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Feather in Hand

I held a little wood thrush chick for a half hour this morning, walked around the edge of the yard close to the forest, tried to get her to lift off.  It was touch and go as she went limp, eyes closed, head falling into my hand… I bounced her gently in my palm-nest to jostle her awake, and her eyes popped back open, studying me, little heartbeat fluttering against my own life-lined hand…

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Declan and I are no stranger to bird rescue. Our kitty cats bring them to us sometimes, jaws full of feathers and a garbled meow as they present the gift.  If they could only understand we’d rather have their wings up in the sky than on our doorstep. Most often, I can get there in time to grab Puddy by the scruff of the neck, so he’ll relax his jaws and set the bird free; sometimes it’s too late. Occasionally a bird is stuck on the back porch, trying desperately to fly through the screen back into the trees.  We have scooped up scores of juncos, a few bluejays, chickadees, and even sawhet owls, but the hummers are the hardest to catch.  Declan managed to corner one a couple weeks ago, and when he closed his fingers gently around its back, it cried out as if to say, “Oh noooo!”  But sure enough as we opened the door and Declan uncured his fingers, the ruby throat zipped out into the sun with a sharp chirp.

Some birds come to us on the road, injured and in shock, as our latest barred owl did on Sunday evening on our way back from Father’s Day dinner. We were out with friends visiting from Ireland, Eamon was driving, and we were nearly home.

Our back road is very dark at night, with maples and oaks shrouding any light from the stars and rising moon. On this night the air is still and very warm, and as we slip under the trees in the silver rental car, I can see the barred owl up in the distance sitting squarely in the middle of the road. It is the same spot where Declan and I have encountered MANY owls before; in the daytime, they sit on a few of the overlying branches, looking out for chipmunks and mice; at night they swoop down over the car as if following the headlights. Once a few years ago, this guy bounced off the windshield as Declan was coming up the road to home:

Barred in Declan's Hands

What a gorgeous huge bird! He was completely knocked out, his downy chest rising and falling… it was an honor to hold him in our arms like a baby, even if just for a half hour or so. When he woke up, he sat on my arm for another bit, and eventually flew up to the roof, where he sat for over three hours before disappearing into the night.

Tonight’s guy is very alert but sitting still, and it is hard to tell if he is injured or not.

We stop the car, and Declan floats out like he is on his own wings and approaches the bird, whispering, “hey, Buddy.”  It flutters a bit, stands, and Declan again moves slowly in to see if he can aid the bird. It flaps one wing, while the other falls and drags on the pavement. I tell Eamon to wait a minute, and I leave Rachel and their 14-year old son Max in the back seat, and head the thirty feet to where Declan is now down an embankment where the bird has hopped and rolled. One wing is clearly broken. Dec manages to take the owl’s feet and lift him gently upright.  He tries to flap his hurt wing, and then settles down.  I hand Declan my jean jacket, and he places it between the skin of his arm and the bird’s claws. We speak softly to him, but he makes three very loud claps with his beak to let us know he is not charmed, and we stand wondering what to do. “We can’t leave him here… he’ll die,” Declan says. So once again, we are bringing an injured barred home to see what we can do.

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Once in the kitchen, we check out his wing, and Max, Rachel, and Eamon complete their last night in NH with the gift of seeing this majestic bird up close. We are all very quiet, and the bird sits wide-eyed watching, his fuzzy head swiveling nearly all the way around as we move to peek at his gorgeous feathers and his humongous eyes. I quickly get online to read about what to do with a barred in his condition: soft towel, animal crate, don’t try to feed it, no water, put a blanket over the crate, but leave an end open for ventilation.  He is more likely to die from shock than his injuries tonight, so we need to put him somewhere quiet until we can find someone to take him. We email our friend Chele, who is a local animal tracker and birdwatcher, and look up local rehab centers.  Mr. Owl goes downstairs away from cats and kids for the night, and I try to sleep, hoping he will be alive in the morning.

