The other evening, in the midst of some tornadic spring cleaning, I heard a dull “thunking” sound on the first floor of the house. It barely registered as I zotted from room to room in my usual butterfly style. I assumed it was my cat in the midst of a feline crazy-jump-and-run.
A few moments later, on my way to the garage, I discovered the source of the sound. A spotted wren had flown into the sliding glass door on the back deck. It lay on is back, twitching slightly, its dark round eyes opening and closing in a dull motion, legs curling up toward its abdomen, a few tiny, soft feathers already tumbling away from its body. This was a scene I’d observed a few times before, when birds had flown into this same spot or into one of the living room windows.
My reaction to these events has been the same every time. I cry. I am consistently done in by the sight of animal suffering, be it live or taped.
My heart pounds when I observe my cat pursue the poor mouse that had the misfortunate of an ill-calculated foray into the kitchen, driven to the point of exhaustion and rodent-lunacy as it runs in mini mouse laps, before succumbing to the final pounce.
It was horrible to watch our German shepherd, Duke, stiffened by the effects of arthritis and unable to fend off attacks from other neighborhood dogs who sensed his weakness.
It’s unbearable to watch National Geographic and Animal Planet episodes showing the requisite ultra slow-motion scene of the cougar taking down the elk that took off too slowly; the tiger running down the deer that didn’t keep up with its herd; the pack of wolves surrounding the weak antelope; the lion outrunning the terrified zebra, leaping to wrench its neck; the hawk swooping down to snare the baby rabbit in its talons, as mother rabbit leaps frantically and then stops, stunned. I appreciate that this is how the animal world must function, but that doesn’t mean I handle these laws of nature well. I still cannot explain how I managed to sit through the entire length of March of the Penguins without dissolving into a puddle on the sticky theatre floor.
Last fall a robin struck the living room window and died within moments on the edge of the planter. I watched as it shuddered, its head at an odd angle, probably because its neck was broken by the impact, before going completely still. I cried, of course, then bundled it into a plastic bag and discarded it.
There was one isolated incident, though, with a happy ending. A couple of summers ago, a fluttering sound in the bushes in the back yard caught my attention. Nothing was discernible at first. But as I ventured closer I made out a robin hanging upside down, its leg tangled in some plastic thread. It was frantically trying to free itself, alternately flapping its wings and then going still with exhaustion. After running to the kitchen for a pair of scissors, I waited for the next time it went quiet, then swooped in to snip the thread. It flapped wildly as I did so — then took flight instantly.
What a feeling! This time I wasn’t Weepy Sheila. I was … Super Animal Saver Sheila. I was … St. Sheila of Assisi.
But this most recent accident was painful to watch. I stared from the other side of the sliding door. I’m not sure how much of my attention was emotionality and how much was a good dose of morbid curiosity.
Eventually the bird’s eyes closed completely, as if in slumber, and its body rocked to one side, immobile.
I pulled two plastic bags from a cabinet — one to serve as a scooping tool, the other as an aviary coffin. I’d done this before. But I couldn’t follow through yet this time. I was still upset, so I left the bags on the kitchen table and resumed my cleaning. About thirty minutes went by.
Upon returning to the deck, now prepared to put this animal to rest, I peered through the sliding door.
The creature was upright. It was crouched low to the ground, still, and staring directly through the glass.
A second later it took off, flying over the row of bushes into the next door neighbor’s backyard, dipping once before re-gaining altitude, then dipping once more, in a deep swoop, before shooting upward to land on the branch of a maple tree, blending into the bark so that it was no longer visible.
Talk about your happy endings.
Talk about inspiring.
Call me sentimental. But as I gazed in the direction of the maple tree, it was hard not to take a little lesson from this half-ounce fledgling.
Sometimes life knocks you cold. But you come to. And you pick yourself up. And you climb back in the air.
Hope and optimism.
Blend these two noble attitudes, and you have Hoptimism.
Do you have a hoptimistic experience to share? C’mon. Everybody!