Lone Tree, Colorado
Sometimes the Universe knocks us off our axis just long enough to teach us a lesson. That happened to me on a perfect Colorado day, and a wild bird of prey taught me several Life lessons as I hopefully gave her comfort as she breathed her last breath.
On such a clear and brilliant Colorado morning it was hard to believe anything could fall out of a sky so blue and pure.
But there she laid. Almost as if she purposely flew to that spot in the gutter under the big pine tree, in search of some shade and a brief rest.
I was in a hurry, as always, to make my appointment with my personal trainer. This is the nature of Life, I have come to believe. We make appointments, one after the other, and then we rush and stress and focus our energy on getting to the next dot on the map of our busy lives. But that day, a beautiful large brown and cream bird knocked me off the crazy path of self importance and stopped me in my tracks.
I was turning into the parking lot of the gym, and there she was, laying in the gutter on the side of the road as car after car passed by. A quick right turn into the closest parking spot was almost instinctual – it required no conscious thought. I just had to get to her.
I approached her slowly – she looked well enough from a distance. It wasn’t until I sat on the curb next to her that I realized how hurt she was. Even though she was breathing normally she had pooped and I could see a small stream of blood coming from her nose. She didn’t seem frightened of my presence, as she watched me inch closer to her. I couldn’t get over her size! I am not an expert on birds like my Aunt Joy, who purposely attracts birds of all sorts to her kitchen window so she can record them in a special book she keeps. The only bird I’ve seen of this size was a Falcon. I don’t know if my bird was a Falcon or not, but I know that this hurt, beautiful bird somehow belonged to me at that moment in time, as well as to the Universe from which she came.
I reached out slowly, cautiously and touched her tail feathers. She did not flinch. I moved up her back and petted her feathers and felt her strong muscles just beneath, making her both soft and hard at the same time. Again, she didn’t move. I took a long look at the point on her beak and the talons on her feet and thought very carefully before making my next move. Realizing she could do my hands and arms serious damage. I proceeded with slow, deliberate caution. I reached up and with the tip of my index finger gently stroked the soft fuzz of – what is it? fur? – on her head. She cocked her head and looked at me, as if to say “it’s ok – please, I don’t feel good.” I petted her head and body then with my whole hand, and the bird and I were at peace with each other – there was no fear on either side of this new friendship. I knew then that I wanted nothing more than to save her.
I dialed 411 and told the man on the line about my little friend. He too was immediately concerned and understood my desire to find someone who might be able to save this creature. Two numbers were given to me – I called both only to get recordings. But I needed a human, and I needed one immediately! I dialed 411 again, this time the woman sent me to an organization who actually had a live voice on the other end of the line. The man explained that they don’t work with birds, and forwarded me to a woman who rehabilitates wild birds. I quickly dialed her number and got yet another recording, “I am sorry but the mailbox you have called is full.”
As if knowing that my efforts to save her were falling on nothing but recordings, referrals and full mailboxes, my little friend tried to stand – faltered – and began to throw her head side-to-side, spewing blood on the concrete gutter where she still laid. I realized then that saving her was not an option. The process of her death had already begun even before I turned the corner and saw her there in the gutter.
The gutter….I could not let this gorgeous creature of God die like this in the gutter. She was calm again, laying back down but breathing inconsistently and clucking almost – like she was trying to clear her throat. I quickly understood that her small lungs were filling with blood…it was only a matter of time.
Still worried about that sharp beak and those talons, I fished my workout gloves out of my gym bag and put them on. I petted her repeatedly, whispering words of calm to her. She again gave me a look devoid of fear or anxiety. It was as if she was giving me permission. I carefully picked her up and moved her onto the grass still in a cool, shady place. She was breathing with much difficulty then; blood continued to come out of her mouth.
I knew there was nothing to be done for her, and while my human touch was completely foreign to her she accepted it nonetheless. She allowed me to pet her head, her feathers for a long while. Slowly her head fell lower and lower. Her breathing was becoming more erratic with each moment. She turned her head up towards me, as if to say goodbye. Finally, gasping for air, she laid her head down – she tried one last time to stretch out her wing. Almost like she would like to soar in the blue sky, so perfect that morning, one more time. One last breath – I knew it as my hand rested on her back – and then she was gone.
I was with this bird for not quite an hour. She was wild, not a pet. But she was now mine and I will always remember the soft feel of her feathers and her fuzzy little head. I knew I couldn’t let her lie there dead under the big pine tree where a fox or a coyote could carry her away. I sought out a bag at the gym and carefully put her in it.
It just so happens that the developer of my community was finishing the building next to mine. I have a townhome at the end of one building. The land between my home and the new building next to me was being prepared for landscaping. I carried my friend to the men who owned the shovels and told them my story. I asked if they could help dig a hole. Suddenly, everyone was in motion, grabbing shovels and moving Earth. They dug a grave right next to my house, which made me glad to know she will always be a part of my home. We put her in, said goodbye and filled her grave. I knew she was deep enough that unlike most wild creatures that die here in Colorado, she won’t get dug up by a coyote. The Earth above her would soon be landscaped with grass and flowers. She was safe.
I like to think that my brief but real bond with my Falcon was a sign – that her presence in the Earth next to my sanctuary is a symbol of luck. Of relationship. Of acceptance and most of all, of love.
Why did this big, beautiful bird affect me so? I think because it was an affirmation that we are all organic, that as living creatures we all will someday lay our heads down to the side and draw a final breath. Wild animals, unlike humans, don’t have the gift we have to express emotion, but does that mean they don’t feel something at the end of their lives too? I don’t know the answer to that, I just know that when the time comes for me to breathe my last I hope someone is there to pet my feathers and fuzzy head, and to tell me is it ok to let go and to show me love.
What a gift to be able to leave this world on the wings of love – perhaps on the wings of a gorgeous brown and cream Falcon who flew in the perfect blue air of the Colorado sky. She is my symbol of this hope, and the enduring power of love. I will never forget her or the lessons she taught me in such a short time on that perfect Colorado day.