Flash forward to today.  The sweet baby thrush sits in my hand, and I cannot get it to fly.  I attempt to get it to flutter its wings, but the more I try, the more it’s belly warms into my palm, and its sweet little eyes get heavy like the light is going out. I call out to God, to Source, to Light, to give this baby bird back her wings. I think about the children being torn from their parents arms at the border.  I break down and cry at how cruel some humans can be to each other. For a moment, all of those children become this one little bird, and I am determined it is going back up into the trees with its sibling chicks and mama bird up there singing my favorite bird song of all.  But it won’t leave my hand. I decide to go get my phone to take a picture. This bird is going to fly away–I am willing it. I am already writing this story in my heart, so dying is not an option. I am going to document its survival. This story is about hope… yes, the one with feathers, to quote Emily Dickinson.

Back to Monday morning, the day after Father’s Day, and Declan and I go down to see the owl.  He is sitting upright in the crate, wing extended, eyes open.  Okay, he’s alive. We have people to contact.  Chele emails back the name of a rehab clinic in Madison, and we call right away. Kathy answers the phone and agrees to meet us at 11 am to take our guy.  In the meantime, we hug our Irish friends goodbye, and once they head off, we take the barred away in the car to a person who can help.  When Kathy sees him, she takes a deep breath and sighs in a way that makes my heart sink. She goes on to say that if he survives, it will be a long haul.  What we thought would be a few weeks of rehab is really more like nine months… and that’s if he makes it. She was being honest.  Taking care of animals, or children for that matter, means a commitment. And even if you commit, they might not make it.  Would you still help out, even if you knew your efforts might not save someone?

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We left Mr. Owl in good hands with the promise they would keep us in the loop about his status.  The next night we learned he had eaten a mouse but couldn’t see the veterinarian until Wednesday to get his wing looked at and possibly set.  We still haven’t heard how his appointment went, and that was yesterday.  I am hoping no news means he is still alive, and that maybe next spring he will be released here on Bennett Street, his home. If he doesn’t make it, I admit, my heart will be broken, but what are we to do? We are here to help each other.  Declan couldn’t NOT jump out of the car to help the owl. It is in our hearts to care for each other. Ram Dass says “We are all just walking each other home.” How is it that some people cannot see that those Mexican children are THEIR children too, and that those parents are THEIR parents too? I don’t get it. How is it that people decide to protect an “endangered species,” keep pets, have children, love their families, go to church, give to children’s charities, treat people politely on the street, and then decide that because of some invisible boundary line in the dirt that families should be ripped apart because they are seeking asylum? I’m sorry, but I just lose my shit over this kind of insanity. Henry David Thoreau said “Anyone living in a country where the laws are unjust has an obligation to break the law.”  Time for some new laws, I think.

So my story is about the bird. It is about us humans and our capacity for goodness. It is about reaching out to offer your hands with love. It’s about taking a half hour to do what you can to bring healing, caring, support, and light into this day, whether it is for an animal, a person, or this oft forsaken planet. Come on, people! Open your hands!! Hold each other up! Let us do whatever we can, but let’s not sit still and watch things crumble around us. The word Namaste teaches us to do just this: I honor the divine in you; I honor the place in you where the entire Universe dwells; and when you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are as ONE. 

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After a little while of standing and holding the little chick, she stood up on her skinny pink legs, stuck her tail feathers out over my hand and pooped, then looked to the woods and flew awkwardly up to a beech branch. Her stumbled launch left a single baby feather on my thumb. She sat for about five seconds on the branch, turned her head my way, chirped, and then disappeared into the trees. I will never know if she made it, but for today, that’s okay.  Open hands. Open heart.

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With love from Dragonfly in North Sandwich, NH,

~Katie

6 thoughts on “Feather in Hand”

  1. Oh my. I just got home from a pretty lousy day at work and I was feeling sad and overwhelmed. Then I read this, Katie and suddenly what’s really important in this world and in life comes shining through. Well timed, beautifully written and very much appreciated! #resist

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