In the past month or so, as I take my dogs on their early morning walk, listening to the birds in the trees sing the sun up at dawn, I think about the sparrow I saved from the mouth of my dog Alice. I have wondered lately what the lifespan for birds are in general. Is my rescue still singing in the trees? And do they just up and die one day and where does this happen?
There is a bird's nest on a ledge, three stories up, on my apartment building that I have watched for the past three years. That first year the neighbors and I watched as the babies hatched and the parents took turns watching and caring for their young. The time had come for the leap from the nest one afternoon and all of a sudden, before my dog could bite down on the bird, I rescued it. It was one of the 3 chicks from the nest. Couldn't quite muster the flight. It clung to my thumb, I could see its heartbeat through its tiny breast. So I talked to it. Soon the sparrow calmed and opened its wings in my palm. I wasn't sure what to do next. A friend of mine was visiting at the time and his reaction was not what I had expected. He was grossed out by the filthy creature. He took the dogs in and I stayed with the bird. It just needed a chance to regroup, it wasn't injured, I had confidence it would soon fly. I set it on the bottom of the old oak tree in front of my porch. [The tree with the face of the woman in it. In the late afternoon she appears as a calm, smiling image on the trunk.] I knew this could be his new home. The sparrow was still for a few minutes and then began to climb the side of the trunk. Fluttered its new wings and finally took its second awkward flight. I could only hope it survived.
This morning was exceptional in its mildness. As I walked my dogs the breeze rustled the leaves that made the sound like that of quiet applause for the perfect morning. As we came close to the front door I noticed in the middle of the street a circle of sparrows with one in the center that looked like it was struggling and my first thought was another chick not quite flying. As I came closer the circle broke and flew into the oak tree leaving one sparrow in the middle of the street. It was dying. Its claws were curled inward, the beak opening and closing rapidly and its eyes half closed. I picked it up and this time the dogs did not leap at trying to get the bird. They sniffed it. Animals, I think, sense when something is dying. And hold a certain reverence to this. My dogs certainly did. I cupped the bird in my hand trying to figure out what to do with it. Then I realized I was at the foot of the old oak. The same oak 3 years earlier that I had set a chick into flight. Could this be my sparrow? I laid the bird in crook of roots at the bottom of the tree [the faerie pool] thinking maybe the other sparrows would come back to bear witness. Maybe they were, with their birds eye view, from branches above. After taking the dogs in I went back out to the tree and my instinct was that if I was dying I would want to be home. I picked the sparrow up and placed it in a cluster of leaves at the foot of the tree. As soon as I did this it spread its wings and tail and fluttered and for a minute I thought it was taking flight, it wasn't dying, it was just stunned and now how recovered but then it lay still. I picked it up and it was gone--in that last moment something in the sparrow lit for flight only to leave its body behind. I placed the body back among the leaves.
That moment when I held the bird in my palm I noticed it no longer had an ounce of weight and I felt a sorrow enter my throat like a vibration. When I hear the sparrow sing I want to sing.
I am feeling a lot of emotions, sad, in awe, asking more questions. Me wondering all this time about how long birds can live. Thinking about my sparrow as all the sparrows. How lucky I was to bear witness to the passing of a creature. I was there. It wasn't alone. I let it die at home and not the middle of the street.