My home makes two strange thumping sounds. One comes from an antique secretary's desk, the one left to me by a favorite elderly cousin-in-law. The desk has a dozen open cubbies, and four small drawers behind doors locked with a brass skeleton key. This is where I write letters and postcards. The desk thumps regularly, a soft single thump of its wood expanding or contracting when the humidty changes. Which is often here in the Pacific Northwest.
This soft, wooden thumping makes me smile; it reminds me of my cousin and it makes me think the wood is still alive--and reminding me in its own language to write.
The other thumping noise is as distinctive, but it causes me to panic. It is the sound of a bird flying into the picture windows in the front of my house. The single thump is soft like the desk's, but the hardness of wood and the hardness of glass sound different.
This morning, I heard the glass. It was around sunrise and I was in my bathrobe reading. I uttered an "oh no!" and dashed outside to the front windows.
Over the past several years, I have found a dozen birds lying beneath these windows--stunned, injured, or killed. Most times, the bird is stunned and flies off to the nearest shrub, but I have had to bury a few in my garden. Only once did I bring an injured bird inside--to keep the neighborhood cats from finding it before it could recover. This morning was different.
The bird was sitting on the ground about a foot away from the window beneath a low-growing Japanese maple. I approached slowly so as not to startle it. It didn't move. It was a small bird--olive-brown with a speckeld white and brown breast. It's dark eyes were open and it's beak was agape. I wasn't sure what to do. So I just crouched down there in the dirt and thin layer of mulch beneath the tree--in my bathrobe and out of sight of passersby who might not dare ask "Hey! Whatca doin'?" and come to their own conclusions about their eccentric neighbor.
I crouched there about two feet from the bird, looking for signs of life or death. It's eyes were wide open, then slowly closed, then opened again. I turned its head toward me but didn't flinch or hop away. It didn't tilt its head in reponse to the other birds chirping in the nearby trees. It closed its beak. It closed its eyes. It opened its eyes. It didn't budge.
"Go, go, go," I told it. "You can do it. Go. Fly. Go."
It didn't budge. I am reading Derrick Jensen's powerful book, A Language Older Than Words." It is about reconnecting to living things and what that means and why it is critical. In fact, I was reading this book just before I heard bird against glass. When you read a book like this, you will find yourself in places you least expected--intellectually, spiritually, and physically. Which is why I decided to stay kneeling in the dirt next to the bird. I stopped encouraging it to fly away. I just watched it. And then I slowly moved my hand, palm along the ground, toward the bird.
Inch by inch I got within a micrometer of the bird's left foot. I turned its head and may have caught my eye--it was hard to tell. It turned away. I slowly rotated my hand and touched the bird's wing with the back of my hand. And then I rubbed the feathers on its back. And then I stroked its neck with one finger--lightly, lightly, lightly. And then I moved my hand away.
It hopped once, about six inches, toward the trunk of the tree. And then it was still again. I didn't seen signs of a broken wing and I was sure the bird would make it, but was in deep shock. I decided to stay there to protect the bird from the cats and the Steller's Jays I was hearing nearby. I had all day and planned to wait with the bird until whatever happened happened.
After kneeling there in the dirt for about a half an hour, the bird fluttered its wings and flew up into a tree in my front yard. That's the last I saw of it.
My Sibley's guide to western birds makes me think "my" bird was a juvenile thrush--a Swainson's or a Veery. I was afraid to leave the bird to get my camera so I cannot show you what it looked like. So you'll have to trust me--it was a thrush. Or a thrush-like bird. I may never know its name or its story, but I will never forget our morning together--the bird rising into the tree, me rising out of the dirt, connected.