Published at Oregon Humanities
She was nose down in dense clover, tail feathers up and wings askew like an ill-fated paper airplane. No movement, and seemingly no way to right her injured self from the expanses of oxalis that had overtaken my late-summer garden. Whenever a bird strikes my front window, my eyes dart in that direction; if I don’t see the bird rebound and fly away, I scan the bed below the window for a sign. After eleven years in this house, I’ve lost count of how many injured birds I’ve found dead, or near enough.
My habit is to grab a hand towel before going outside so the creature might rest and revive in softness. When I lifted this particular bird into the towel, straightening her wings and resting her on her side, I saw the lift and fall of her chest with steady breath. Her eyes were dull, but she blinked on occasion. Mostly she kept her eyes closed. For a few minutes, I stood still as the St. Francis statue beside us in the garden. I walked to a nearby Adirondack chair and sat, cradling her in my hand and stroking her chest for several more minutes as her eyes steadily opened. She was stunning: smaller than a child’s fist, a shiny dapple of brown and black feathers, her pebble-black eyes shimmering with life. After a time, she stood, legs steady despite their slightness, frail as pine needles. She appeared unafraid. Maybe it was the blow to the head. Upright on my hand, she was free to fly, but seemed worn out, slightly stricken. I walked her to a thick branch of hinoki cypress in my garden. Dense, lateral needles form wide platforms within this tree, offering safety from cats and dogs. She was standing steadily now, so I rested the back of my hand on a high branch of the hinoki and waited.
She wouldn’t budge. I transferred her claws to the bare fingers of my other hand, placing them against the branch, but she wouldn’t step off. My inner guidance said, Take her in, keep her safe while she strengthens, yet I knew that if one of her wings was permanently injured, she would not survive in the wild. By Oregon law, I had twenty-four hours to return the creature to the wild or take her to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center. This would require a one-and-a-half-hour drive and a none-too-cozy intake at the rehab center. If the center determined the bird couldn’t be rehabilitated, she would be euthanized. Turning from the hinoki, I went inside, protecting the bird with the tent of my hands.
Covering her loosely in the hand towel, careful to keep her out of sight of my cats, I retrieved a plush-lined pet carrier and took it to the kitchen table, then nestled her inside. I filled a mayonnaise lid with water and sat it the carrier, added a few red huckleberries from the bush outside my back door, and brought the carrier to my bed. Two feet apart, in sight of one another, she and I slept through the night. [Read remainder of essay HERE.]
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