Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Circle of Life

When I first started to compose this true story in my head on a Saturday afternoon, it started off grim, rolled through a roller coaster of climaxes and then ended happy. After events a few days later morning, however, my story ends grimly after all.

A true story a few weeks ago:

While weeding one of my garden beds on Saturday, I saw my landlord’s son approaching me from a distance. He was carrying something white in his gloved hands. At first, I thought it was a tiny white rabbit, but as he moved closer, I could tell that it was a bird’s nest that the parents with great ingenuity, had found a piece of white tissue paper to create the support base of their home. I peered into the delicate nest and saw two, tiny, featherless, probably day old, naked baby birds with their heads stretched up, open mouthed, waiting for me to give them a worm or bit of seed.

The landlord’s son had been clearing some bamboo that endlessly takes over the backyard in order to reveal some beautiful trees doused with blooms ready to burst.

“They fell out when I pulled the bamboo out from the tree. I don’t think their parents will take them since I touched them to put them back in the nest.” Observing again that he was wearing gloves I took the nest in my own garden gloved hands and we walked to the tree to try to put the next back in it’s shelter. Miraculously, we did not step on the third baby bird that he had missed in his first search to re-nest the babes. So, birds in nest and nest in tree we stepped far away and observed for a moment hoping to find an adult visitor to the restored home. Sure enough, moments later a deep red male Cardinal flew to the tree and then lightly hopped to the edge of the nest. Not far behind, was less beautiful, but no less attentive, Mamma Cardinal. We both breathed an easy sigh and moved on with our daily activities.

About a half hour, I decided to observe the parents again swooping in and out of the nest with various goodies for their fresh-out-of-the-eggs, youngsters and to my horror, I observed the nest, still in the tree but toppled over and empty. It was a windy day and sadly my neighbor’s and my nest securing skills were far inferior to the instinctive nature of our new, red friends. I delicately approached the nest in search of the babies and found two of them in the left-over debris of the bamboo forest, both struggling on their sides. I was standing a good four feet away and dared not move any close in case I stepped on the third that I could not see. The wind could have carried these little guys far. In stead I stepped back again and watched from a distance to find mom and dad. They did not come quickly so I attempted to bring my cats inside and distract myself with other things so that I was not consumed by the highly likely, ill fate of these helpless little creatures.

I’ve never been very good at distracting myself when I’m worried. I frequently went back to the fallen birds and eventually saw that mom and dad approached again, helped the babies, (they managed to find all three of them,) onto their squatting bird, stretching neck, open-mouth position. Though I was happy to witness the return of the parents, I still could not see how these sweet, ugly, little babies were possibly going to survive on the exposed, wide-open ground. Even if the parents could continue to feed them, how in the world would the parents be able to fight off creatures like the raccoon that lives under our house or the starving curiosity of animals like my indoor/outdoor cats? I was still very stressed and not at all at ease about the fate of my little rescue project.

I felt anxious about the birds for the next several hours and continually went to check on them, observing from afar as either the mom or dad stayed grounded with their offspring while the other went off in search of sustenance. I successfully distracted myself with a 20-minute nap in the late afternoon hours and woke to my phone ringing. I had been trying to contact a wildlife rescue person in my area all day to ask their advice. She was perfect in the way she handled me on the phone.

She informed me that it’s an old wives tale that you can’t touch the babies of birds. “That’s just what mammas tell their kids when they don’t want them messing with dirty things outside,” she said in her rough, yet comforting voice. She sounded like someone who held the delicate balance of saving enough living creatures in her life to offset the hard places of losing some too.

“Do ya’ have a wicker basket with a handle?”

“Yes, I do.”

“It is small?”

“I keep four small remote controls in it.”

“Perfect. Take the basket outside and put the nest in it and scoop the babies back up in the nest. Hang the basket on the tree branch and the mamma and daddy’ll come back.”

I was thrilled! Here was something tangible and perhaps even proven that would allow me to finally rest easy about the fate of this Cardinal family I had grown to love so quickly. I thanked her for her practical advice, and did exactly as she said. I step far away and sat in the yard to watch as in time, mamma and daddy found their babies back up off the ground, and in the nest they built in the tree of their choice.

I wish my story ended there. I thought it would. I wish I could tell you that weeks or months later, my husband, and neighbors looked on in joy as one by one, each little baby took flight and flew off to one day begin their own family. But as I warned in the beginning, this story does not have a happy ending.

For the next three days I went out to check on the babies. Sometime the mother was there and as I approached she simply flew aside and allowed me to peer into her home. Once I would walk away, she would move back in to ensure I had not done any harm. One Wednesday morning, following my usual routine of feeding the cats, brewing my coffee, putting collars back on the cats so we could go outside to check on the plants (the cats always supervise this activity) I went to my usual observing point to see the nest.

My makeshift home for the family was dangling off balanced. It was not toppled over but I could sense that something was not right. As I approached the nest, I caught sight of mamma and then daddy frantically swooping from branch to branch of the tree and remaining bamboo and chirping loudly. I peered into the basket to see an empty nest. The mother flew to a branch directly in front of me and chirped as if to say, “Help me find my babies!” or perhaps, “Did you do something to them?”

I looked around on the ground but knew that if the parents had not already found them there then I would not either. I stepped away and looked on the scene sadly as baby-less mother and father search in vain for their children. I can only conclude that though the tree gave shade, the bamboo gave shelter and protection, and now the exposed babies became the sustenance for another flying creature such as a vulture or hawk. I grieved for and with the parents who truly seemed heartbroken and distraught over their loss.

So why am I sharing this story? It seems like such a terrible story of loss and sorrow and it is. But it is real and true to life and death. It is something I have tried to face with more awareness in recent months. Due to a fallen creation, this circle of life and death is to some extent inevitable. However, in my heightened awareness of life and death I have strived to value all forms of life. I have always been an animal lover and most of my life I try to save bugs instead of kill them. (With the two exceptions being mosquitoes and cockroaches which are from the devil.) I recognized that every form of life is simply a gift of grace and is to be valued and treasured.

My cardinal friends have returned after about a week of not seeing them. They enjoy taunting my cats from on high as well as hanging around my sunflower garden. I hope next year that they will choose to give birth again and will find a place under the sun and shade that will be undisturbed by humans this time. The tree where the basket once hung with three baby birds has since bloomed beautifully; scarlet red buds to fuscia blooms. A memorial of death. A gift of new life.