DECEMBER
(The Christmas Tree)
Yellow Ribbon in DecemberA week before Christmas, in the zoo's parking lot across the street from Yellow Ribbon's restaurant, the humans erect a Christmas tree. During the day the tree's glittering tinsel sparkles in the sunlight. At night, sparkling colored lights cause the tree to be like nothing our bird has ever seen, and sometimes it snows, making the scene even more wondrous.

Yellow Ribbon's garbage men do not forsake her: Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they leave her something to eat. Stale hamburger buns and crumbly, greasy doughnuts keep her alive, but how she yearns for the grain the zebra knocks from its trough!

During recent days her improving health has enabled her to each morning flutter from the nest to the gravel below. After hopping and pecking there for a few minutes she enters the shrubbery, makes her way to the Sycamore's trunk, and ascends by the ivy ladder. Then she hops onto the big branch until she's above the drive-in's roof, and from there it's easy to flutter onto the roof. If the sun is shining, before making the short flight from the roof top to her nest, she perches at the roof's corner and chirps and preens, enjoying a noon roost, almost like a normal sparrow.

Flying from the roof into the nest beneath the eaves is the hardest part of her journey. Sometimes she misses, plummets onto the gravel, and then must repeat the entire tree-climbing cycle.

However, lately, Yellow Ribbon hasn't failed to reach her nest. In fact, just yesterday she was strong enough to fly from the gravel to the top of the top of the hedge, and then to fly to the out-jutting Sycamore limb, and then to fly to the roof top.

Of course Yellow Ribbon wants to fly even farther than that. She wants to fly across the street to where she can eat the zebra's grain, hop in the elephant's hay, and be with other House Sparrows. However, the street between her nest and the zoo is very wide and very busy, a loud a bustling barrier too immense to fly over. Too immense for now...

On Christmas eve, Yellow Ribbon notices unusual activity across the street. Late on this sunny afternoon, she perches in her nest as several humans in the zoo's parking lot come together and begin making their human sounds in a strange way:

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright...

Several humans carry yellowish objects made of brass. One is a huge tuba with sunlight reflecting brilliantly from its broadly flaring bell.

Eventually the humans leave the parking lot. Before today, the Christmas tree's lights burned only at night, but today they're left burning all the time.

This curious series of events piques Yellow Ribbon's curiosity. As she perches at the nest's edge straining to see or hear any further activity, she feels within herself a powerful mingling of new-found strength, excitement, and overwhelming yearning to return to her home at the zoo. For the first time since her ordeal began she spreads her wings not with the simple idea of merely flying onto the gravel, but with the purpose of somehow getting back home to the zoo!

She leaps into the cold, December air.

First she flies into the shrubbery's upper branches, and her success only exhilarates her more. She climbs to an opening in the shrubbery where she can flap her wings without hitting twigs and leaves, and again up she flies, this time arriving at the Sycamore's big, out-jutting branch. It's the first time she's flown here and she is astonished at how easy it seemed. Not for many weeks has she felt so like a regular House Sparrow. Now she flutters from branch to branch until she's high on the Sycamore's topmost branch.

From here, the busy street below doesn't look nearly as dangerous as earlier it did...

And, look across the street at the zoo... Not only does the parking lot with its blazing Christmas tree look much closer, but also from here you can see the zoo's ponds with their sandy beaches dotted with ducks and geese. And over there, there are walkways and bridges and hot-dog stands and drinking fountains and over there the long buildings, and next to one of the buildings stands a zebra...

How very, very near the Christmas tree seems. Sunlight glistens in its windblown strands of tinsel. Colored lights glow splendidly in the late afternoon's faltering light.

*****

Yellow Ribbon leaps into the cold air, eyes fixed on the zebra's shed. With immense satisfaction she sees the Sycamore's topmost branch being left behind.

Soon she is about to cross the street. A terrible rush of traffic moves below her. And exactly now Yellow Ribbon begins feeling the first flashes of pain stabbing across her breast, and she is losing altitude.

A car, a bus, and then another car pass beneath her, each closer than the last. Already she sees the impossibility of reaching the zebra's shed, or even the wall surrounding the zoo. The best she can hope for is to land on the concrete sidewalk between the wall and the street.

But a bus approaches. Traveling the outside lane nearest the zoo, it's a city bus stopping at every major intersection. It stops exactly beneath Yellow Ribbon.

Yellow Ribbon smacks onto the bus's top. She sits there, tilted forward onto her breast and wing-tips, panting hard, her heart speeding, her mind dazed and her entire body hurting. The bus's diesel engine revs up. Our bird feels the bus-top shake and now as the bus lurches forward inertia and wind push her toward the back of the bus. Her claws uselessly scratch at the bus's smooth, metallic top.

Unnoticed by any human, Yellow Ribbon tumbles over the bus's rear. At first the wind pushes her downward, but then other currents curl beneath her and like invisible hand set her sprawling but unharmed onto the sidewalk beside the zoo's wall.

Long Yellow Ribbon huddles at the wall's base. Several humans pass, but none notice her.

Now, as the day's last light withdraws from the street, Yellow Ribbon begins hopping. Pure luck sends her toward the zoo's entrance. The gate is locked, but passing beneath its steel bars is easy for a House Sparrow. Our bird enters the parking lot and half hops, half flies toward the big Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree is a large fir and now it stands before her like a mountain on fire. The tinsel flashes and rustles in the wind. Colored lights blink on and off, and large, sparkling ornaments dangle from the big evergreen's boughs. The great tree's pungent odors fill Yellow Ribbon's nostrils.

Over the street noise Yellow Ribbon hears music. Part of the music is human- made, for at Christmas humans make music all the time. But another part of the music is House-Sparrow made, and it comes from inside the fir.

Onto the lowest bough and then the next lowest... then up and up she climbs toward the beautiful chirps until deep inside the majestic tree she finds White Feather, Chipped Beak, Elephant Rider and others.

And Happy Face is there, too