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Wendy Saphin

Second Runner-up

The Infinite Birdcage

Writing competition

Birdcage D2

 The Key To Freedom

By Wendy Saphin


At the exhibition I am immediately drawn to the small drawing of the pelican.

It is in a group of drawings of toy birds. Some on wheels, some wind up, with keys in their backs. Each toy has a red bead attached to it. A focal point, a commonality. The Pelican, majestic, thermal floaters with hollow bones. Their size bearing no relation to their weight. Graceful in flight awkward on land. 

I am momentarily transported to the beach, where I monitor and feed them. The sun is shining and a cool breeze blows. The pelicans watch me expectantly. They know I am going to serve morning tea to them as they make their way to the Bay Supermarket. Pelicans are pescetarian. The bay is well stocked.

Back in the gallery, I look more closely at the drawings. Twelve birds, all of which need the assistance of another being to be able to move. Not free but reliant on the goodwill of others. My mind asks, ‘what would it be like to be unable to move, much less be free, without the intervention of another?’ 

I think about all the sentient beings that are not free. I embrace my own perceived freedom. Birds, a symbol of freedom. ‘The Infinite Birdcage’, an exhibition exploring the theme of freedom. 

I move around the gallery. 

Birdcages explore the idea that we are not free.

The concept that we create our own and return to them for safety is formed. I consider my own birdcages, keys and wheels that restrict my freedom. Some are self-imposed, others imposed by others, but allowed to remain. Some are in the process of construction. 

I return to the drawings and again I am drawn to the pelican. It is not an Australian Pelican. European, I would say. Yellow bill and legs. The artist is of European descent. ‘Does this contribute to his species choice?’ I wonder. ‘Is it their simple colouring of yellow and white which seems to be consistent throughout the bird series?’

The Australian Pelican has dark grey legs and a pink bill, the longest in the avian world. The yellow spectacles from which it gets its scientific name, pelicanus conspiciatus, are a mark of maturity, as are the black wings. Juveniles have white spectacles and grey wings.

The pelican is the symbol for selfless love. A female pelican will pierce her breast in order to feed her young. In Christianity it is the symbol of piety. I wonder what it would be like to need another being to turn the key in your back before you can move. What must it feel like to be totally reliant on another to free you from your inability to move? Is thought subject to the turning of a key? Is freedom conditional upon another’s willingness to turn your key?

It seems to me that learning to turn your own key needs to be a priority in life. Not an easy accomplishment, given the key is in a place almost impossible to reach. Not visible, behind you, inside you. I look at the pelican drawing again. His bill is long enough to reach his key. What about the duck? No hope, short billed. Wheels, not a key, but his bill won’t reach his wheels either.

Several weeks have passed since I was at the gallery posing questions to myself about keys, wheels, birds, cages and freedom. I am gazing across the bay; in my mind, I am back at the exhibition. I visualise the pelican which might be able to reach his own key with his long bill. I worry about the duck, his bill too short to free himself. I wonder which I am. I think I am a pelican. I contemplate the possibility that I may have morphed to duck. Sometimes I feel that I no longer feel. I ask myself, ‘has my key rusted? Where do I find the oil to loosen it? What is needed to turn my wheels? Is not feeling, freedom?’ 

Then it occurs to me. 

Positivity is my key. 

When the waves of life pick me up, I surf them to the shore. Learning to surf the mind was one of the best things I ever did. It wasn’t easy! Don’t think I have never had wipe outs! I have had many but I am a strong swimmer. I love swimming! As do pelicans! They love to swim and float and in nature they don’t have keys and ducks don’t have wheels. Again, I think about the drawing I was so drawn to. I mull over the questions it raised for me. I am transported to the gallery and the question of the Infinite Birdcage. I consider the directions my musings have wandered and the infinite places they may still go in response to the theme of freedom. A lifetime of pondering awaits me. I am also drawn to learning more about the spiritual meaning of the pelican and to creating its image in many different mediums. That is a birdcage I am willing to fly into.                                    

For me, I conclude, freedom is a state of mind.

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