They who bind to themselves a joy
Do the winged life destroy
They who kiss the joy as it flies
Live in eternity’s sunrise
William Blake (adapted)
Today I witnessed the release of the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot into the wild in Rio Abajo State Forest. The phrase worn on t-shirts and caps as the ideal of this cotorro puertorriqueño here in Rio Abajo is Con Vuelo, Destino a la Vida – Destiny with Life with Flight. Life lures these conservationists towards greater liberation, in fact demands, that birds and hearts be free. Life can and will find a way to flourish, and it has done so through this group of people and with these birds.
(part of release team in blind near where birds were released this morning)
It has not always been so. The night before this release of 20 captive raised birds, those who have worked with the project gathered and told “horror stories” of the past – of human fumbling and bumbling, of the divisive and conflictual character of human ego, and of frighteningly low bird numbers. One man who worked with the project recalled a time when there were only two active nests in the wild, and only one produced chicks, both of which were sick. There he stood under the nest tree, facing extinction. For the chicks to survive they needed treatment, and if he brought them into captivity, this could be the last nest of Puerto Rican Parrots, ever. For him it was a time of despair, anguish, and uncertainty of what to do. It was a turning point in the recovery project for him. He got on the radio, consulted others in the project, and the decision was made to bring one chick temporarily into captivity for treatment, and treat the other chick in the wild. Both survived to fledging. In turning to one another, they made the best decision they could, took risks, and placed one foot in front of the other, persistently following the call of the wild, the cry lost to more and more species as the years past.
(Dr. Antonio Rivera, project veterinarian)
I know of despair from my many years in avian conservation, and although I only worked with this particular species for a few years helping to develop the release protocols, I too can feel the ghosts of empty nest trees throughout El Yunque. When Christopher Columbus arrived on this island, there were an estimated 1 million Puerto Rican Parrots. In the centuries since then their numbers dropped to a low of somewhere in the teens. Due to the persistence of many people over the last 4 decades in the face of little hope, as of today there are between 60-65 parrots in the wild and approximately 200 in captivity. The birds indeed seem to have turned a corner, as have this group of people. From these people a vision comes to mind that I now offer back to them from what I saw today as the birds flew to join the growing wild flock in Rio Abajo.*
Some day the children of Puerto Rico will gather around the wise elders and ask about the Great Turning. And you will say…
You've asked us to tell you of The Great Turning, of how we saved the world from disaster.
The answer is both simple and complex.
For hundreds of years we had turned away as life on this island and over earth grew more precarious.
We turned away from the young men lost to gangs and drugs, the stench from the river, the silent forests, the children orphaned in Iraq, the mothers dying of AIDS in Africa.
We turned away because that is what we had been taught.
To turn away, from our pain, from the hurt in another's eyes, from the drunken father or the friend betrayed.
Always we were told, in actions louder than words, to turn away, turn away.
And so we became a lonely people caught up in a world moving too quickly, too mindlessly towards its own demise.
Until it seemed as if there was no safe place to turn.
No place, inside or out, that did not remind us of fear or terror, despair and loss, anger and grief.
Yet on one of those days someone did turn.
Turned to face the pain.
Turned to face the stranger.
Turned to look at the smoldering world and the hatred seething in too many eyes.
Turned to face himself, herself.
And then another turned. And another. And another.
And as they wept, they took each other's hands.
Until whole groups of people were turning.
Young and old, gay and straight.
People of all colors, all nations, all religions.
Turning not only to the pain and hurt but to beauty, gratitude and love,
Turning to one another with forgiveness and a longing for peace in their hearts.
And everywhere, birds and the spirit of human joy flew free.
We have to face the horror and the beauty of the past and tell the stories, face what is perhaps the loneliest, starkest moment for anyone, the possible future of extinction, and then in this moment, turn to each other, for our own sakes, for all of life’s sake.
May it be so.
In faith of feathers and fellowship,
I invite you to respond to me or to each other: Where do you turn for comfort or hope in difficult times?
(From Luquillo Forest overlooking the island)
* (following words adapted from Christine Fey – The Great Turning).