Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Rush from a Thrush

(Wood Thrush - Photo by Steve Malowski, USFWS)

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

Mary Oliver


was spring

finally I heard him

the first leaves -

I saw him clutching the limb

an island of shade

his red-brown feathers

trim and neat for the new year.

I stood still

thought of nothing.

I began to listen.

I was filled with gladness -

that's when it happened,

I seemed to float,

be, myself, a wing or a tree -

I began to understand

the bird was saying,

the sands in the glass


a pure white moment

gravity sprinkled upward

rain, rising,

in fact

became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing -

was the thrush for sure, but it seemed

a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,

also the trees around them,

well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds

the perfectly blue sky - all, all of them


of course, yes, so it seemed,

was I.

soft and solemn and perfect music doesn't last

more than a few moments.

one of those magical places wise people

to talk about.

of the things they say about it, that is true,

that, once you've been there,

there forever.

everyone has a chance.

it spring, is it morning?

there trees near you,

does your own soul need comforting?

then - open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song

already be drifting away.


The Wood Thrush of North America has a song some
describe as hauntingly beautiful
.  As a child I walked frequently alone in the
woods and though this bird sang just for me. 
Whenever family confusion got stirred up on our home and my soul needed
comforting, to the woods I went to hear a reprieve.  I'd enter the doorway of trees with heavy
feet and after a walk singing I'd leave the woods flying.  The song of a bird tells us all that we all have
a chance for liberation, even the most tortured, even the torturers.  Within the deepest recesses of the fractured
human dilemma of competition versus collaboration, and care versus harm, we are
hauntingly beautiful.  May you hear such
a song of freedom today.


If you could give yourself a new chance
today, what would it be?







Sunday, June 27, 2010

Liberating Locked-up Compassion


This week I am visiting Minneapolis Minnesota as part of the
Unitarian Universalist Annual General Assembly. 
It is a week packed with indoor meetings and worship, rushed
conversations, and strategizing on how to save and savor the world.  I admit to going stir crazy with so much
human interaction and emphasis, much perhaps like a caged bird might feel.  Finally I managed to get out for a long walk
this morning from our hotel down to the Mississippi river. Amongst the
skyscrapers and parking lots were the expected urban birds: scattered pigeons,
sparrows, and grackles .What was surprising was a lone bird feeder hanging from
a parking sign, around which flew the city dwellers.  I wonder who considers the well being of
these birds, often thought of as pests or blights upon our urban
landscapes.  I wonder too who doesn’t
consider the well being of these birds, as there was a lock on the feeder so it
would not be stolen.  So there we have
our paradox – how we demonstrate the liberating compassion of our kind and how
we cage our compassion, keeping it locked up from others and from
ourselves.  The miracle is that we have a

Which do you choose –
liberating or locking up your compassion?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bird of Life, Bird of Death, Bird of Amazement


 (Scarlet Macaws - photo by University of Texas)

I am in
the north of this continent, not so very far, but far enough that the sun rises
much earlier and sets much later than usual. 
I awoke with a vision of amazement, the Scarlet Macaw of
Mesoamerica.  I cannot think of that bird
without thinking of death, and of loss. 
Reading yesterday in the book, “Seven Names for the Bellbird,” which is
a book about how people value birds in Honduras, I came across a section on the
Scarlet Macaw, the Guara Roja.  The
author found that the Hondurans speak of the Guara in terms of how much loss of
the natural world they have seen.  So the
Guara came to me today, a bird of life and a bird of death and a bird of
amazement.  I so strongly feel that to be
on a journey of amazement I must also set one foot in the door of death.  For this being present to what is, which stuns
me with the finality and infinity of my shared being.  So here I am at the annual gathering of
Unitarian Universalist ministers in Minneapolis, hearing the call to shared
ministry, which today I see as shared being.

do you journey for amazement, and is death a part of this path?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rescuing Birds is Useful

