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THE GREAT HEATHLANDS

Everyone says he is a friend; but crazy who rests there.
Nothing is more common than this name,
Nothing is more rare than the thing.
(La Fontaine.)

Decidedly misfortune presided over my destiny.

It was written that I had to live alone, without advice, without friends.

I was never more discouraged, more sorry than after this cruel separation. All the qualities of Jean came back to my mind. Involuntarily I compared his frank look to the left tunes of the sparrows and other birds I met. I contrasted his loyalty with the malice of the blackbird and the starling. I preferred his intimate and beaded chirps to the nightingale’s great effects.

One reminded me of the intimate chats in the fireside, where, hand in hand, ear to ear, one touches the thousand subjects, happy or painful, from which the envelope of life is made. The song of the nightingale, on the contrary, made me think of the theatrical style. He is strong, he is tall, he is dramatic, he is handsome, no doubt; but one feels the primer and the pose, even in the solitary hour chosen by the artist to isolate himself on the pedestal of an absolute silence.

More than a friend, Jean Robin is dead!

I still feel, today that I am old and hardened, a tear rising from my heart to my eyelids.

And yet, who does not have friends by the dozen? or at least people, brazenly adorned with this sacred title, to usurp a place in your intimacy in your affections or even in your interests. The world is full of those, my children. So I say to you, happy one of us who can make sure, for the rest of life, of the true help and selfless affection of two or three friends! He must mark with a white pebble the day of his birth; he found himself under the influence of a good star, as it was said in the Middle Ages, and it was a little right to point out by a mysterious destination the singular chance that certain individuals have of seeing turning to their profit the seemingly most indifferent events that happen to them.

As for me, I was not born this way. The bird I received that day probably belonged to a phase of decreasing favor, and I met all my life fake friends at every step, but true friends, alas! Beware of people in the world who pursue you with their unparalleled affection only to exploit you in any capacity and make you serve their higher or lower interests!

Jean Robin – poor Jean! – was frank with heart and loved me, because I loved him too. We had a quiet pleasure in finding ourselves together, and this pleasure was born, no doubt, in the dissimilarity of our characters, which complemented each other.

The friendship comes not only from these contrasts, but also from the need that we can have of each other, and precisely we were in this case. Thin, puny, delicate, my poor friend had scarcely anything to defend himself but his rash bravery based on recklessness, and a mystical and legendary halo. Me, I was at that time strong, stocky and provided with a robust beak whose every shot had the power of a hatchet. On the other hand, Jean Robin, older than me and for a long time accustomed to the wandering and traveling life which is in the essence of his race, possessed a knowledge of men and things of which my ignorance appreciated all the value. Finally, what would I say? His sweet melancholy mingled with the rays of my petulant and inexhaustible gaiety, and on a capital point we sympathized completely: it was on our love of adventures and journeys.

Do you need more to become friends?

So we did not escape the law of human fatality! We loved each other and we were separated! Life is thus made … not only among the birds, but among the men: seeking for a long time and laboriously the happiness … holding it … it escapes you!

And we’re going, starting its research on new fees. Like the old Sisyphus, rolling relentlessly and going up to the top of the hill this rock of hope, which falls again and again, crushing our dearest illusions; rock that we do not leave without regrets as our hands weakened by age are detached and we are extinguished in the bosom of the Creator.

I remained several days in the neighborhood of the large oak tree witnessing the death of Jean Robin. I struggled to separate myself from the places that reminded me of my friend, and on the other hand – why should not I admit it? – I was rather embarrassed by what I wanted to do. Alone, far from my country, in a country absolutely unknown, which side should I walk on?

I had walked carelessly without recognizing milestones on my way and confident in the skill of my dear companion. I needed the lessons of isolation to make me understand that science must complete what the senses and instinct naturally teach the honest sparrows. Unfortunately, we are not endowed with the wonderful sense that makes the swallow find the path to the nest she built last year, nor do we have a flight powerful enough to raise us to great heights, and from there, like an immense observatory, plunge a sharp look, carrying inconceivable distances. Our senses are much more limited, and we shine even more by the force of our intelligence, by our aptitude for reasoning and education, than by these tours de force of specialists.

