We had just finished eating dinner. The dishes were clean, the kitchen was straightened up and now my wife could settle down on the sofa and catch-up on all the celebrity news on E! Entertainment.
I put the dogs up and piddled around in the garden. We have had a lot of rain lately so I have had some work to do to keep-up with the weeds. The heat has burned my lettuce up but that same heat has been embraced by my tomatoes, squash, peppers and cucumbers. I sat on my bucket and drank a beer as the sun dropped in the horizon and dreamed of tomato sandwiches with Duke’s Mayonnaise lathered on two slices of white bread. It’s close, oh so close if I can just keep the squirrels away.
I normally come back in around 8 after she has gotten caught up with what is happening with the stars. There is a new David Letterman interview on Netflix. Howard Stern is his guest this month. I figured the combination of the two would be pretty entertaining to watch for hour.
About 15 minutes into the program I heard a loud thud on the window behind me, like someone had thrown a rock without the shattering after effect. I walked outside and searched the ground and found the cause of the noise, a baby cardinal had flown into the window and laid motionless on the ground.
I picked the tiny creature up in my hand and felt the warmth of its body but noticed no heave in its chest, it wasn’t breathing. I tried bird CPR for several minutes pushing my thumb against its downy rib cage but nothing. And then, slowly, I felt the heat escape its tiny, frail body.
I sat on my retaining wall, cupping this marvelous young creature in my hand as Letterman and Stern cut up on the big screen on the other side of the window. I love birds. I marvel at their creation and how they have evolved. I also regret that so many of their species must now adapt and define themselves within the confines we humans have created for them. A world that includes obstacles like cars, domesticated cats, pesticides and windows. We like to think that they are free because they have so much space above our heads but even the air is fraught with peril.
There are people in this world that will think my sentimentality for a lowly little bird is silly. They will quote Genesis and state that God granted us dominion over every creature “that creepeth upon the earth.” Maybe She did. But I have and will always contend that with dominion comes responsibility and care. If you believe the Bible, or even if you take it with a grain of salt as I do, God didn’t say abuse or deplete. In my mind the term dominion creates a type of parental hierarchy rather than an edict of “we can do whatever the hell we want to do”.
As I get older, and sadly more sentimental, events like the death of this young bird remind me that the amount of time we have on this earth isn’t guaranteed. It is simply something none of us have any control over. What we can regulate is the quality of the time we have and our attitude. As Kate Bowler noted in her beautiful book, Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, “Life is a privilege, not a reward” and how we act on that privilege is and always will be the most telling detail about us and our short time on this planet.
I put the lifeless little body of this young cardinal on the ground last night, away from the curiosity of my dogs and hopefully the predatory instincts of our cat. This morning, I noticed that nature had already begun her magical work of returning this tiny creature back to the earth. “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” I suspect the massive oaks in my backyard will be a little quieter this Summer, a little less full of life, at least one little life that I felt escape last night in my hands.