Google “How to care for baby barn swallow”. Answer as follows, “Feed mixture of dogfood, water, and tums every 20-30 minutes throughout the day.” Oh shit. It goes on, “make sure baby is well hydrated by placing dropper of distilled water in side of beak, more frequently then food”. Double oh shit. Do I have it in me to help my son hand feed this poor little bird back to health? He found it in the field, unable to fly or walk, only a baby. When he brought it in the house I lectured him on the “appropriate” way to care for baby birds- “Leave them outside and look for the nest, only their mommies can take care of them, and most importantly, wash your hands!” Q as always, ignored me and went to make a birdy bed in a shoebox on the porch. He sprinkled bird seed on the bottom and spent the next hour holding the bird that kept trying to fly off his finger but couldn’t. His Grampa told him they have to eat bugs, so he went outside with a net to collect them for his new charge. He came in, bug by bug, and dropped them into the bird’s mouth. After the first feeding baby would open her mouth as soon as she heard Quinn’s voice. He fed her sugar-water from a dropper and checked her between playing with his new kitten and baseball on the front lawn. This is his life here.
He is placed so close to the creatures of this land. Everyday I free turtles and talk him out of catching wild turkeys. He chases woodchucks, stalks snakes and practices the calls of predator birds. There are deer, mink, rats, voles, herons, frogs, fish, coyotes, and feral cats. His world is a harmless wilderness, but he recognizes the danger within the system. Death has become part of his consciousness. He sees the carcasses and knows what other animals are capable of doing to one another. He knows baby birds without mothers will probably die, yet he always tries to save them. He doesn”t hesitate to leave a dead chick in the field, comforted with the thought it might become a hawk’s meal. This awareness has brought him closer to his God and closer to truth. Death is real and life is a gift.
When I watch him, I feel myself reconnecting to the dark. We have done such a good job of lighting every minute and making the death “clean”. Our culture has no true pictures, just glorified violence and meaningless casualties.
Mangled turkeys and decomposing deer don’t shock my children. They don’t cry when an animal dies. They accept it with questions and with sympathy. There’s an appreciation for the living that grows from their proximity to the natural occurrence of dying. This appreciation is what motivates me to make a dogfood potion for the ailing bird on the porch. Appreciation for the power to help this little life and the acceptance to let it go.