It is by this universal aptitude that we draw near to man and we move away from other animals, from the dog, for example, which is only an organized nose; eagle, which represents a traveling telescope, and many other animals. There are some who are endowed with senses other than ours, and consequently with senses which we do not understand, which we will never understand, and which give them those aptitudes which seem to us to be marvelous.

So I had neglected to choose my landmarks and sow white stones on my way, as did Little Thumb; I had to suffer the pain of my inconsistency.

“Haphazard!” I exclaimed! And you, children, never say so much, it is the maxim of the deaf! But I was very young then!

And I flew, continuing my journey from tree to tree, cautiously, because, especially in the forest, a poor bird has many enemies and can meet with every step of deadly pitfalls!

Finally, thanks to my happiness, my prudence perhaps, I end up out of the wood without hindrance. But, whether I had lost myself in my path, or that the road was long, the evening arrived, and with the evening came the hunger; I descended on the ground, between two enormous clumps of heather, and, to my great surprise, I perceived the extreme abundance of insects and small seeds that were found without great difficulty in the black and friable soil that formed the floor.

“Let’s go!” I exclaimed, “forward! God never gives up a brave sparrow!”

Before descending, and studying this plain as far as the eye could see, I had glimpsed towards the horizon great grass undulating and forming like an island of verdure in the midst of pink and brown heather; I went on that side. The closer I approached, the more the grasses grew to gigantic proportions. It was rushes and reeds that I confused under the name of grasses; and when I came to them, I ventured to perch on a sort of cattail that stood among the large, flexible leaves. Now, judge of my astonishment: this curtain of reeds had hidden from my sight an immense expanse of water on the edge of which I was. I can even confess, my dear children, that I was not at all reassured, for my cattail was bending and swinging me over the abyss in a very disturbing manner.

Fortunately, the nature has favored the perchants birds of a particular arrangement of the foot which makes that, when we are put on a branch, we shake it in spite of us, without any effort, with the more force that it is more agitated. It is the weight itself of our body that acts at the end of a special lever and makes our fingers clench around the branch that carries us during our sleep or supports us during the storm. Obviously this faculty is fully exercised only when our fingers can embrace most of the turn of the branch; that is why the little birds look for the little branches and why, seeing them swayed by the wind, it would be wrong to advise them to take refuge on the big ones.

That’s how this mechanism works. The flexor muscles of the fingers, that is to say those which make our foot close, attach to the femur or thigh bone. They are thin and elastic string species that pass behind and on the knee and heel joints as on two pulleys. Now, when these two joints collapse under the weight of our body, they pull on the tendons with all the more force that they bend further, and make us naturally and effortlessly tighten the branch on which we are placed.

So I dominated an immense pond: never had I seen so much water, and I did not believe that there was such a quantity on the surface of the earth; so I soon realized that I had entered a new world. All around me, fast, like arrows, were great insects whose stiff, long wings rustled like paper that was wrinkled. I immediately tried to realize their rushed movements and soon noticed that they were hunting and devouring the weaker insects they were catching. It is the work of destruction continuing its fatal, necessary path.

And yet the Libellules or Dragonflies are pretty animals. There are some blue, some green, adorned with metallic colors of remarkable richness. I could not tire of looking at them, sometimes on the tip of a grass or reed, further down the broad leaf of the water lilies. I was, moreover, almost amazed by the immense quantity of flies and insects buzzing in my ears; I caught some of them who came to rest within reach, and this first supper comforted my mind a little.

I looked more courageously then below me, and through the transparent wave I saw a crowd of fishes, of which I had no idea. The older ones pursued the smaller ones and devoured them, which made me think that, in the aquatic world as in our own, the hawks and the merlins did not miss, and that here, as everywhere else, nature was relentlessly pursuing her renovation work by destruction. Among other things, I saw an enormous pike which had swallowed even a sparrow of a single mouthful, so open was its frightful mouth, and I saw it swallow the fish without chewing them. The unhappy ones disappeared in this abyss like a letter thrown in the mail!

I remained a long time watching this spectacle, and was seized with an instinctive fear; I did not wish to engage myself above these vast ponds beyond which there was for me only the unknown. So I went back to the forest and told myself that night would bring me advice.

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