I have longed dreamed of seeing California Condors. They call to me nearly as strongly as Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. Both elicit the response of “Lord God, what a bird!” in many people’s hearts. For me they also speak about “staying the course” and never giving up, even when all hope appears lost.
I was active in avian conservation in California when the few remaining condors were rounded up from the wild. The only surviving condors lived in captive propagation centers. This change devastated me, for I had lost the chance to see those enormous wings throw shadows along a canyon wall, and in so doing, cast out the shadows that lurk in the human heart. Their wild beauty would never be mine to know, only their death. For in those years of extinction, I had been called upon to transport a condor egg from one site to another after the chick inside had died. That was the closest I ever got to a wild condor, until this past week.
While hiking in Zion National Park in Utah, I rested on a mountain saddle when a great wind came up threatening to blow me off the ridge. I grabbed onto a pine tree, holding on to dear life. In that blast of sand and rain, a California Condor soared on an updraft that took her mighty wings almost within my reach. She seemed impervious to the steep cliffs and powerful winds, as if she knew she belonged to this land. It was our species who didn’t always know who belonged. In the past decades the attitudes of hunters, ranchers, farmers, and the general public did not offer much hope that we could change who we were as a species to make room for this endangered bird. The biologists and wildlife managers though did not give up. They kept to the course for over two decades and now the Condor soars freely over several Western states. It is still frightfully endangered and with the uncertainty of climate change and diminishing earth resources, there is no guarantee that this species or others shall continue to exist, let alone thrive. But we know more and more that we humans belong to this land and all beings are our kin.
We may not be assured of the outcome, but we know that we belong to one another too. If we promise to one another to walk and work together in all the ways of love, we may yet, like the Condor, soar over the deserts of the hard trodden paths of our longings to live in a world abundant in biodiversity and compassion. Let this not just be a dream, but a liberating reality. May the sightings of condors, woodpeckers, and other avian beauty take hold of our hearts and cast out the shadows of despair and sorrow. My dear readers, join me as we grasp the vision of a beloved community of all species.
Take hold of this future; never give up, never say die,
So that the birds we know and love may always fly!