Gracie’s old friend, The Robin, came to visit early one morning.
“I heard things are going very well for you now, Friend Chicken,” she said and did a low ballerina bow.
They both chuckled about her being so formal. Friend was the name they had given each other when they first met because it is the very best name you can call someone.
“It is good to see you, Friend Robin. I never had a real chance to thank you for teaching me so many things about dancing. You are very smart. Much smarter than I am.”
“You know heart things, Gracie. We songbirds know other kinds of things.”
“How did you know my name? I haven’t seen you to tell you what it is.”
“One of the wrens who visits this garden regularly told me. The wrens are almost always the first to learn anything new. We songbirds know a great many things about the world. Our lives are for more than simply filling your garden home with song.”
“What do you mean?”
“People welcome songbirds. We visit their yards and gardens. We sing. We entertain. People like to listen to us and watch us while all the time we are listening to them and watching them. They do not realize it though.
“For the most part, we travel freely. And because of that, we are able to collect knowledge. It may be as simple as how a young chicken like you got her name or as complicated as how to design doors a bird can open and close.”
“That kind of door might be useful one day,” said Gracie. “Especially since all the ones I have ever seen need hands to make them work.”
“Songbirds are The Living Library,” said The Robin. “And I am a Page.”
Gracie did not know what to say. She had thought The Robin was just a robin. She had never heard about this library even though she was a bird too. Gracie wondered if the other chickens knew about it.
“You have seen The Gardener writing on the pages in a notebook, haven’t you? Birds have no way to write what we know. We have only our voices. Songbirds collect knowledge. Everywhere we are singing about what we know. It is combined with our regular songs and calls.
“Everything we songbirds know is in the air all the time being repeated and carried around the world. That way when one of us dies, no knowledge is lost. It continues.
“The Gardener and all the other people you see passing by on the street are moving through the greatest collection of knowledge ever created. It surrounds them like an ocean, but they do not realize it. What we songbirds know could fill hundreds and thousands of notebooks.”
For Gracie, this seemed too huge to imagine. There were still parts of our own garden where she had never ventured. How could she ever know as much as all the songbirds, or even just this one robin?
“Some of us even hold the knowledge of all the ancient creatures no longer on this earth. Those songbirds are the most protected Pages of all. If something should happen to them, the knowledge they have been saving since the very first birds sang would be lost forever.
“Birds live everywhere and can travel everywhere. Some of us near your own home here, the cormorants, dive under the river water and collect knowledge there. Others of us farther away, the penguins, are even greater divers. They have learned the songs of the whales and more.”
Gracie tried to imagine a chicken doing any of those things. Like the others in our little flock, she didn’t even like being out in a small sprinkling of rain.
“All knowledge is important. We do not know which pieces of knowledge will be needed to preserve the world.”
Then The Robin added softly, “But none of that is as important as what your heart knows, Gracie.”
“What do you mean?”
“We can tell you news of what is going on beyond your garden. We can tell you how to find things, how to build things, and how to do things like dancing. We can tell you what the ancient world was like. We can recite whale songs for you.
“But without what your heart knows, Gracie, it is all useless information. It takes the wisdom in a heart like yours to unlock the power of knowledge.”
Gracie had never thought about what her heart knew. Her heart just knew what it knew.
“Well, I still look up to you,” she said. “I wish I could be more like you. I’m not much of anything except a ballet dancer, and that is only because of what you taught me.”
“On the contrary, Gracie. All songbirds look up to chickens. You are the birds who live closest to people. That is why we help chickens first. You have the best chance to save all birds, even our common predators like the hawks.
“You only need to ask a question. If a songbird does not know the answer, it will go and find it from a different Page in The Living Library. What you need to know will be brought to you as long as it is known.
“Sometimes you do not even need to ask a songbird. We will simply come and help you. Do you remember the first day I visited you? It was not by accident. A wren told me about you and how you might need me.
“From time to time, you may look up and see us quietly watching over you, always at the ready. You may hear us early, even before the sun rises, as we begin to sing. You may be asleep or almost waking. Either way, we will sing into your dreams.”
“And what will you sing into our dreams?”
“We will sing whatever knowledge you may need for the day ahead. We will sing what we know into your dreams so softly you will not be aware we were even there. We are fine with you thinking the knowledge is your own. We take no credit for sharing. Our knowledge has meaning only when it is combined with the wisdom in a heart like yours.”
A troubled look came over Gracie’s face.
“Did you sing into my dreams the night before I danced in front everyone to get rid of The Bigger Scary Thing?”
“No, Gracie. That was all you. None of us have ever needed to do that for you. But we have watched over you to keep you safe.”
Gracie was relieved. She would not have minded if The Robin had sung into her dreams because they were friends and it would have been to help her. But Gracie was glad to have accomplished something as important as getting rid of The Bigger Scary Thing on her own. She was sure nothing could ever be more difficult.
“If you remember, I was not there for your performance when The Bigger Scary Thing was no more. I stayed away so you would know for sure that it was all your doing, and not mine.
“But everyone told me about it, and I made sure that day of your life was recorded in The Living Library by the wren who first told me about you.”
Gracie smiled her biggest smile. Next to Bessie, The Robin was her best friend ever.
“Gracie, if there was anything I thought you needed to know, I would simply tell it to you because you are my friend. I would not sing it into your dreams.
“Just like a seed, you already have everything you need within yourself to do what you are meant to do,” The Robin said. “Sometimes we songbirds simply sing with joy to set it free.”
In the branches above them, a pair of wood thrushes trilled in agreement.
“So tell me about those doors,” Gracie whispered. “The ones we can open and close without hands. It sounds splendidly secretive.”
They huddled closer together.
“The most important thing to remember is…” she began.