“Kind friends all gathered ’round
There’s something I would say
What brings us together here
Has blessed us all today
Love has made a circle that holds us all inside
Where strangers are as family…and loneliness can’t hide”

– Kate Wolf (1942-1986)

There are different kinds of loneliness. There’s the easily understandable kind, you know, the lost on a desert island kind, no human contact, or going for long stretches of time without seeing anyone because you are working on yourself.

Then there’s the not so obvious kind of loneliness. The kind where you see people every day, you socialize with your friends, but there’s no one there that really understands you, or knows what your needs are. That’s a sad feeling, a feeling that gives you that vacuous look, that longing stare.

Maybe we tend to anthropormophize animals because we are animals ourselves and they give us a peek into how we should really be acting. We are praised in this world on very non-animal things; so professional, so pretty, so “together.” We are never praised on cries well, loves well, feels pain and suffering deeply.

Last night, after a brief hiatus from Wildlife Rescue, I returned again. It’s squirrel season (lots of babies are born in August).

It tend to enjoy caring for the birds more than the squirrels. Not that squirrels aren’t wonderful creatures, I just have more of a connection to the birds.

What typically happens in September is that we get fewer baby birds and more squirrels, but we had a few baby hummingbirds last night, and I fed those first. One was hovering off his perch, saying “I’m ready to leave now, truly” and the other sat at the bottom of his basket, tired and confused, saying “I do not like it here but I do not feel well enough to go yet.” Maybe that’s the true sign of health, when the current situation no longer serves you and you are ready to move on. But sometimes we become stuck and have to stay in one place for a while in order to heal or learn something valuable.

My first squirrel of the night was a lonely little petunia of a black squirrel that had fallen face first out of a tree. He was obviously hurting. I tried to feed him his formula, and I put TAO (triple antibiotic ointment) with a steroid on his eye. As I fed him he wheezed alot, like he was having trouble breathing. I presumed he had some internal injuries and was in alot of pain. I also gave him some Clavamox and some aspirin to help him feel better.

After I gave him two and a half CCs of formula he reached for me, then curled up in the little towel I was holding him in and tried to sleep. I knew it wouldn’t be prudent to let him sleep overnight without some food in his tummy, but it seemed like that is what he needed most, just sleep and warmth. He seemed to say “just let me lie here, I need to rest.” He seemed lonely in his inability to communicate his needs. If only I understood squirrel silence. I woke him back up, and as I fed him slowly I stroked his head, and he closed his eyes a little again, probably thankful for some kindness. I think by holding him close to me and making him feel wanted and loved was probably the best thing I could have done. That’s what his mother would have wanted, too, as she wondered and wandered in the night.

Love is born in fire; it’s planted like a seed.
Love can’t give you everything, but it gives you what you need.
Love comes when you are ready, love comes when you’re afraid;
It’ll be your greatest teacher, the best friend you have made”

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.

The weight of words

Wildlife volunteering started up again last Thursday. They have a new system where the animals don’t have timers or sheets near their stations, their food and meds are coded onto a white board, and their feeding logs are much simpler now and live in binders, away from the birds and mammals. It’s an excellent new system, as we get out of there much earlier now, and this trend will probably continue into the season. In addition, we spend alot less time handling the animals, which is very stressful for them.

I learned an interesting fact about humans and wild animals the other day. When a predatory animal is killing its prey, it looks it in the eye. So, when we are feeding the animals, we have to try to look at them very little, because looking at them in the eye puts fear into their little hearts, and we are considered predators to them.

I helped a new volunteer feed the baby birds and squirrels that night, a kid named Adam. He’s a biology student at Foothill, transferring to SJSU in the fall. I decided I would take him under my wing and teach him how to properly feed the squirrels. He was so funny, looking lost but wanting to be helpful. My take on care is that if you can be shown the right away, you should begin right away. As he fed a few squirrels I kept telling him, “you’re doing great,” and he seemed to relax a bit. I just really wanted to encourage him to keep coming back. I guess it was my first foray into mentoring someone about how important this is. That we are the animals best chance for freedom. And, it’s important to start young. Adam is most likely 19 or 20 years old.

I recalled tonight a conversation I had with a coworker of mine some years back about animal rights and human responsibility. I was feeling very high-horsey about how cruel people can be and said to this person adamantly that I would always give my money to animal rights organizations. Then he said something that I will never forget. That we do need to support “human growth,” meaning if a person didn’t grow up learning the importance, fragility, and beauty of animals, all your time and effort into saving those animals is moot if you don’t put some of that time and effort into educating humans.

Let’s hope there are a lot more Adams out there.

