Saturday, June 27, 2009

Heart of a hero

In her short story Heart of a Peacock, Canadian artist Emily Carr wrote about a glamorous, noisy, nosy bird that played hooky from the park near her home. She first met him as he admired his plumage in the reflection cast by her studio window, but he soon drifted inside to watch her paint and after a few visits he skipped the narcissism and went straight for the companionship. The poor thing had been lonely, as the beautiful and brilliant so often are.

Eventually, though, covetous townsfolk caged the peacock, its colours dimmed and it died of a broken heart.

These days, there are half a dozen peafowl in the park along with a steady stream of visitors agog at the charming kids, waddling turkeys, and top-knotted llamas. 

The peacocks leap tall fences with a single bound and they get all the admiration they want.

The females, on the other hand, move around almost unnoticed. They visit the Muscovy ducklings, trot over to the donkey pen, and occasionally stroll right off the premises. Clearly, they love independence as much as their guys do; they’re just less…obvious about it.      

On the surface Emily Carr looked unremarkable, but inside she was smart, tough, independent and brilliant. Emily had that trait most admirable in a hero: she had the heart of a peahen.


  1. To hear the piercing, haunting call of a peacock, one would think they all suffer from broken hearts.

    As for Emily, I can't help wondering if her self-portrait doesn't do her justice.

  2. There used to be some white peacocks in Beacon Hill. The male used to love to sit on top of a fence or a rock and let his tail trail down after him. I know purists maintain animals have no self-consciousness, but I'm sure that bird knew he was pretty and wanted everyone else to be sure, too.

  3. On the subject of birds and their attributes, I was musing this weekend about instinct as I watched quail families. Both parents are very much involved in protecting the babies, and it seems to be a full-time, very stressful job. Accompanied by almost constant communication. Each parent perched on a tree or post with a good vantage point, one ahead of the babes and one behind. Then instructions were called out. "Okay, kids, scurry as fast as you can to the cover of those overgrown irises, then freeze." Ten little babies, peeping all the way, rushed over to find cover. Then all was utterly still. A few minutes later, new instructions were called, and off they went again. Amazing parenting skills, and extremely obedient babies. Where does all of that come from? Were these experienced parents, or brand-new ones? For quail, is parenting a learned skill or totally a product of instinct?

    And, for peacocks, is the male's display and the female's unobtrusiveness purely bred in for the survival of the species, or do individual birds express their own personalities?

    Yes, I could google and I'd probably find answers, but I'm a romance writer, not a scientist. It's way more fun to muse.

    BTW, I realized I didn't now the term for baby quail, so I did google that. It's either "chicks," which reminds me too much of chicken babies, or "cheepers." Oh yeah, cheepers is definitely right. I'll remember that one.

  4. I did love this story and the pictures you added were perfect. When I was on vacation last year, we went by bus through some beautiful grounds full of peacocks. It was as if they knew we were coming and decided we were there just to see them. We began to wonder if the noise of the arriving bus didn't warn them it was time to spread their beauty and preen. What a sight!
    Cameras were flashing the whole time.

  5. Susan, I love cheepers! It suits them so perfectly.
    And as far as I know, females have less showy plumage so they're less visible when they're on a nest.

    Mimi, how about those Pavlovian Peacocks! Fire up a diesel engine and the birds display their finery!