Swiss Animal Stories
The Satz Vogel
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In the German language, "Satz Vogel" means "Sentence Bird."  Is there really a bird which speaks in sentences?

  The Satzvogel

                                                                            Linda Lockett Eisele 1999

                                                                                                      for Mom, hoping that your happiness returns.

 

     Old Robinson lived in a small village in Switzerland.  Forests were visible from his house.  Outside his window, the Satzvogel sang.  He wasn't quite sure when he first noticed the bird.  One day, dozing in the middle of the afternoon, he noticed that her songs were sentences, and that each sentence was different.   

     The Satzvogel was never alone.  It sang a sentence, paused, sang another.  Listening carefully, Old Robinson could make out a faint reply.   His Satzvogel and another Satzvogel were singing to each other.  "If I listen carefully enough and long enough, maybe I will be able to decipher their language -- to understand which notes have which meaning.  If I could combine the meanings, I could understand the sentences!"  He whistled into the pauses.  The Satzvogel answered.  He called from his balcony, "Hello there, Satzvogel!  How are you today?"  The Satzvogel grew used to him and became like a pet.  When he was in his bedroom, she sat at the very tip of the twig at the top of the pine tree outside his bedroom window.  When he ate lunch in the sunshine on his terrace, she sat on the roof of his neighbor's house singing just for him.  The Satzvogel was quite plain, all black except for a yellow beak.  She was larger than a sparrow, and much smaller than the magpies.

     Old Robinson's dearest friend was a sister he rarely visited, but they wrote.  He was like the Satzvogel, he told himself -- a letter, a pause, a letter, a pause, each waiting to hear from the other, sending messages back and forth, hoping each message was more beautiful than the last.

     One day, the doorbell rang.  The mailman handed Old Robinson an express letter.  Closing the door, fingers trembling, he tore open the envelope.  His sister was dead.  Carefully, he packed an old valise and left for Germany to take care of his sister's affairs. 

      When he returned home, he was overcome by an irresistable longing to hear the Satzvogel's beautiful voice.  He hurried onto the balcony and leaned against the railing.  The twig at the top of the pine tree was empty.  He listened far into the distance.  Nothing.  "She will show up," he said.  Days passed.  Weeks.  Months.  The winter came.  The Satzvogel did not return. 

     Old Robinson petted his cat.  The cat arched her back graciously, rubbing up against his  leg one morning in early spring.  "Maybe I was gone too long.  Did she think I had abandoned her?  Did you eat her?" he eyed the cat.  Her cat eyes gazed back at him.  "Maybe she was old like me," he laughed.  "Maybe she couldn't wait."

     Old Robinson's days grew hollow.  He was lonely.  Listlessly, he rode his rickety old bicycle down the hill.  He pedaled, legs akimbo, over the fields, through a small forest on a gentle rise, past the neighboring village of farmhouses.  The exercise revived him.  He turned deeper into the forest, coasted down a dirt road, crossed a brook.  Pedaling slowly uphill, he heard a familiar sound.    

     "Satzvogel!" he shouted.  "Here you are!  Why don't you come home?"  Old Robinson felt more content than he had in a long time.  That evening, gazing at the forest, he thought, "she is there."

     A few days later, dark silhouettes of pine trees drew him into the forest again.  He rode his bike around a corner, accelerating down the hill.  Wind tangled his hair.  He grinned with excitement: an old man riding at breakneck speeds.  Then he heard her.  He stopped, closed his eyes, listened.

     Opening his eyes, he searched the branches high above.  She sang.  He walked along the road.  Her song grew louder.  Looking up, he saw her: small, black, ordinary, wonderful!  Closing his eyes, he listened.  "Thank you," he whispered. 

     As he rode through the forest, he heard the song again.  Farther along, he heard it again, and yet again.  "The forest is full of you!" he cried. 

     Lying in his bed just before dawn, Old Robinson heard his Satzvogel.  He sat bolt upright and cried, "she's back!"  Had he actually believed this would never happen?  He clutched the bedcovers to his chin, entranced.  She sang for ten minutes.  Then she was gone.

     A week later, when the barest hint of light begins to ease away the darkness, he heard her song again.  It lasted ten minutes.  These bits of song tantalized him.  He wished for the old days when the Satzvogel sat on top of the pine tree, or on the neighbor's roof, not just in the pre-dawn darkness, but all day long.

     At last he heard the song in the middle of the day.  He rushed onto the balcony.  There she was!  In the distance, he heard the answering song.

     As time went by, the Satzvogel came more often and stayed longer.  Old Robinson went about the tasks of his day, contented.  Sometimes he heard her.  Sometimes he didn't.  She was part of his life.  He hoped that she would never leave. 

     Had she always disappeared in winter?  Did she return every spring?  Had he not noticed because there had been a time when he did not care?  If she left next fall, he would not think that the cat had eaten her, or that she was old and had died.  He would believe in her return.

     One night, as he slept, Old Robinson had a dream.  The Satzvogel came to him with a slip of paper in its beak.  He took the paper and unfolded it, carefully.  He read the words, "You can understand my sentences."

     The next morning, when he awoke, the bird was there, singing at the top of the pine tree just outside his bedroom window.  Old Robinson knew what she was saying.

Do you?