Christmas Day at the Rescue

It’s been an interesting Christmas break. In addition to having a sick cockatiel at home, I volunteered to feed the animals at the wildlife rescue on Christmas day. I was to feed them once in the morning, and once at night.

It was a bit of a strange morning. I couldn’t get a hold of the SPEVC to see if they had any animals for us, so I called another volunteer who said she had picked up a gull the night before, and that I would need to hydrate it. There was also a squirrel there who was having urinary tract issues, and a Robin who had bonked its head, probably on a window.

I took my husband with me that morning, and we found the seagull dead, lying peacefully under a towel, its smelt untouched. I wasn’t sure why it was under a towel, so I made up a story that a seagull angel came in the night and covered it so it would be warm on its journey to its next life. It would definitely need that towel, I surmised, because I had to transfer it to the dead animal freezer.

I didn’t feel as sad as I normally would, probably because I wasn’t there when it died. But I always take some solace in the fact that it died someplace warm and quiet and dark, and not suffering in the cold, alone and without hope.

The black squirrel was a big black husky mammal, growling and scared. Mike helped me give it some Pedialyte and its meds, but for the most part we left it alone. It peed on me once, but it seemed to have some issues, so I could only hope for the best.

I didn’t give much thought to the Robin. He was pretty easy, was self-feeding, and would probably be released soon. He looked at me strangely when I would check in on him, but as I said I didn’t give much thought to him. I knew that he would be free soon.

But then when I thought again of the Robin I thought about my sister, who was named Robin. My sister died in 1989, at the age of 29. Her boyfriend at the time, Dave Coleman, killed her. He shot her and dumped her body in a park far from her home. She was later found by an elderly man walking his dog, her body stuffed in a sleeping bag.

My brother-in-law Jimmy had to identify her. None of us ever saw her again, and her remains were cremated. My brother Craig would join her five years later, after being hit by a train. In 2002 my brother Brian was killed in a car accident. At that point we decided to dispense with the formalities and scatter his ashes in the Mad River.

Where am I going with this? Hmmm. Well, it’s that sometimes I see people I have known staring back at me through animals, mostly birds. I was probably anthropomorphizing that poor Robin, but I guess he was there for a purpose, to remind me to never forget.

A dizzying death a.k.a ending suffering

I didn’t make it to wildlife rescue last week. I came down with a stomach bug and I was also way tired. I missed it, but I needed the break.

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost three weeks since I’ve written. It comes in waves, all of a sudden I’ll have the urge and out it comes. Wish it was like this every day – but I cannot force it.

It’s baby crow season around the bay area. They are perching in the pines above my bank, looking inquisitively down at me while I eat lunch (they don’t take “bait” especially the croissant I was enjoying). I think my peers at work think I’m nuts – I’m always looking up and talking to the birds or chatting with the dragon flies in the duck pond. Oh well, it will give them something to talk about other than protocols.

Sigh. Well, I think I might be a little nuts sometimes, too. At least I felt a little weird at wildlife a few weeks back. First…dizzy. Then…curious. Finally…thoughtful.

Some of my buddies at wildlife don’t like to see a dead animal or watch one become euthanized. However, two weeks ago one of the animal care coordinators (Carrie) asked me if I wanted to “help with” a pigeon. I had seen it come in, saw the sideways glance and heard the dire prognosis. But you see, on earth when we euthanize an animal it’s about ending suffering and time is not wasted. I wish we could be quicker with humans, too. I mean, I wonder what are we waiting for with some of these lost souls hooked up to machines, dreaming of their next life. If I was in a terminal state and could talk I would say “let me go so I can see what lies ahead of me!” How exciting!

But I digress.

Jeannie and I held the pigeon’s wing out so that Carrie could administer the drug. She blew the vein, and it took a little longer for the pigeon to die. However, I don’t believe I saw it struggle or suffer – it was dying from severe malnutrition and weighed half what it should. She covered its face, and when it finally died and she saw me look at it longingly, and she covered the rest of its body. I don’t know if she thought I was weird or in shock – really I was just dizzy. When the pigeon’s soul finally left its body I physically felt it take a little of me with it. It was a feeling I had never had before. It was almost a relief, too, because I finally got to witness death.

Maybe that’s why Carrie was wondering about me, but I wanted to “hold on” to the feeling of loss. For the last 15 years or so all of the grieving I needed to do was kept from me in some way, either by myself or by others. But that’s another rumination altogether, and not about wildlife. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to write about the pigeon. But it’s not all about me, I remember. I hope that sweet bird got to see what lies ahead of it.

