Seasons Don't Fear the Reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain...
Hello friend(s). This post is about Death & Birds.
As the inaugural post it seems only appropriate to cover both topics, and perhaps to explain a little about why those are the topics of this whole thing (whatever this whole thing might be).
So, firstly, Death!
I’ve spent a lot of life thinking about Death. Really, a lot. It’s a subject that first gripped my little mind long before I was able to actually conceptualise what Death was. I was three years old, and my mother died of breast cancer. Apparently, between the ages of two and five, children may use the word ‘dead’ and understand that it means something different to being alive, but as they’re unable to grasp abstract concepts such as ‘permanence’ the idea that death is irreversible doesn’t land until a little while later—so I had a couple of confusing years.
Growing up, Death was a preoccupation that I kept largely to myself as I was observant enough to realise that talk of it made people uncomfortable. This added to a near permanent sense of confusion and unease as I realised that everyone was deeply uncomfortable with something that they one day had to do. How strange not to plan for, or even talk about, something that we will all have to do.
Not having a concept of death until quite some years after my mother died meant that my grieving for her was greatly delayed. It began in my twenties and, if I’m honest, continues to this day. Eventually, following a stint in rehab, the music business and getting a degree in art and philosophy, I became an End-of-Life doula. (A ‘doula’ refers to a trained professional who provides expert guidance and support to their clients through a significant experience; birth, death etc. This support can be practical, emotional or spiritual in nature, and often includes supporting the loved ones and carers of the person.) Doing this work prompted a period of self-directed study of all things death and dying, and as you might imagine the topic is vast, and relates to pretty much everything else in some way or another. My wish is to share with you some of the information and teachings that I’ve personally found to be most life-changing, and life-affirming, whilst being immersed in this work and study.
Ok. And Birds?
Aah, Birds. I came to Birds late. Or maybe they came to me late. Do people come to Birds early? Anyway. In recent years Birds went from being sort of background ornaments that I acknowledged and felt no ill will towards, to being tiny miracles who offer the teachings of the Buddha, and Jesus, and everyone else who was trying to get you to realise that everything is, in fact, ok.
I appreciate that that’s quite the turn around. And, in hindsight, there were flickers of this potential going on for a while. Some time ago, my beloved and I bought one of those Bird-feeders that’s half a coconut shell filled with fat & seeds, and for some insane reason we hung it against our bedroom window. It wasn’t actually that insane, we just wanted to see the Birds up close, but we didn't account for the fact that the coconut shell would pound against the window pane every time a bird landed on, and then pecked at, it. Which they did—usually from around 5am.
Before, for our sanity, we moved the feeder to the garden, it attracted a lot of birds. Especially Blue Tits and Great Tits, and these tiny fuzzy-headed birds who would land on the windowsill and stare into the room with an alarmingly benign curiosity. We called them Finches—but I now know that they were Long-Tailed Tits.
The real turn around came when I was randomly studying Google maps to look for a more convenient route to a clients home, and I saw a little marker for a Wildlife Rescue centre nearby. I clicked through to the website and saw that volunteers made up a large part of their workforce, so applied, and started soon after. I asked to be put on the earliest shift, starting at 7am, so I could avoid the worst of the traffic. I didn’t know this meant I would be assigned to the baby Bird unit, nor did I realise how stressful walking into a room with upwards of forty, very hungry and very vocal, baby Birds of varying ages and species, all demanding to be fed first, would be. Luckily I was paired with a Veteran baby Bird feeder, who painstakingly and patiently taught me all I needed to know about feeding, cleaning and monitoring these tiny beings.
It was a whole new world, seemingly at the opposite end of the spectrum to working as an End-of-Life doula, but with a surprising amount of crossover. It’s sometimes stressful, demanding, and can take a toll on the heart—but it’s also deeply life affirming, and can crack ones heart open in the most unexpected of ways.
One such way for me was with a Swallow, last year. He had come in as a nestling with three of his siblings after their nest had been disturbed and abandoned. One sibling didn’t make it, but the others were doing well, eating and growing stronger, flapping their wings & opening their disproportionately massive beaks for their half-hourly feeds—until one stopped opening his mouth when it was feeding time. Swallows are eager and demanding when it comes to food, so this was concerning. I waited, and when, for the second time around, he refused to eat, I knew there was something wrong. Remembering what my Veteran bird feeder teacher had taught me, I picked him up and gently turned him over, specifically to look at his tummy, and his bottom—and from there I saw that his tummy was swollen, and his bottom blocked by dried poop.
While literally praying that I hadn’t fed him too much while he was unable to excrete anything, I filled a small bowl with warm water and wetted a cotton bud, before spending the next ten minutes very gently and very slowly, so as not to damage any of his feathers, moistening and removing the dried poop.
Aware that a blockage like this could be mortally dangerous for a bird, I was extremely anxious, and so, as much for me as it was for him, I began to hum; opting for ‘Feed the Birds’, from Mary Poppins. When, eventually, it seemed as though all was clear, I stopped; opening my hand wide so that he could jump up. But he didn’t. He just stayed there, on his back. He had fallen asleep.
Not wanting to disturb him, I cupped my hand slightly and just stood there, cradling this little wild being who would, in a matter of weeks, begin a 6000 mile journey to South Africa. Dumbstruck by the trust he had in me, and by the miracle of his existence at all, I had a strange thought pop into my head; there was no earthly reason why a gun wielding maniac would come into a Wildlife Rescue centre and start shooting things, but, if one did, I would take a bullet for that Swallow. And it would be an honour.
After a minute or two, our Swallow friend awoke, jumped up, pooped all over my hand, and immediately opened his mouth, demanding food. This was one of the happiest moments of my life, to date.
I share this story knowing that it might not resonate in the same way that the experience did, and that’s ok. I offer it up simply as an example of why I feel compelled to talk about Birds; because they, like Death, are sacred. And they, like Death, can remind us that, despite all the noise and pesky thoughts and advertising that will try to tell you otherwise, it is a privilege to be here, to be alive.
If you’ve read this far, wow! Thank you. I’m honoured that you’re here, truly. It’s wild and miraculous that you and I are able to connect in this way, whoever you are. Feel free to say hello if you feel compelled—as of writing this I have one subscriber (shout out to David!) but maybe you can subscribe too, so that David doesn’t feel too much pressure?
Either way, deepest thanks for reading.
More Death & Birds, soon ♥️
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