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Patkotak: A column about birds, with only passing reference to oil taxes

Elise Patkotak
OPINION: After so much parroting in the oil tax debate, columnist Elise Patkotak takes comfort in her birds. Photo by GLORIA MASCHMEYER

I was thinking about this week’s column and kept coming up with topics that probably make us all want to run screaming into the night. I could write about the oil tax debate because, as we all know, you can’t hear too much about that. And the 4 million political ads we’ve seen the past few months certainly have affected my view of how great the summer has been. I could write about how these two issues have sucked all the air out of anything else on the ballot but I think we’re all well aware of that by now. I could write about how I’m getting pretty discouraged with democracy in this current iteration. I get that corporations are people and can spend as much as they want based on their inherent freedom of speech guarantee. But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to run madly through the streets screaming, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” at them.

We’ve all been immersed in it so long that we can’t remember what summer smells like, what baby birds singing sound like and what peace and quiet is at all like. So I decided to write about none of that. Instead I am going to write about the fact that I am a bird person. I’m a dog person too but long before dogs came into my life, I had a parrot. Mark Twain has a great quote about this: "She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot." That describes me more than I care to admit.

When I moved to Anchorage a few years back, one of my great joys was to become a volunteer at Bird TLC and with a parrot rescue group. Lo these 14 years later, I am still with Bird TLC and I now am the proud parent of a conure, three Senegal parrots, an African grey parrot, a bare-eyed cockatoo and an Amazon parrot of questionable parentage. I never meant for it to get this out of control. It’s like the lady who collects cats. You say yes to taking one in and the next thing you know …

Given the composition of my household in which animals, including three rescued dogs, outnumber humans by a large margin, inviting humans in can be problematic. I figured this out when I saw the look of horror that crept across my friends’ faces when I invited them over for dinner. Apparently not everyone enjoys sharing their meal with screeching birds whose whistles hit notes even dogs can’t hear but that can do serious damage to the eardrums of the unsuspecting.

So I made the decision to move all the birds together into one room downstairs, far away from my living room and dining room, to allow humans control over some small segment of the house. I won’t pretend that once I did it I wasn’t lonely. I’ve had at least one parrot in my life since 1970. I don’t know how to eat in silence without the whistles, chirps and requests for kisses coming from cages scattered across the room. I would have caved and moved them all back upstairs had it not been for the ulterior motive I have in all this.

Much as I love my friends and did this so they’d accept dinner invites with enthusiasm and not reluctance, the real reason I did it is that I have to concede that age has slowed my reflexes. With winter rapidly approaching, I had to come up with a way to exercise that didn’t involve cleats on my shoes and a terrified trek on an icy sidewalk. I emptied out the upstairs so I could install a stationary something. I’m thinking stationary recumbent bike but I’m still looking around for what will look best as a clothes hanger in the future. Let’s face it, we all know that is its inevitable end. Show me a person with a treadmill, stationary bike or Soloflex machine that hasn’t been turned into a clothes hanger and I’ll show you someone who probably won’t ever be my friend.

So there you have it. An entire column that wasn’t about politics, oil, taxes or America’s place in the world. Wasn’t that refreshing?

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.