I am a huge animal lover and cannot imagine life without the companionship and comfort of dogs, the precocity of birds, and the sure-footedness of turtles.
Last summer, a great-looking tortoise showed up in my natural area. With a mere glimpse of him from my veranda, I was downstairs in a heartbeat to make his acquaintance. Seeming rather disinterested, he remained fairly stationary for a brief photo shoot. I named him “Chester” and invited him to stay. We carried him over to a pile of rocks, added a pan of water and, much as a motivated realtor would, encouraged him to survey the habitat in the hopes that he would find it appealing. Apparently, he did not. Or maybe he simply had other plans?
Shortly thereafter, I opened my front door to find a gray beauty hanging out. He meowed in an animated, feline version of ringing the doorbell. I named him “Slate.” Over the next 48 hours, this persistent, talkative fellow took up residence on my porch, on my lawn and in my bushes. He peered into every accessible door and window, impatiently awaiting an invite. While my love for him was immediate, I knew we could not keep him. I posted on our neighborhood site, to no avail. My awesome-beyond-words neighbor brought over cat food (the good stuff, no less). I gave him milk and water and then settled in to see what was next. Unlike Chester, Slate needed no sales pitch to find my digs to his liking. He then disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Perhaps he realized that he’d never be invited over the threshold?
How is it that our hearts take that unconditional leap of faith with animals, anyway? These “arrivals” were blissful. And while their tenure was short, my “heart leap” was deep.
It made me wonder if these two experiences had prepared me for yet another arrival and departure.
It was early morning when I opened the screen door to water my late summer plantings. I immediately heard a thrashing in the early fall leaves. Looking to my right, I saw it—a house finch with what appeared to be a broken neck. I slowly approached as my mind raced—what can I do, is there someone I can call? I watched as he took his last breath and then settled into the unmistakable stillness of death. I paused with the bone-deep awareness that was nothing I could do. I didn’t know how he was injured, and for a moment, felt guilty that my startling him had hastened his inevitable demise.
And that’s when it hit me. That bird ate from my feeder, drank from my birdbath and likely had a nest tucked ever-so-carefully on my house. I had provided the invite, the welcome, my form of love. I had “done right” by this little bird.
Collecting myself in the chill of our first fall-like day, I picked up my trowel, a makeshift gurney. I looked at the still life that was this bird and placed him on the ground. I walked over to an old, worn cross I had picked up at an estate sale that summer, dug a small hole beside it, and placed the little bird there. Then I thanked him for bringing his own special life to this place I call “my” home and wished him everlasting peace.
Birth followed inevitably by death. Arrivals eventually followed by departures. While these are happy and sad bookends, all that matters is what lies between them. All that matters is what we do in the in-between.