Mockingbirds, mealworms, growling pigeons…and squirrels are friggin’ cute


Wild Thursdays are so fresh Thursday night that I should really remember to blog that night. But spending the evening at wildlife rescue is like going to a great concert. You get home, you can’t sleep, and all you can think about is how much fun you had.

It’s squirrel season, and squirrels are CUTE. Friggin’ cute. I’ll say it again. They are cute. Why the hangup about cute squirrels you ask? Read on.

The animal care coordinators at the wildlife rescue I volunteer at are young. Smart, but young. Given that they deal with young, inexperienced volunteers and also women in their 30s with a hankerin’ for baby animals, they decided to put out a rules sheet and have us sign it.

I’m cool with most everything on the sheet. Don’t walk around with an animal, don’t talk too much (stresses the animal), close the door when you’re running the blender, call if you’re going to be late, out, etc. However, there’s one rule I don’t get.

Because these animals are wild, we are not supposed to refer to them as cute. Kinda silly. As one of the other volunteers, Juliann, said, we wouldn’t be here if the animals weren’t cute, and she doubts any squirrels or baby great egrets will be knocking on our doors anytime soon because we boosted their ego with a little sweet talk. ;-p Now, if it was mealworm rescue I could understand. But if you are ever asked to feed a baby squirrel and your knees become weak from watching it grip the little milk bottle you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Speaking of mealworms. Mockingbirds that are a little bigger than babies (teenagers maybe?) that come in to the rescue are fed the Basic Nestling Diet and mealworms. What I love about feeding these birds is that they are such awesome gapers, and it’s so wonderful to me that a wild bird would go, “wow, cool, food…worms” and take it right from the medical tweezers from whence it came. I’m honored that a wild animal would trust me enough to feed it and accept the food willingly.

Sigh. I’m not too inspired tonight, but I would like to say that I held my first big bird by myself (the crow being the only other exception), to give it meds. It was a pigeon, and when I went to go and retrieve it from its cage, it GROWLED at me. I was so shocked that I laughed a little and asked Jeanie what I should do. She said, well, he might bat you with his wings and bite you, but it won’t be that bad. That said, I sequestered pigeon-dog in a towel and all he did was look honestly up at me. All bark and no beak.

Acorn woodpecker, goodbye to possum and squirrel, sad egret

It’s about 10:30 pm on July 6, 2006, and I’m tired. I just got home from the wildlife rescue up in Palo Alto. There seemed to be an unevenness, a disorganization, even a sadness, about the whole evening. We were down two volunteers, and we had a new person, Rochelle, help out for the evening. She works at Bishop up in the San Ramon area. She was great, really on the ball as far as volunteers go.

But about this disharmony – one of the things I’m struggling with is that I’m still learning how to feed the birds, and sometimes I don’t do it well. The little baby birds in the incubators are easy, they mostly open up for food. The mourning doves are really hard, though, and you have to stick the feeding tube almost all the way down them in order to fill their crop. The crop in a bird is the “pre-stomach,” – a pouch that holds the food while it’s being digested. The opening to a bird’s crop is on the right side of its throat. The opening to the lungs is on the left side, so you want to avoid getting food down the left side of the throat. Sometimes if a birds crop is full of seed or Basic Nesting Diet (BND) the food will come back up and you end up with it all over the bird’s face or you. But, usually, you don’t want to feed a bird who hasn’t digested his last feeding. And, sometimes you forget to check the crop before feeding. You have to pay close attention at all times, and it’s a little nerve wracking, these little lives in your hands.

There is some good news this week, though. An Acorn Woodpecker that had been brought in last week (attacked by a scrub jay) is improving. He still looks bad but is growing new feathers and is eating. I tried to feed him some live mealworms using some surgical tweezers but he proceeded to spit them back out at me. Mealworms are creepy. :-p

The crew just seemed a bit out of synch tonight, usually we are a well-oiled machine. It just seemed like it took a lot longer to get everyone fed, cleaned, and re-stocked, and we were still doing dishes at 9:30 pm. Plus, we lost a few tonight. A squirrel came in around 8 pm or so and by 9 pm he had gone where squirrels go when they die. We also lost a baby possum. We all took turns with the stethescope to see whether his heart was still beating, but when I turned him over and he bled from his wound onto my hand we confirmed he had gone, too. Animals that die go in to the dead animal freezer. It’s actually interesting to look inside the freezer to see what is there. I guess it’s kind of like a train wreck – you just can’t look away.

