Locking up the earth

When I’m feeling spacious and anxious and weird I like to listen to a song called “De Usuahia a la Quiaca” by Gustavo Santaolalla. It’s a track from a movie called “The Motorcycle Diaries.” When I listen to it I imagine I am Che Guevara riding his bike through the desert, dirty and alone, on the verge of transformation.

I imagine that I am Frida Kahlo, a wild, beautiful girl with many lovers, male and female.

Mostly I imagine that I am free.

At wildlife rescue tonight I was offered a little piece of heaven, of freedom. In a mock aviary in the back of the rescue sits five cliff swallows, juveniles. Tonight they were flying around the aviary, landing on the little rope perches, begging for the mealworms I had for them. But the most amazing thing about them was the sound they made as they flew circles around me. The beating of their wings sounded like the flight of fairies entering your dreams at night (like the sound you make when you sigh and it has to pass through your teeth and lips before it leaves your body – only lighter). I had the feeling I was witnessing something magical. I felt as if they were not of this earth, these dark birds with their intense eyes — and they lifted my spirit into another realm. I felt as if I had entered another world when I entered that aviary, and was blessed by the swallow fairies that inhabited it.

When we care for the animals at the wildlife rescue we are temporarily locking up the essence of the earth while we tend to its wounded citizens. You can hear the essence in the beating of birds’ wings, you can smell it in the breath of a night heron who has just eaten smelt, you can feel it in the oil and dirt that passes from feather to finger.

And you wonder where your essence has gone, your wildness. You think back to the time when you smiled easily and the wind and dirt were your friends. These birds are this essence every day, even locked up in a little aviary.

Tonight I was shift supervisor. I had to make sure that all the birds and mammals got their feedings, got their meds, little bird foot casts, cream on a snake’s back. Dishes washed, lights turned out…alarm set. Now, when someone else has this role I think nothing of it. But when you are given this responsibility and you lock 20 wild animals into a small house at night the weight of the world sits on your shoulders. You are, for a night, a shepherd of the earth and its wounded citizens, and only your heart can guard them as you fall into bed.

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