Living in a Parallel Universe


California quail live in a parallel universe to mine in California. We’re aware of each other, but mostly we’re content to ignore each other. I’m sure the quail find us a bit of a nuisance. They have to dodge our automobiles and be alert when we walk through their gardens. They feast on some of the seeds we inadvertently scatter. They take sand baths in our, or are they their?, sunlit corners.

We, on the other hand, when we notice them, are entirely charmed. They’re handsome birds with their military bearing and their teardrop topknots. The head of the family and sometimes an uncle or aunt sit atop our trellises and at the edges of our roofs and keep guard over the rest of the family as it goes about foraging food. “Be careful, be careful,” they yell in their high strung voices when anyone intrudes on their space.

Lately, there don’t seem to be as many offspring as there once were, and breeding season was past when I stopped the car to wait for an adult bird to cross the street with a tiny fluffy bit of brown feathers at his heels. I was surprised there were still infants around who were that small.

But life is stranger even than that. This morning I spied an adult bird on the trellis. Nothing strange about that and no reason to think he might or might not be the same bird as the one I’d encountered with the chick those several weeks ago. What was surprising was the small brown bird sitting next to him. Quail don’t fraternize with other kinds of birds, and baby quail don’t fly to the tops of anything. When I finally found my binoculars, I could see that the small creature was a quail who had been dwarfed and modified in some kind of genetic accident. The adult was apparently his caretaker.

Parallel universes. What dramas go on in their avian lives that I have no inkling of? Why are there two orange butterflies fluttering about in my yard very afternoon? And those purple finches? They seem to know each other, but do they?

For that matter, what are my Spanish-speaking neighbors saying to each other?

I’m not looking for scientific answers to any of these questions. I’m simply amazed that life is such an interlaced affair, that we’re all here, or there, and connected, and so unaware of it most of the time.

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