Saturday, March 3, 2012
Growing up, I would have been called an ‘animal person’ — I was always rescuing ‘critters.’ As a sixteen year old driving along a highway in East Tennessee where I lived, and coming across a dog that had just been hit by a car and was struggling on the side of the road, I pulled over, scooped the blood-covered creature up in my arms, holding him against my chest and my tan car coat as I shifted gears with one hand and steered my VW Beetle with my knees — unsafe on sooo many levels — then drove him straight to my country vet a few miles away. It was not the first time I’d done this.
Doc Butler was not like the ‘city vets’ I’ve come to know — there was not an exorbitant fee for each turn of his hand. Instead, he took in the poor dog, broken and bleeding, and began the process of nursing him back to health — a process which took months — with the words I’d heard a number of times before, “Uh, I’ll send you a bill,” which he never did.
A decade later, when my kids came along, I had a fairly unexpected and sudden shift in priorities. My pets, and there were still always several, experienced a severe downgrade. My then-husband and I cared for them, but I’d have to admit Steve was the one administering the lion’s share of the devotion and attention.
If ‘overdoing it’ was a sort of style of life for me, I at this point shifted the focus of that intense concern to my children, and subsequently my grandchildren — and I’m not at all sure my kids would say this level of scrutiny was always to their advantage. (‘Lighten up’ should perhaps have been my frequent mantra to good effect.)
After nearly six decades of pet care, having No Pets has, for me, become a priority. And I’m almost there, with the exception of Lila, my elderly female black cat, who, on this past Thursday night, along with her friend — the Younger Man, Stinky, who lives across the street (don’t worry — it’s playful and platonic), raced into my open patio door and unceremoniously deposited a flapping, injured bird under my chair just as I sat down for dinner. (Goodbye, hot meal.)
Over the years, a number of cat-caught birds have entered this household, and in the late eighties our family even successfully raised and released a fledgling Blue Jay, who used to walk along the back of our German Shepherd and sit on my shoulder as I stood in the kitchen cooking dinner. (Never mind the hygiene issues.)
But Lila has not been much of a bird-catcher, and I was surprised by her little gift. Maybe the bird-catching game had been inspired by Stinky (I know, blame the boyfriend), or perhaps Lila and Stinky were caught up in the ‘moment’, as couples sometimes are. As I corralled Lila and put her in the garage, Stinky strolled in and made his leisurely way upstairs — I guess to see if there were any beds available for a nap — and while he was out of the way, I was able to scoop up the bird in a towel and close it off in an adjacent room, then get all the cats outside.
I rested the little feathered guy in my lap wrapped in the towel, and he was calm. I slowly unwrapped him, and he looked in great shape and was even rather feisty, so I made him an ‘apartment’ in a box for the night. I looked him up in the bird book and discovered that he’s a Cedar Waxwing — such a beautiful little creature.
Yesterday, he was still fit and lively, and my granddaughter, Cora (a true nature lover) came over to see him. She took him out of his box, promptly naming him Saucy. He gave her a good strong peck on the finger, then fluttered out of her hands and onto the rug, hopping across the floor and perching on my foot. Who could resist that kind of devotion, even if it was accidental?
Meanwhile Cora improved his accommodations, adding some leaves to his box and searching the yard for berries he might like, but none are out yet, so we tried some blueberries from the ‘fridge. I made plans to take Saucy to the Rogers Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Hutchins, Texas today with my friend Sandy riding along (she and her husband, Oliver, are the truest of animal lovers) and with Cora in charge of Saucy. I checked on the bird early this morning, and he was in great shape.
When it was time to leave for Hutchins, I thought the Bird Apartment seemed awfully quiet. When I opened it to move Saucy to his travel box, sure enough, he was completely still, lying on his side, his handsome black mask unable to disguise that his eyes no longer held life. I picked him up and turned him over to find that his belly had a wound from the cats’ teeth which had probably caused a bacterial infection that had killed him. I phoned the nice woman at Rogers Center, and she confirmed that was most likely the case.
I felt surprisingly sad, despite the idea that I tell myself I don’t get attached to animals the way I used to. After a while, I started to try to think of the upside, what lessons might be held in the brief encounter with this small, exquisite creature.
First, I was glad that at least Saucy had died in a peaceful place rather than in the midst of Cat Games involving Tooth and Claw. (I have to admit, though, that when Lila came up to me a couple of times today, rubbing against my leg for reassurance while I was sitting outside writing this, the best I could offer her was to say, “I hate cats.”)
I realized also that sadness over Saucy had allowed me to let down a little and become aware that I was also sad that my daughter, son-in-law, and two of my grandchildren had returned to New England after a wonderful two week stay in my house, and that I miss them living here in Dallas. And that my nephew, Drew, has just this week flown off to Italy for a few years there with the Air Force, an exciting adventure but a also big change for his parents and extended family.
As with most sad things (though maybe not all), there were some other gifts that Saucy brought with him:
1) A reminder that life is fragile and impermanent (as if we need reminding!)
2) The ability to now instantly recognize the Cedar Waxwing after finding it in my bird book, Birds of Texas Field Guide, by Stan Tekiela. I’ve learned that it doesn’t nest in Texas but migrates here for food, and that it gets its mask after its first year, so Saucy was at least a year old. I’m aware for the first time of its utter loveliness and will always look for it now in the tops of tall trees.
3) The knowledge that a wounded though lively Cedar Waxwing probably won’t eat blueberries from the ‘fridge, even if they’re organic.
4) A reminder that I need to bell my cat.
5) A reminder that, even though It is fragile and impermanent, Life is Beautiful.