Many years ago there lived a man in a lonely little cottage. He was a man of very little importance, only a cabinet maker. But no finer cabinets could be found in all the land than what came from his hands. For the man took pride in everything he did, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. He put his heart into everything he did; whether it was making a cabinet, tending his home, or even cooking a meal.
At times, however, he could be a very lonely man, for he had no one to share his life with. This is why he frequently took long walks in the woods. In the woods there was a world all its own. A world in which he could fit. He had always felt awkward and shy around people, but not so in the woods. Everything there took him for what he was and he never had to explain himself to anyone or anything.
One day, in the early autumn, when the cabinet maker happened to be out on one of these walks he chanced to hear a faint chirping from the bushes near the path. With great caution he moved some branches aside and there, to the breaking of his heart, lay a small fledgling bird injured and near death. It was not the prettiest or most colourful bird he had ever seen but for some reason it moved him like no other living thing had.
At once he tore a piece of cloth from his shirt and carefully wrapped the little bird so it wouldn’t hurt itself anymore. He then quickly made his way home with the poor little thing held under his loving arm. The minute he got home he made a safe, warm place for it to rest in one of his cabinet drawers. He lined the drawer with soft linens and placed the little bird inside. Once the little bird was tucked in and sleeping soundly the man turned to his workroom with a twinkle in his eye.
He worked long and hard, all through the night. Rarely had he been so impassioned, so driven. When dawn finally came the man stumbled out of his workroom with the finest cage anyone had ever seen. It was no bigger than it needed to be, but his attention to detail had been nothing short of perfection. Carefully placing the little bird within the cage, the man then spent the next several weeks bringing the poor little thing back to health.
Each day the man spent nursing the little fledgling back to health he marveled more and more over what a unique bird it was. It was not like any bird he had ever seen in the woods before. It was not much larger than a sparrow and certainly less colourful, but it had the most musically lilting song he had ever heard. Nothing could put him into bad spirits after he had heard that wonderful song. Some days the man would just sit and listen and watch the bird for hours at a stretch.
Soon the man discovered that the bird possessed an intelligence far beyond what one would normally attribute to a wild creature. That is not to say that he was able to talk to it in a way that is similar to how I might speak with you, but they did develop a certain kind of understanding. The bird was very curious and wanted to learn everything she could and the man, after listening to her sing for a while, was happy to sit and talk about people, places and things he had seen; or just read to her from one of his many books.
Things went very well for the first while, each enjoying the other’s company. But all too soon it came to be getting near the time that the man should let the little bird go back into the woods on its own. The man had been so lonely for a companion for so long, that he couldn’t bring himself to let her go. And so he put it off little by little until the snows came and then he told himself that he couldn’t possibly send her out into the winter storms by herself.
As the winter days progressed the little bird grew increasingly restless. This troubled the man deeply, but he still did not have the heart to let her go. Again, he went to his workshop. This time he was in there for three days. When he finally emerged he had a second cage, even more beautiful than the first. It was much larger than the original, and even had a real potted bush in it. To the little bird’s surprise, however, the man did not move her into this new cage but instead added it on to her existing cage with a short but intricate connecting piece.
The little bird was very happy with this and things went on very happily again both sharing in each other’s company. After a while, however, the bird once again grew restless. She did not know why, but she longed to be out. Out in the world. Again the man grew distressed an went into his workroom. Almost a week passed before he emerged with the product of his labours. Once again it was another section of cage, still more beautiful than the two before. Inside was its crowning glory, a hand carved bird bath in the shape of a sleeping cat. The bird thought this was exceedingly funny.
Once again things went well, for a short while at any rate. Then, as had happened before, the bird became restless and the cabinet maker retreated again into his workshop. This pattern repeated itself all through the long winter and into the spring. Each addition becoming more splendid than all those before it. The man imported rare plants for her to perch upon. He gathered the rarest of seeds and insects for her diet. But, sadly, nothing would help for long.
Finally came the warm spring day on which the man had to admit to himself that although her songs were the most joyous melodies he had ever heard, she could not be truly happy there with him. He wanted with his whole heart to tell her than he loved her companionship and wished she would stay, but he could not bring himself to do so. For surely, he thought, the place for a bird is in the woods and not in a cabinet maker’s hut.
And so with a heavy heart he took the little bird from his house in that first small cage he had built for her and at the spot where he had found her, he let her go back into the woods from whence she had come. With laboured steps he then turned to home and upon arriving at the cottage’s small porch, he crossed the threshold and closed the door on all that he had truly loved.
The little bird spent the next few years in the woods not far from the cabinet maker’s home. She eventually found others of her kind and took in with them. For a long while she was very happy in her new life with her new friends, but then that restless feeling came over her again. This time, however, it was somehow different.
She asked the others if they might know what it was that she was feeling. You are going through what all creatures go through, they said. It is time for you to fall in love and choose a mate. But, the little bird did not know what love was and the other birds could not explain it to her. She had heard the man mention it on several occasions. She remembered that he seemed to get uncomfortable when it came up and never explained to her what it was.
As the feelings grew stronger she became more desperate for an answer. She asked all manner of creatures, but none could tell her what love was. Eventually she concluded that to find out what love was she would have to go back to the man.
It took her some time to find her way back to the cottage, and when she had, she was not altogether sure that she had found the right place. The lawn and garden had grown wild. The cottage looked shabbier than she remembered. The doors and windows were boarded up. The little building was nothing like she remembered.
After a short search she found a crack in an upstairs window that she forced her way through. Everything inside the cottage was much the same as it had been, even the cages, but there was no sign of the man anywhere. In fact, there was nothing to show that he had even lived there for a long while.
The little bird became very sad. Now she would never know what love meant. She didn’t know what else to do. As she resigned herself to leave she passed by the first cage the man had built for her that autumn so long ago. The cage in which he had nursed her back to health. It made her stop. For the first time, she really saw it. She looked at it in a whole new way. Until now she had only known of it from the inside, but now she was seeing it from the outside.
It was then that she saw a second cage, one with a broken pot in it. Then a third cage, this one with a cat-shaped bird bath. It was then that she began to see all the cages, each more beautiful and elaborate than the last. Everywhere she turned, everywhere she could see, there was cage upon cage lovingly and wondrously connected. There was barely enough room for a man to walk between them. Only then did she realize that all of the furniture had been pushed back into a small corner of a back room. In all it took up a space too small for any human to comfortably live in. It was little better than a cage. If this were not enough, when she entered the cluttered workroom, she saw the beginnings of yet another bird cage left undone. In that cramped house and the cage of his own making; and in that final abandoned work and the opening of her gilded cages, she finally knew what true love was.
That small cottage still stands today, though not very well. It is a place known to many and used by all of them. You see, people go there when they are feeling sad or need to be alone. For when the wind blows through the cracks and chinks in the walls, some say, you can hear a bird song so sad, so lonely, that the house itself seems to weep.