I helped our shift captain feed a snowy egret its fish mash. When I looked in on it later, I noticed it sleeping with its head down, almost between its legs. I saw a different egret sleep the same way when I went walking out at the Palo Alto Baylands on Tuesday, with my friend Margaret. We were admiring all the snowy egrets nesting in the palms above the pond, and we saw a few of the babies that didn’t make it. Margaret wondered if it was West Nile, and then said it’s amazing that all the humans are worried about catching it, but no one really thinks about what the birds go through. We then talked about the article on SFGate that said that 12% of all bird species will be extinct by the year 2100. Margaret said if she was a bird she would want to be extinct, too, the way the world was going.

Though this post is a little sad, I’ll leave with the starfish story that Jeanie, our shift captain, told us.

“Two men were walking along the sea when they came upon what looked like hundreds of starfish washed up on to the beach. One of the men started picking up the starfish, one by one, and throwing them back in to the sea. The other man said ‘what are you doing, you can’t possibly save them all, what difference does it make?’ To which the man replied, ‘I made a difference to a few.'”

My first crow

I hesitate to use the word “my” when it comes to animals. Though many people think dominion means we own or can do what we want with animals, it actually means stewardship, or caring for the creatures of the earth and allowing them to live out their lives. I had a very personal and life affirming experience with this particular crow.

Did you know that animals feel despair? According to Dena Jones, writer for Orion magazine, “Mohandas Gandhi said that a nation’s moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals. Animal behavior scientists have proven unequivocally that animals are not machines but sentient beings that experience feelings of pain, fear, anxiety, and despair.”

I wonder if they ever feel hope.

I realize now that the raven I saw steal a mourning dove’s egg from a nest in my apartment complex was more than likely a crow. Crows, industrious and intelligent, have learned to adjust to the human paving of our greenbelts. They are our thinking janitors, cleaning up our roadkill and making use of the food we waste and throw away. And now, there are more of them than ever, because we have made it more difficult for their natural predators to survive, like certain species of falcons. Not unlike pigeons.

Crows have a rounded tail, whereas a raven has a wedge-shaped tail. The raven call is more of a Brooonnnnkkkkk and the crow is the Caw-Caw-Caw we usually hear.

There wasn’t anything fantastic about this particular rescue. On May 26, 2006, I got in my car and started driving toward the market to get some greens for my own birds (I care for four cockatiels). As I made a left out my apartment building parking lot and started driving along Evelyn toward Fair Oaks I saw a man picking up what I thought was a raven from the middle of the road, but it turned out to be a large crow. I actually grin when I think about it because my former manager at my last company told me ravens were more prolific in the area, but its actually crows.

The crow had been hit by a car. I stopped in the middle of the road, got out of my car, and asked the man if the bird was still alive. He said yes, and I asked him what he was going to do with it. He said…”nothing, I didn’t hit it.” Hmmm. At this point my mission became clear that I need to take the bird to the wildlife rescue. Point is, I didn’t know where it was. I knew my friend Candy volunteered there and it was in Palo Alto, but I hadn’t figured out where it was.

I don’t know when the man who picked up the bird finally left, because I was so focused on the bird. After attempting to borrow a towel from a stranger in a nearby parking lot, I settled on removing my hooded sweatshirt and wrapping the bird in it. If you know me at all you’ll know I’m an extremely modest person. Though I had a tank top on underneath it felt very strange to not be wearing long sleeves.

The bird was laying on its back, legs and talons pulled in, and in shock. I thought it was dead but then it rolled over and cawed at me a little. I talked to it, and then I started to cry. I know, I know…from what I’ve read the best thing I can do is be quiet and remain calm but I was so afraid for the bird and didn’t want it to die.

I picked up the bird in my sweatshirt and took it to my car. As I got in I left my driver’s side door open so I could place the bird with both hands on my passenger seat. Someone honked at me because my door was obstructing the road. Insult to injury.

As I drove up to Palo Alto I cried and laid my hand on the sweatshirt, telling the crow I would do what I could for it. What happened to me next was anyone’s guess, but I just sort of let go. I was still crying, but I realized at that point that I was doing what I could but that the bird might not make it. All I could think of is that I might have given it some hope.

I took the bird to Palo Alto animal services and they had an officer take it over to the Wildlife Rescue. When I called the next day Liz, the Animal Care Coordinator (great person, very smart) told me they were able to stabilize the bird, but that it wasn’t able to stand. However, when I called back a few days later, they told me that they had to euthanize the bird, that its injuries were too great.

They say when one door closes, another opens. Now I’m volunteering with my friend Candy on Thursday nights at the wildlife rescue in Palo Alto.

To read more about Wildlife Rescue in Palo Alto, visit: http://www.wildliferescue.ws