Saturday, January 19, 2008

Seagull Flies

I will lie down in autumn
Let birds be flying
Swept in a hollow by the wind
I’ll wait for dying
I will lie inert unseen
My hair same-colored with grass and leaves
Gather me for the autumn fires
with the withered sheaves
I will sleep face down in the burnt meadow
Not hearing the sound of water over stones
Trail over me cloud and shadow
Let snow hide the whiteness of my bones

- May Swenson, In Autumn

I walked out of the dunes at 6 a.m. in the dead of winter. My neighbor, being the eternal watchdog of our street, was there to greet me.

“What are you doing out there?”

I couldn’t speak. I was too moved by the events that had just transpired. He saw me struggling for words.

“Community service, I’m guessing?”

I nodded. Community service sounded about right. I was returning a seagull back into the wild. A baby seagull that was thrust upon me the night before, wrapped in an old sweatshirt.

Several days ago while walking on the beach, I came across an injured baby seagull. His wing was broken. I don’t know why I thought it was a “him” but I guessed. He flopped around frantically, in the deep, truck-made grooves in the sand.

I have a real problem when animals are in distress. It turns me inside out, floods me with grief and empathy. As a little girl, I dreamt of being a vet but had to give up that dream, due to this profound oversensitivity.

As I nervously tried to gauge the extent of the bird’s injuries, a fisherman at the shoreline turned around and watched me. He really annoyed me. People can be so rude. He just stared at me for the sake of staring. Like a dolt. He didn’t want to help the bird or me. He was just a fat-assed spectator and I was his sport. Finally, I looked at him and hissed, “Take a picture!”

I left the beach. The idiot, the injured bird, feeling flooded, watched, helpless. I went to the police station and told them about the injured bird. These guys are nice, though cops tend to make me nervous as a matter of course. The one cop always reminds me of Father Karras from The Exorcist, which elicits a good feeling in me, for some unknown reason. I left the station, thinking I did as much as I could do for the baby gull.

Later that evening, I took one last bike ride to check the waves, sure that at this point, the cops or whomever had “taken care” of the gull. But the bird’s fate landed at my feet once again. I almost tripped over him as I entered the beach. He was in worse shape. Not moving, but alive.

I stumbled backward, off the beach and raced home to tell my brother, who is a little more adept at animal rescue and not as sensitive. He jumped in his truck and left for the beach to check him out. I thought, damn, kill the poor thing if you have to…just don’t let him suffer anymore. And with that, I let the gull go once again and proceeded to cook my dinner.

Several minutes passed and I heard the front door slam. I rushed to the living room to get an update, chopped onions in one hand. My brother promptly handed me a sweatshirt. He mumbled a few words about “keep it covered, find a sizeable box and it doesn’t look good.”

Injured baby gull in my hands, old, panicky feelings start to arise. Still, I’m happy to have my hands on it, finally.

As I rocked him back and forth, I thought of the gulls that perch on the roof next door. I shout to them from time to time “Come here! I want to hold you!” Because I do. I want to hold their fat, beautiful, living bodies. Just to feel their weight. I didn’t want my little dream of holding a gull to be like this.

I pulled the sweatshirt back a little. He was such a big, baby bird. And quite healthy it seemed, up until today. Chubby and wild. His beak was so grand, so large. I touched the top of his head gently. We were both in shock.

I went on my computer looking for advice, while he lay in my lap. I tried to feed him but he wouldn’t take the food. I tried to put him into a box but that scared him and he started flopping about. So I left him on the couch, wrapped loosely in the sweatshirt and an old towel. I left him alone, finally realizing that my mere presence might be taxing him.

Later that night, I woke to go to the bathroom. I walked through the living room and saw the bird motionless. He was sleeping. And tomorrow, I will take him to get help. There was something in the air though, the weight of the lie I was telling myself. The stillness, the flatness, the dryness of death. I crawled back into bed and lulled myself to sleep with thoughts of his safety and the help I’d get for him the next day.

When the cold winter sun barely rose, I went to the living room. He was dead and we weren’t going anywhere, except to bury him, which I wanted to do quickly. I placed him in the back seat of my truck and drove up to the beach, where I had seen him less than 24 hours before, alive.

I buried him in the dunes. You’re not supposed to go on the dunes. But today was different. I allowed myself access to bury the bird. As my cold hands made a shallow grave, I dreamt of crawling in there with him. We could disintegrate together, the natural dissolution of our physical beings. Our bones would eventually meet but we’d be gone.

The bird was going to die, no matter what. Maybe I made it worse – taxed and stressed him. Maybe I should have left him alone to die on the beach, his home, not my living room, my home. I rocked it thinking it was me, that rocking would feel good if I broke my wing. But the bird isn’t me. It’s a wild creature and maybe he didn’t want to be fucking rocked like a baby.

I’d like to be rocked like a baby, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. I’d like to be rocked by a wild creature carefully tending to my broken wing. Maybe I’d get better or maybe I’d just let go, like the baby gull did, tired of the stress and the pain. And that wild creature could fly me to dunes and bury me lovingly. The watchdog neighbor would ask him what he was doing up there. The wild creature would squawk at him loudly and fly away.

Death, at its essence, has very little fanfare. It’s supremely natural. The bird died and I continue to coast through space and time and another uninspired winter on this planet, flopping about, moving closer and closer to a simple, quiet core. It’s such a thin line isn't it my chubby little gull?

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