macaw stood shyly beside him. When it was finished she went inside and laid two eggs. In the days that followed the anteater danced heavily about waiting on her in an ecstasy of protective love, and the macaw herself seemed softer and more affectionate. Parenthood, they agreed, was the fulfillment of love. Nevertheless, the anteater could not conceal his disappointment when the eggs hatched, revealing two perfectly formed little macaws; he looked in vain for the least trace of a snout or bushy tail. His wife assured him cheerily that their next offspring would be full-blooded anteaters.

Their new intimacy was short lived. As the children began to grow the macaw announced that the dank ground air was ruining her plumage and that henceforth she would sleep in the branches. The quarrels of their early married life now gave way to a cool and distant civility. They even tried going to the crocodile for advice, but he would only shake his head. It was all a matter of maturity, he said, pronouncing it “matoorities.” Such marriages were always a risk. He repeated the phrase contra naturam several times and suggested that they leave the children with him.

The solution came in an unexpected way. The anteater awoke one morning to find his wife’s lifeless body on the ground beside him. She was beautiful even in death, and he remembered that bodies of the parrot family do not decompose. The other birds explained it to him as gently as they could. Her nocturnal activities, they said, had long been the talk of the treetops. Returning home late that night she had flown at full speed into a branch and snapped her neck.

The anteater took his wife’s body into the swamp and placed it on a bush. Gazing at her blue wings he forgot the harshness of her voice and the bitterness which had come between them. He was content to pass his days in reverie before his beautiful dead wife, thinking of the intimate silence they had shared in the first days of their marriage. The ant armies roved now with an unwonted boldness; they became the terror of the swamp. One morning they crossed the areas where the anteater had made his shrine, and when he arrived for his daily meditation he found neither the bush nor the macaw’s body, but only a black swarm of tiny insects. The anteater went insane with rage. He threw himself on the ants, his long tongue flicking wildling and his snout working up and down in a frenzy of destruction.

When he had finished the anteater felt strangely calm. His stomach was full, and he decided to take a stroll in the jungle before settling in to sleep. He had not walked far when he was startled by a harsh scream from the treetops; it was a beautiful green cockatoo. As he gazed up at her it seemed to the anteater that his own life had been colorless and humdrum.


*The closest word I could find to this, "myrmecophagy," is defined as "feeding on ants or termites."
Andrew strongly suspects this word was the genesis of this story.

1 comment:

  1. Happy Anniversary Dori and Andrew! You make marriage look easy, especially compared to that misguided anteater.