Light as a Feather: The Story of the Firebirds
Down in the underdistance, a Dreamtime chameleon looked up from her work through swivelling sideways eyes. She watched this movement in the skies and smiled, then went back to her building. She knew more than you or I how this story will turn out to be, as she has seen it all happen before – she has seen all kinds of things on her trips on roots and branches between worlds, and she knew you could not have feathers forever without any kind of bird. And besides, universes are dull places no-one has any songs to sing. So, to welcome this bird into the world she shaped the branches of a special kind of tree. An invisible tree. A dark tree. You see, because it was made by a chameleon, you or I could not see it, though in a way we do, even today, sit in its branches. The feathers certainly couldn’t see the tree, as they moved too fast, and they couldn’t feel it or know it was there as they were so very, very…. light. As they rushed around above, getting tired and confused, the chameleon drew in the air that was scattered here and there, and called it all down into the space she had prepared. The tiny feathers, sensing their smooth air was disappearing, flew onwards and outwards, somewhat unaware.
The chameleon took this air she had gathered and pressed it together, into a little tiny ball. She pressed and she pushed it so powerfully, with such strength, that it started to glow a radiant blue – the colours of the first firebird. She pushed again, and the inwards turned outwards and the ball of fire-air grew, and grew and grew and grew, until out of her hands flew a brand new Firebird.
It was gigantissimal – bigger than a feathered dinosaur. As its now-red wings unfurled, it started to scream a screeching kind of song that went
You see – it hadn’t yet learned how to sing. So it let out that single note (Or maybe it was two) and it flapped inside the dark branches, sending out a trail of feathers and shouting out its simple song, which in essence was ‘Me! Me! look! I am here’. But no-one else could hear this calling out. There were a few other firebirds that scattered those early skies, but they were all doing exactly the same thing; all shouting their names, calling out at the same time, and so none of them ever heard a thing.
A mouth that only shouts will soon lose all its breath. With its big beak always wide open, the Firebird started running out of air, the rapid end of its one song, and looked down to see itself quickly disappearing. The colours of its feathers switched back to blue, its song grew quieter, and in those last moments, it heard for the first time all the voices all around and all the sound was shouting. It was like hearing an echo of its own voice, and it felt all the rage and the loneliness of that rage, and so its heart grew heavier, and heavier, and it thought, ‘What a life. All I’ve done is shouted myself to death, all alone, not knowing there was anyone else out there. I wish it could have been… more of a life. More of an everything kind of life”
And with that, the first Firebird drew within itself, shrunk from a being full of colour into a small grey pebble, and in almost the same instance, bounced out again with unimaginable force. Billions of tiny feathers flew out in all directions and it sang out a lovely, complex, rich song, which held within it a small piece of everything that now exists.
The dreamtime-chameleon (who had temporarily popped out as she had left some soup on in another universe) felt some strange vibrations come along the canopy (or was it the roots?) and came back to find there was was no longer a Firebird anywhere around. She put her hands out, felt around, and brushed over new bits and pieces that felt interesting and different. She always manages to suprise herself with the things her accidents create. She drew some of these bits, the pieces of the end of the first Firebird, down into a space in her dark tree, and mixed them together with the air. She moulded and pushed the air together with these heavier pieces and pressed and pushed and moulded and pressed and pushed them together until, once again, they glowed blue. Then it expanded. The second generation of the Firebirds emerged – smaller, more polite, and with a quite gorgeous song. The dreamtime-chameleon found it much easier to make these birds the second time around, and felt she had made a bird many times more beautiful, and so she went along her branches, pulling more air and bits and pieces together and moulding them into firebirds, and more firebirds, until she had a whole community of them that all sat together inside the comfort of the dreamtime-chameleon’s nest. She went down along the trunk, off through the underdistance of the forest floor, content that these ones would be just OK.
Finally, these Firebirds were not just screaming incoherently – they had some songs – they almost, almost had a language. They talked and chirped all through the day from the different parts of their nest… about how they were feeling, whether they were a bit warmer or a bit cooler than the day before, or whether the weather had or hadn’t been better or worse. They talked of several simple things, but they never really noticed the strange fact that they were resting on invisible branches. So instead, they commented on the quality of each others plumage. They teased each other on the size of their beaks, which would then lead on to somewhat more pinching criticisms of song structure and tone. After some time, all couped up in their nest, they started to get on each others feathers. Something seemed amiss. The truth of the matter was, almost everything was amiss, because all there was in the universe was firebirds. Firebirds, some chatter, some songs – but not much else.
Late one evening, one of the firebirds in the nest felt a deep grumbling in her stomach.
‘what was that?’ said one
‘more like who was that’ said another
‘who?!… I heard who. It was you what did that’ said another still
‘you great big lier!’, the other responded
The firebird that felt the grumble of hunger deep down in her belly kept quiet, and she kept still. She looked down to see herself start to shrink, and start to disappear. She glanced back up to see all the other firebirds in their nest, looking inwards as they always had, accusing each other. She saw at once how their pleasant nattering had deteriotated over time and isolation into nit picking. She shrank further, and further inside herself, the bickering was there but now a far distant sound, and she thought ‘What a life. All we’ve done is talked ourselves to death, only us, and we all are pretty much the same. I wish it had been more… more of a life. More of an everything kind of life.’
And with that, the second Firebird drew within itself, shrunk down, down from a vast being full of colour into the tiniest grey pebble, and in almost the same instance, bounced out again, became huge again, with unimaginable force. Billions of tiny feathers flew out in all directions and sang out a gorgeous, divine, full-bodied song, which held within it the essence of which all things are made of; Saucepans, swimming pools, clouds, marbles, earth, you and me – you name it, anything you can think of contains elements expelled in fantastic fashion by one of the second firebirds. One by one, all the second firebirds followed this pattern, shrinking down before bursting out in song.
The invisible chameleon crawled back along the invisible canopy and felt piles of even newer, even heavier, even more interesting shapes with her invisible paws. She was so engrossed she didn’t look up to notice the rest of the second firebirds blowing up in unimaginable colour and tone, like fireworks, all over the invisible treetops. The invisible chameleon took all these pieces towards the trunk, where the branches are wider, and put them inside a large nest – a huge nest – a nest as big as a galaxy – she put in all the air and the dust and the bits and the bobs, and swirled them around fast enough so they mixed into balls and gaseous globes and ice demons and moons and life and refrigerators and socks, and yes, the third Firebirds, the loveliest ones of all, with a glowing warm heart, a strong and long life, and a song sung to us every morning as beautiful as sunlight dancing on a cool water stream. It is one of the third firebirds we see today, flying through our blue skies. When you look up, remember; every bit of you was once a part of that that endless sky, and we would not be here if it weren’t for the firebirds and their beautiful, ever-changing songs.
Written by Josh Coppersmith Heaven