M E   A N D   H O O L I O

by Michelle Benjamin

Me and Hoolio

A bird in a secluded grove sings like a flute.
Willows sway gracefully with their golden threads.
The mountain valley grows the quieter as the clouds return.
A breeze brings along the fragrance of the apricot flowers.
For a whole day I have sat here encompassed by peace,
Till my mind is cleansed in and out of all cares and idle thoughts.
I wish to tell you how I feel, but words fail me.
If you come to this grove, we can compare notes.

Fa-Yen, Zen Buddhist teacher and poet

I've been reading.  They say the passage of time carries great wisdom.  They say that the best things cannot be said. That when you stand in front of a living being and call it by name; a tree; that your experience of that living being is diminished by the word. They say that all life is sorrowful.  Our task, they say, is to "participate with joy in the sorrows of the world." *

These passages are comforting.  They help me comprehend my history and they dignify my choices.  I am one who, due to the impact of a traumatic fate, have spent avenues of my life caged within a compromised muscle-skeletal system; most significantly my skull and face.  Depending on which side of the valley this history is viewed, my life has been as terrifying as it has been beautiful.


Those times when words did not exist.
Those times when my visual field was fragmented.
Those times when my audio field was amplified.
These were times of feelings and adventures that defy words.
Meeting Hoolio gave me purpose.


Hoolio was originally a wild caught Macaw.  Taken from the jungle before the laws prohibited such activities, Hoolio probably saw his parents killed.  He was probably restrained in a net.  At that time, those who were doing such deeds would contain the birds in plastic tubing, put them in suitcases and deliver them out of country via the belly of an airplane. I have read that up to 95% of them died in transit.

Hoolio was purchased by a pet store owner, who adored him so much she kept him for herself as a mascot for her shop. He went from the jungle to the cage.  From the trees to the florescent lighting on a downtown street of a major city ... for fourteen years.

When they called me to see if I would take him, it was because he had attacked a customer and they were afraid of being sued.  I was reclusive at the time and drove through the mountains into the city to retrieve, what turned out to be, my own life.

When I went to pick him up, no one could touch him.  They shoo-ed him into a box with a broom. I remember trying to give him water off my finger on the way home.  Three hundred and fifty pounds per square inch of biting power is enough to wake you up.

So here we have it.  One resilient weather beaten woman.  One resilient weather beaten bird.  An atmosphere of high mountainous bush.  And a story, that cannot be captured with words, but is deserving of the effort.

Hoolio would rock back and forth. His eyes would roll up into his head.  He would pull and bite at his own flesh, and that of any other living being he could reach.

Sitting with a troubled bird, one must not be fearful.  One must not be angry.   One must not be distracted.  If one wants to be helpful to the bird, one must be kind.  Unrelentingly kind.  This is the internal camp I set up as I posted myself at the place of Hoolio's suffering.  I waited.  I prayed.  I asked for guidance.  For six to eight hours a day I willed Hoolio to survive.

The company of the oldest living gene pool on the planet ... our only remaining connection to the dinosaurs ... helped me cope.  It was as if, saving Hoolio, was the way to saving myself.

Hoolio needed to move.  I imagined what it would be like, to be meant to be able to fly, and then asked to sit still for fourteen years.  Hoolio needed to move.

I donned several layers of thick clothing.  I pushed my arm under Hoolio's belly and demanded he climb on.  While he proceeded to tear at my arm, I moved it up and down in a motion that encouraged him to flap his wings.  This surprised him.  In the moment of lapse in wit, I moved in close and cooed.  The wit returned.  I exited.  Lightening fast became the order of the day.

Over and over ... flight and song.  Day after day.  Month after month.

One morning, I felt particularly centered in my fearless, anger-less, kind-ful Hoolio based camp.  Before thinking about it too long, I put the bird on my shoulder and we went outside.  We walked outside.

Instead of ripping off the side of my face, Hoolio leaned up against it.  The stroll was delicious.  Sitting there on the grass beside the lake, he started to sob.   This wild ferocious creature, pressed himself upon the side of my face and sobbed deep gasping sobs.

There we were, Hoolio and me.  No words.  Just trees, and water, and sky, and grass.

I have never been the same.

The author and Hoolio are both very well, having since gone on to rescue a number of troubled captive birds and a few troubled human kids. They presently operate a sanctuary on the Pacific West Coast and are in the process of building their web site at itsforthebirds.net .

*Reflections on the Art of Living
A Joseph Campbell Companion
Selected and Edited by Diane K. Osbon


Michelle Benjamin workshop:
Into the Body - Rejuvination & Self-Care
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