Thursday, November 20, 2008


The Train had to stop for almost an hour today, in the middle of nowhere, because there was a valestrina on the tracks.

Valestrini are widely considered to be one of the seven most beautiful birds in Hamjamser. (No one seems to be able to agree on which is the most beautiful of all, but the top seven are always the same.) They look a bit like a cross between a peacock and an ostrich. Some believe that's exactly what they are. It's rare to see a valestrina anywhere colder than Clam-Porkle, much less in the Railway Regions during Winter, so half the passengers in the Train tried to get out and have a look at it. After five minutes, the Train was blocked as much by its own passengers as by the valestrina. Several people climbed onto the roof. (One of them was me - I like to be up high, out of the crowd. It's surprisingly easy to get onto roofs with a little practice.)

Every type of feather in existence can be found somewhere on a valestrina. They have rather more feathers than can really fit on a single bird, actually, and they lose them constantly. Predators can track the birds by the trail of feathers they leave behind them. (Not many predators bother with valestrini, though, as they kick like mules and are mostly fluff.) The colors vary from bird to bird - black and white, violet, a peacock's blue and green, or just about anything else. This one was mostly coppery orange. It had a peacock's crown on its head, a scarlet crest all the way down its long and elegant neck, and pink wattles so long they looked like a catfish's whiskers. Round-edged feathers like copper pennies covered its neck and breast. Its flight feathers - such as they were - were tipped with sapphire blue. (Valestrini are quite incapable of flight, though not all of them realize it.) Thick golden feathers covered the top half of its legs; past that, its feet were a vivid pink, and as scaly as a velociraptor's. Its tail was a magnificent sheaf of feathers, like a bouquet of the feathers from the tails of a dozen birds. There were woodpecker stripes in black and copper, the speckled rectangles of a mockingbird (blue and gold instead of gray and white), quetzal plumes almost eight feet long, the fluffy curls of an ostrich, and about fifty peacock eyespots in every shade of gold and copper and jeweled blue. It spread it while we were watching - just once - and there was a sigh of awe from everyone on and around the Train. It was like watching every flower in Melligan bloom at once. Nothing in the world has a tail like a valestrina's.

After a while, it became clear that the bird was not planning to move anytime soon, so a few salamander keepers went out to shoo it off the tracks. The valestrina watched them suspiciously. When they got within ten feet of it, it began to leap up and down and scream as if it was being murdered. Valestrini may have beautiful feathers, but their voices are somewhat less melodious than a crow's. Brilliant feathers flew everywhere. The salamander keepers backed off, alarmed; the valestrina let out a few more ghastly squawks, fluffed its feathers indignantly, and settled back down again.

The same thing happened whenever anyone got near it. The best place on the mountain, apparently, was right in the middle of the tracks, and no one else was allowed there. Eventually, people started settling in, as the valestrina showed no interest in moving two feet over and getting out of the Train's way. Picnic blankets sprouted around the Train. I took about twenty sketches and photographs of the valestrina. I may try to draw or paint it someday, but I doubt I could ever really do it justice.

Mostly, everyone just sat and watched the bird. It made little hiccuping noises. It bobbed its head like a chicken and scratched at its feathers, which fell out. It was still the most beautiful thing on the mountain.

After an hour of this, the valestrina seemed to decide that it had been stared at enough for one day, or that it was bored, or that it actually preferred that patch of ground over there, or something. I don't know. For whatever reason, it got up and poked its lovely way into the woods. Everyone watched it go.

There was a moment of perfect silence.

Then half the people on the ground ran to pick up one of the dropped feathers, and the other half started talking all at once, and the Train workers started shouting to each other, and the engine roared as it warmed up again, and there was all the usual noise and chaos that happens every time the Train leaves a place. It was like waking up from a dream. In fifteen minutes, everyone was back on board, and we were rolling along as if nothing unusual had happened. The rest of the day was perfectly ordinary. Still, whenever anyone mentioned the valestrina, all conversations would stop, and we would stare blindly at nothing in particular, remembering sunlight on feathers the color of copper and sapphire and gold.

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Blogger linda said...

I want to paint this bird, the way you describe it so beautifully....

blessings on your trip...

3:36 AM  

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