Thursday, January 31, 2008
At the bird center, the pelican with the partially amputated wing started bleeding. It was sudden and not sudden.
Earlier, on my way down to the pond, I passed the lifeless body of a grebe. Usually J puts them in the freezer and then they go to animal control or to ornithologists. Many birds arrive at the center already dead, or so starved or sick or injured that they are already beyond recovery. So I have grown accustomed to seeing these dead birds when I am there. I have thought/felt through it. But when a bird is still alive and is in trouble, I find that I rapidly decompensate.
Yesterday, I held this pelican in my arms while J removed its wing wrap. She wanted the wound to dry out. I had to hold the bird more closely than usual; with one hand I held its beak closed and I held its body between my torso and my arm. I was crouching down so I could hold its wing closed against my torso, and in its gray eye I could see my dim reflection. I was uncomfortable contemplating the pelican's consciousness. Even though we were helping the pelican, I did not know how to feel about the fact that we had to overpower the pelican to help it. I don't know why I was thinking about this. Every time we use a tube to feed a weak or starving bird, it is necessary to hold it. It took me awhile to understand how firmly I'd have to hold a bird; something about the feathers -- the way a finger can slip through -- made me worry that the birds were overly delicate. But I've had to use all my strength to hold a seagull's wings closed so it could be hydrated or fed. And I've seen that same seagull fly back to sea after it recovered. So I don't know why I was suddenly uncomfortable holding the pelican, but I could see every detail of its neck feathers and how they changed in color from yellow to white to brown and gray and black (sometimes, from far away, the feathers remind me of newsprint) and could feel its body inhaling and exhaling. After the wing wrap was removed, I let him go and the bird resumed his perch on a bit of drift wood. J went to the shed and I went to fetch a bucket of fish. When I came back, he ate and ate, which is always a good sign. And then I noticed the blood on the rocks under the perch, and saw the blood on the feathers. I was hot and cold and could not stand. I dropped the fish. I sat on a milk crate and gripped the chain link fence so I would not fall off. I knew I had to get J, but it was difficult to stand. I clung to the fence as I moved toward the gate. I felt like my feet were cinder blocks. I wanted the pelican to stay alive. The blood was so bright and red and so alive that I could see just by its color that it was warm. When J and I came back, a group of seagulls were feasting on the fish I'd dropped. J moved the fish and I followed her back into the pen. We had to hold the pelican again so she could re-wrap its wing. I knew that the pelican was okay then, that the bleeding had stopped, but I was shaky and jittery. And I still feel that way today. But not just because of the bird, but also because I am worried about a person I love. I want everything alive to stay alive. I don't care if the world gets crowded or is too full of living things. I just want everything to keep living living living