I was making dinner this afternoon and drinking wine and listening to the Harry Partch, a little too loud. He’s one of my favorite composers. Harry’s not for everybody, but I like him just fine.
I heard a car door slam. My wife was home. I went to meet her at the mud room door to help her carry in all her stuff – she’s a teacher. I reached for the big red bag with all the books and she let out a cry:
“Oh! Look, a little bird!”
There it was, probably not a few hours old, featherless, its skin almost transparent. Was it a bird or an X-ray of a bird?
“Happens all the time, Jo, this time of year. Mom tosses ‘m out of the nest”
“It’s still alive!”
Sure enough the little thing was moving … barely. Its head was too big and its neck too skinny to support it. It just sort of writhed in a sad and sorry little heap. I picked it up and carried it inside where I looked around for something to place the thing into. A Styrofoam tray in the trashcan caught my eye. My wife looked at me skeptically.
“What are you doing?” And that was just it. I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m not a vet — or one of those people who wash pelicans with Dawn after an oil spill. I just thought I should try to do something.
Out of desperation I grabbed the honey off the counter. Couldn’t hurt, right? I mean it’s just sugar. No animal ever died from eating sugar. I squeezed a little on the end of a toothpick, cupped little “Harry” up in one hand — I had named him after Harry Partch — and sort of pried his beak apart with the toothpick. To my surprise he opened up, just like in the books and nature shows. I was on to something but … honey? What do birds eat? No, what do newborn chicks eat? Their parents go out and catch bugs and worms, swallow them and then regurgitate the mush up and eyedropper the goop into each little chick’s great big open mouth.
I went outside, turned over one of the big pots in the grass, plucked out a worm and went to work mashing the thing on the tray with an old tarnished spoon — a half-assed mortar and pestle.
I dipped the toothpick in the slop. Little Harry opened his beak as if on cue and I felt like a proud mama bird as he took the awful stuff from my “beak.”
“Atta boy, Harry!” I wondered about his real mother and how she could just push one of her kids out of the overcrowded nest. And I felt … I don’t know … better than her.
After he had his fill, I took him outside and placed him on the patio table so he could rest up. I brought a few pages of the story I was working on, a red pen, the little boom box and another, rather tall juice glass of white wine. As I sat there listening to Harry’s namesake, marking up pages, sipping my Riesling, I would frequently look down at the tray and check on my charge. He didn’t look all that much different from when I first saw him but I could’ve sworn that where there was once turmoil in this fragile little creature’s life there was now tranquility. He even seemed to yawn once or twice like a well fed cat in the window sill sun. And, in that moment, I even dared to think that he just might — a big might — make it.
Of course, he didn’t.
I don’t know if I helped little Harry or just killed him faster. I don’t know if I should have got involved at all. When I see Jack Hanna on the tube holding a bear cub or a wolf pup and saying that he “rescued” it because its mother rejected it — cue the collective “ahhhhh” from the audience — I have to scratch my head.
The guys with the Dawn? Scrubbing the pelicans? I get that. That one’s on us and we have to set it right for screwing with nature. But when Harry’s mom kicked him out of nest? That isn’t nature? Do we have to fix that?
How can we indict everyone who inadvertently steps on bug for crimes against nature and then turn around and castigate nature when she does something we don’t like?
Harry was a baby bird that got a bad break — maybe two: His mama threw him out without food or feather and sentenced him to an almost certain death on the hard ground below. And he happened to fall on the back stoop of a man who wouldn’t know how to save a full grown albatross if he found one wrapped around his neck one pleasant spring afternoon while he was drinking wine and rolling up homemade meatballs.
I never really thought Harry would start chirping and strutting around his tray like a tiny gangsta songbird. I knew that image I had of me releasing him, triumphantly, one afternoon in the backyard to the strains of “Gonna Fly Now!” was just wishful thinking. Like a proud mama in the delivery room I was already picking out colleges he should apply to. Silly, huh? But I would have given anything to know what kind of bird he would have turned out to be.
All I really wanted to do that day was offer some comfort — “Feed the hungry” “Clothe the naked.”
I read that somewhere.
All I really wanted to do was let him know that, for the few short hours he spent in this world, someone gave a damn.
Yea, I knew from the git go Harry didn’t have a chance.
And, guess what? So did his real mama.