At this time last summer it was hot. Blistering, I can tell climate change is real, hot. The kind of dry heat that sticks in your lungs like sauna steam. It was uncomfortable. Everywhere you looked, everything was uncomfortable. The dogs, the kids, the warped door frames. No one was happy. I was miserable. And I rescued a bird.
I’m not any type of formidable gardener. My abstract idea is to garden as if I’ll go to the Chelsea Garden Show when in fact my de facto for most things is no planning and we’ll see how it goes. But when my mind is on it, I love it. And last summer all I had was time. So, I overgrew my front stoop with what I could afford. Roses and lavender. Hostas and ferns. The final touch was a bird house I’d had for years but hadn’t hung. At last, it went up, just outside the front window.
But for weeks after it went up, I didn’t notice any birds around the house. I was disappointed. I could see the little chickadees fluttering about. Their sweet conversations in the morning with one another and the gentle song as the sun went down. Why wouldn’t any of them come visit my little house? I’d be a good landlord. I was tired. I longed for something to go right. Something had to go right. Why couldn’t it be this? A little bird.
After several weeks I’d for the most part forgotten about the little chickadees. Surmising it was too late in the season for anyone to take up residence. I’d leave the house up, it looked pretty even if vacant. Maybe I hadn’t given it enough curb appeal. I didn’t know how to stage and get the right tenants. I let it go.
Until one morning when I went to take the dog out. Fumbling with him, my phone, and the door something caught the corner of my eye. There, sitting on the birdhouse entryway dowel was a perfectly pudgy confidently tiny bird. I dare not move. I didn’t want it to fly away. I wanted to say, Hi, I’m Kristina! A small standoff ensued. The bird sizing me up, was I friend or foe? Debating the hassle, the dog might be. I wanted my new friend to know I wasn’t a threat. Nor the dog. And, after several minutes to which I’d become entangled in the dog’s leash, the bird, nonplussed, turned its back and went in the little house.
I was giddy. So excited. I had neighbours! Sure, they were living in an aviary that I couldn’t identify with and a different species, but that wasn’t going to deter me. When I get joy in my pocket I hold on for dear life.
As the spring days turned into what the news kept calling “a heat dome” I kept a constant eye on the aviary homestead. There was now a companion on the scene which quickly gave way to the faintest of chirps from babies inside I couldn’t see but wished I could. I fended off the neighbour cats and tried not to be about when I knew it was feeding time. I loved from afar. Birds! This was something.
But I always said hi when I left home. I tried my best to whistle for them when I could see them nearby. They didn’t pay me any notice but it felt good to be present enough that I knew they were there.
Then it got really hot. So hot the dog looked like he was sweating through his coat. And it was too much for us all. If this was climate change, this was some bullshit. But all we could do was make the best of it. Get through it until it was over.
Now here’s the part I rescue the bird.
One of these hot evenings, the only time you could really go outside with pets, dog and I returned home just as the sun was going down. It would perhaps cool off 2 or 3 degrees to try sleeping. I was a constant humid mess. My hair, that place where my thigh met my torso, and the bottom of my feet dripped sweat. Everything about the ensuing previous pandemic years was coalescing into humanity melting and it was exhausting. Where was the relief?
As I let the dog inside and returned to water my stoop garden I noticed one of my bird friends perched on a trellis. Immediately I recognized this as Mum. For sure I don’t know how to tell a bird’s sexes but she was pleasantly plump like me. She had an air of not taking shit. Definitely the mum. She was clinging to the trellis. I watched her while I watered around her. She didn’t move. She appeared like the rest of us, too hot to move. I started to get worried. This wasn’t right. What could I do?
I got a little teacup of water and sat it nearby. Nothing. She clung hard to the trellis. If she tried to hold on any harder, she was going to fall off. Now I started to panic.
We have to do something. Get a shoebox I said to kid. This bird is prey for the cats and I just needed the win. Heat or no heat, we were taking the W.
While the shoe box was prepped, I research birds in shock, overheated birds, and what to do if you find a bird in distress. Some sites said to leave them, some said attempting anything could be detrimental to their nervous systems and they’d essentially have a stroke and some said just wait. I chose rescue. We all deserve someone to try on our behalf.
I donned some gloves and knelt down as close to Mama bird as I could. I tried to be deft about the whole thing and since I’ve never moved deftly ever it was a challenge. But onward I went. Now or never.
One website has said don’t talk to birds who seem distressed. That this too might cause them to go into shock and die. And I’m sure this is sound advice, yet I chose to heartedly ignore it. A soothing and gentle voice is something anyone or anything can respond to.
Hi Mama. I’m going to help you. You can’t stay here. I know it’s hot. Too hot to fly I bet. Why don’t you come with me and you can rest a bit?
I stuck out my hand. A little closer. A little closer.
First time. First time like she knew, her tiny bark coloured talons curved around and dug in, hard, to my medical grade gloves. When she was on tight, she looked at me and I said, ok.
Out came the box and as gently as she’d taken hold of me, she stepped off into the box. A few leaves and the top went on. Quick. Into the house, we went.
The dog was ever so curious but up on a bureau the box went. It was close to the window. She could hopefully listen to her babies from there. I explained like a good landlord this was just temporary and she was going back as soon as the morning came. She only had to rest.
One last time I consulted the interwebs about what might happen. None were encouraging. She’s too hot. She’ll have a stroke. Don’t put anything to eat in there. Don’t poke too many holes in the box. They still might die. And if they don’t die, they may be rendered incapable of flying.
That did it.
I sat on the chair in the kitchen and sobbed.
I sobbed hotly exhausted, what is happening in this world fat tears. I just want everything to be ok I kept saying. I knew it was partially only about the bird. It was everything in the world up until that moment and this little scared bird, unsure of what was going on and what was going to happen, represented me. I had no idea what the morning would bring for either of us. I had come to not rely on people being there, care being there, gentleness being there and all I could do was channel some feeling into seeing a little, so tiny bird make it to the next day.
Sleep didn’t come much during the night. One because of the heat and two because I was terrified Mama wouldn’t be alive in the morning. I knew I did all I could. Some of it good, some just winging it. I had to keep my intentions in the moment. Long-term was not an option. To the break of day was the only goal.
The first light came early the next morning – four or four-thirty the haze started to filter in from the corners of the curtain. It was time to go see what had become of this little bird.
The dog and I made our way to the kitchen. I was very anxious this was all for naught. But forging ahead I took the box outside to the step, sighed, and opened it. Peering up at me was Mama. She sat in the box and she was alive. I was so relieved. Hi. Do you feel better, I asked? There was a tiny shuffle, I offered her my finger and she hopped on. I leaned over to the pavement, shielded by the eaves, and temporarily forgot I was flashing any neighbours also up at this time, in my skivvies. But I didn’t care.
For but a moment birdie sat on my finger. She surveyed the lay of the land. And in the crescendo morning light, she flew away into the trees. That was it. She was gone. She’d gain her wings and then likely join the house after I was no longer lurking about. Whatever job I had was done. However briefly I was in her life it wouldn’t be for nothing.
I sat for a few minutes and tried to follow her from tree to tree but knew it was futile the farther up she went. I felt relieved. Fatigued but relieved. She lived! She’d see her babies again soon. The cat didn’t get her. The heat didn’t kill her. She was away.
It was going to get hot again and soon. I went back to bed. I thought, she can survive, I can survive. One day after another. I slept a few hours and when I woke, I heard singing from the tree. And joined in.