Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Con Vuelo, Destino a la Vida

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.

We turned.

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).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Covenanting with Cotorros


Compromiso con Cotorros


Yesterday and today we did promising work.  At the Rio Abajo aviary I watched as Dr. Tom White and others placed radio telemetry collars on the Puerto Rican Parrot for their upcoming release. 




Most of these birds will wear these collars for life.  Perhaps a burden for them to carry with them this extra weight, and it’s a weight too for my heart.  With each placement then, this collar, this ring, is one of promising to do our best to use the data it sends to give to the Cotorro chicks of the future a flying chance. May they fly free!   


At this same aviary I spoke with the manager, Ricardo de la Valentin Rosa (http://www.fws.gov/caribbean-ecoteam/PRP_aviaries.htm). 



He explained to me how the work they do there is one of sharing their lives intimately with the birds, in some fashion melding into a community of mixed species.  The work is detailed, yet nuanced.  It is of exacting science, and is of intuition.  Living and loving with the birds they see how to gently guide the reproduction of the birds, and the birds in turn seem to respond to their human counterparts with an unspoken agreement.  El aviaro is a place of promise, of covenant, of compromiso. 


The God of the Hebrew Scriptures flooded the earth, destroying it except for an ark that held a small remnant of what once was.  Upon the falling of the floodwaters a rainbow appeared in the sky, a sign of the new covenant between heaven and earth that God would never again bring destruction upon creation.  Instead we humans have taken up that mantle, reducing parrot numbers to but just a fragile ark that holds a small remnant of what once was. 


Upon the falling of yesterday’s sun, I stood upon a mountain overlook with the field biologists to see if we might spy free flying Puerto Rican Parrots.  There in the midst a rainbow appeared in the sky, a sign of the new covenant between human and nonhuman that we would never again bring such destruction upon our beloved earth. 




With every bird banded, collared, treated, captured, counted, and set free these people of the promise renew their vows.  


Come, come, whoever you are.

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.

It doesn't matter.

Ours is not a caravan of despair.

Come, even if you have broken your vow

a thousand times.

Come, yet again come.


- Rumi (Sufi Poet)





(last picture - www.fws.gov)


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Puerto Rican Parrot Prayers

We pray to the birds.

We pray to the birds because we believe they will carry the messages of our heart outward

We pray with them because we believe in their existence,

The way their songs begin and end each day – their invocations and benedictions of earth.

The birds pray for us to remind us of what we love rather than what we fear.

And at the end of all prayers

They teach us to listen

-         Terry Tempest Williams


In this moment the songs of the Puerto Rican Parrot are ending this day in Luquillo Forest.  I listen to their voices that are just like a prayer, calling out love, and calling love out of me.  Here in this place, the people’s work to bring back the Puerto Rican Parrot from the brink of extinction is a prayer of service. 



Arriving yesterday afternoon, the aviary manager Jafet Velez-Valentin (http://www.fws.gov/caribbean-ecoteam/PRP_partners.htm)  showed me around the el aviario Iguaca.



Under the canopy of trees sheltering the somewhat isolated breeding cages I had the sense that we were on sacred ground.  The winding path that connects each cage connects the generations of birds and people that have gone before to the two of us. 




Each step we take approximates a walking meditation as we admire the work, the native flora and fauna, and each other’s hope for this particular species.  It’s as if an ancient labyrinth has sprung up in the tropical landscape, leading us on a shared journey into the past of neocolonialism and in general the good, the bad, and the ugly of our species.  Out of the darkness, we find the center; the beauty and love of birds.  Strengthened by this wholly interconnection, we remerge into the sunlight convinced we are nature’s own, and not alone, ever. 




In this new light after decades of the Puerto Rican Parrot Project, of which I was part over ten years ago, even the large flight cages with their reaching arches remind me of a natural cathedral.  It is not filled with idols or humans’ guess at the divine, but with living spirit flying over the earth.


This morning when I shared morning’s rise with the workers here we spoke of this place, of how my time here is like a spiritual retreat for me, and for them each day.  Our voices fall to a whisper, we look up to the birds, and give praise that we may live another day honored to be with these birds and with one another, and offer prayers to the holy that these birds may not just live another decade, but flourish.

May it be so.  Blessed Be.





(stay tuned - tomorrow I go in search of free flying Puerto Rican Parrots and to observe the placement of radio telemetry collars in anticipation of an upcoming release of birds into the wild)


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Parakeets and Paracletes


This coming week I'll be traveling to Puerto Rico to witness the release of captive-raised Puerto Rico parrots into the wild.  About 12 years I worked as a consultant on this project helping to design release protocols with Hispanolan Parrots in the Dominican Republic.  What we learned there would go on to help reestablish the very endangered Puerto Rican parrot more firmly and in more locations in Puerto Rico.  What I learned there and in all my work with parrots and people continues to help me reestablish the beauty and joy of the human heart more firmly and in as many locations as possible.  I'll be blogging from Puerto Rico, so stay tuned. 


For a complete version of the sermon go to:



Special thanks to Shelby Havens, producer of this video:  http://www.uuf.org

Video: Earth's Sacred Feminine

Monday, December 1, 2008

Earth's Sacred Feminine


Working in Guatemala during the 1990's I had an amazing realization. I was hiking one morning around the forest edges of our parrot conservation area with my Guatemala counterpart. He was speaking to me of his love of Mary and Jesus. I was struggling to really listen to what meaning these religious figures had for him when the sun tipped over the steaming forest canopy and a flock of parrots flew screeching into the sky. We both stood transfixed in wonder and gratitude, In that moment I knew that when he said Mary and Jesus it was the same as when I said trees and birds. From that moment on I was not afraid to enter a church for I now had the tools to translate the meaning of the sacred femimine and masculine into my own experiences.

Over the suceeding years earth's sacred feminine has come to embrace the importance of staying engaged when tragedy strikes, and mourning the suffering we see around us. In this way we might give birth to beauty and new love and life, or at least not forget wonder in our darkest night. The story of the Marys in the Gospels, of how they were present at Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection shows me the power of the abiding power and possibility of this planet and her beings, as long as we don't forget the whole spectrum of life's experiences, from pain to glory, from birth to death, and from wounding to healing.

I first heard the song, "Mary" when traveling in Chiapas, Mexico visiting the Zapatistas. Images of powerful women and Mary abounded amongst the scarred and wounded land and people, asking me as I now ask you, where are you denying what you and the earth have lost? How might you "clean up the place" as the song Mary suggests?