The Bread Tree
“Three of six” was his name because he was born third in a brood of six chicks. As you can see, his mother either lacked imagination or was quite the Trekkie. It’s most likely the former since Three, as everyone eventually called him, didn’t discover television until he was much older, and only by chance, around the same time as his mother. But as they say, that’s another story, so let’s get back to this one.
Three was born one spring of those pleasant ones, with not much wind and enough rain from the skies to be just right. Food was never scarce for him whilst he was in the nest. He and his five siblings grew up safe and strong. When he made the Big Leap and learnt to fly, he realised the world had far more sparrows than he’d imagined. He often ventured away from his family, approaching other groups to greet them and listen to the tales they shared. They were typically cautionary tales about always being alert on the ground because cats are swift, but also when you’re in the air chasing flies or mosquitoes, for the kites and buzzards are swift too. And so on. When he shared this with his mum, she remarked that others just loved their horror stories. While these tales might be true for some, she knew of a Bread Tree that ensured they always had food. After some thought, Three asked if the Bread Tree was where they often ate. She confirmed it was, and when he queried if the tree’s droppings were bread, she again confirmed.
Their family visited the Bread Tree about twice daily. They shared it with a robin, three magpies, two crows, and two other sparrow families. They seldom saw the crows, but the magpies were bothersome because they would nab the large chunks of bread and carry them away. Despite this, there was enough bread for everyone.
Days passed peacefully with a breeze aiding their flights and the magnificent tree ensuring they always had food. While there were cats about, they were so sluggish that they never managed to catch any of them. Quite often, when their mum left them at the tree, Five out of Six played a game of ignoring the cats. Just as a cat would succumb to temptation and lunge, he’d deftly fly up to the tree, leaving the miffed cat below. His siblings’ shrieks, a mix of panic and laughter, would ring out. Five out of Six didn’t keep this up for long. Not because a cat got him, but because his mother did. The telling-off was legendary.
One day, the tree bore no bread, and their mother led them to a hedge to catch spiders, which Three personally preferred, especially the tiny ones. The larger spiders he’d eat just the legs, which were tasty, but he found the body rather unpalatable unless his mum insisted. The next day, again, no bread, and the spiders were consumed, so they ventured to another family’s territory where hens allowed them to eat. However, the stint was brief; the other family couldn’t feed seven additional sparrows.
On the third day, their mother repeatedly led them to the Bread Tree, but Three noticed she wasn’t looking for dropped food, but rather towards the large nest from which large two-legged creatures, resembling him but without feathered wings, occasionally emerged. Concerned, she told them she’d look for food across the water and instructed them, especially looking at Five, not to tease the cats.
A gentle breeze was blowing, so Three decided to perch atop an old dried-up cherry tree, swaying carelessly. Hearing a noise, he glanced towards the large nest and saw one of the two-legged beings tossing things towards the Bread Tree where his siblings were. He was about to sound an alarm but realised it was pieces of bread. The commotion amongst his siblings was immense, signaling him that the tree had yielded bread. After three days of scant feeding, Three felt sated.
Hours later, he related the day’s events to his mum. She intently listened and expressed her gladness that he’d noticed. She had realised this as an adult, which meant he’d have a long life. She explained that the Bread Tree was an old apple tree that had stopped bearing fruit ages ago. It was these beings, humans, who fed them bread. The why was unknown, but generations had thrived on this bread.
Three was determined to find out why humans fed them. He suspected it related to one human who’d stand on the grass every morning, flapping limb extremities as if trying to fly but never taking off, perhaps due to featherless wings. Over time, he discerned that the human was a female practising Chi Kung, and it had nothing to do with the bread. Such is the life of sparrows; they don’t always find the answers.
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