Author: International Bird Rescue and Research Center

Birds is Useful

In the Gainesville Sun on June 11,  this headline read:  Scientists:  Rescuing Birds is Useless. As a scientist,
bird veterinarian, minister, and a consultant in the human dimensions of
conservation and wildlife, I found myself grateful that the ethical issues of
bird rescue made the front page. I myself wonder how I might spend my days as I
ask every morning, "Is what I do useless?"  or framed another way, "How can we as
individuals and as a society put our resources to the most use?" This
question is often framed as "charity versus justice" or "helping
the individual versus changing the system that got the individual into the mess
in the first place."  In respect to
the Deepwater Horizon Disaster and birds, we wonder whether to save the one
oiled pelican, or to save our energy, talent, and resources to provide habitat
for pelican rookeries or to lobby for stricter protection of the environment. At
one level, this is an individual’s choice.  What do you feel compelled to do - care for
suffering individuals or for a suffering society and environment?  After 24 years working in avian conservation
and medicine, as well as many years counseling humans in vocational
discernment, I suggest that we each give of ourselves to causes where our deep
joy and gifts intersect with the world’s great needs. If you receive joy and
satisfaction in washing oiled birds, do so. 
Mother Teresa often received criticism from her efforts to care for the
homeless and poor instead of using her power and charisma to change the
economic or political system in India.  Yet she did much to raise awareness and
compassion through her efforts.

Our human response to the suffering of others is an
interrelated whole.  It doesn’t matter so
much the particular of what we do, just as long as we do something, and keep in
mind to do no harm.  For the individual
pelican or tern mired in the oil, it surely matters to them that someone is
willing to ease their suffering, either through treatment or compassionate
euthanasia.  No one trained in avian
rescue wants to cause unnecessary suffering, so we have to be ready to make the
hard decision whether to put a bird through the stress of medical intervention
given the likelihood of recovery and release. 
For me this means we need to study the issues as completely as possible
so that we do the least harm. In the case of oiled birds, there are
indicating that a high percentage of birds do survive and can return to
breeding.   The article in the Sun on
6/11 (online version has different title - Is Rescuing Birds Futile?) only referred to one study, which was 15 years old.  Since then our techniques for rehabilitation
have improved, as has our ability to understand the situation from the bird’s
point of view.  We ask, "If I were
this bird, would it be worth it to go through the stress of capture, captivity,
and treatment given the percent chance I will lead a satisfactory life in the
future?" Although no one can answer this question for another or with any
reliability, it doesn't diminish the importance of this question for every bird
under our care.  I know that I find the
pressure of “doing the right thing” nearly overwhelming when it comes to making
decisions with wild birds, but I do not want my uncertainty to stop me from
doing all I can. 

So what is stopping us as group of people from doing
all we can?  Perhaps we suspect that if
we spend time helping birds and not say some other group of suffering beings,
such as orphans in Central America of out-of-work fisherpeople in the Gulf, we
are somehow fundamentally flawed.  We
don’t want to be people who say that birds matter more than humans, or that one
kind of human or bird matters more than others. 
We need not judge ourselves or others based on how we care for
others.  When we help one being, we are
helping others.   If we are called to help humans, we are also helping
birds for they need us as individuals and as a species to be as healthy as we
can. In turn, we need birds and their environments to be as healthy as they can
for our own sake.  The fate of one is the
fate of all. The important question isn’t whether we spend BP’s resources on which
humans or which bird or animals, but how do we care for the interrelated
whole.  By asking that question, I
believe we move towards a future where we as a society can find a way to use
our resources wisely and compassionately. 
When we seek to help others and keep our hearts open to all beings, we
nurture and heal our own lives as we nurture and heal the world. Saving that
one oiled bird this week may not mean you can be sure she will pass on her
genes or live a long life, but maybe, just maybe, it will help heal the human
heart and condition, so that the days of all beings may be long on this earth.  And that's a useful thing.

(this article appeared in the Gainesville Sun June 12, 2010)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bring Out Your Life


 Oiled Great Egret (Photo by Tom Mackenzie, USFWS)

Monitoring the Gulf Oil Spill Numbers of affected wildlife,
I recall the movie, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." There is a
scene where the plague has come through old Europe.  Two men are pulling a cart heaped with
bodies, shouting, "Bring out yer dead!"  A body moves on the cart and says, "I'm
not dead yet."  One of the cart
pullers then whacks the man over the head.

As of yesterday, 859 birds and sea turtles have been
impacted, the majority have come in dead. 
As our rescuerers walk the beaches and motor through the oil coated
seas, they are heaping remains in coolers and laboratories around the
Gulf.  The news is dire, and it's almost
like many of us wish to say, "I told you so."  But the Gulf is not dead yet, nor are the key
stone species gone, yet.  I wonder if
there is something in our attitude and habits that is like whacking the sick
and ill over the head. What if we saw more beauty in the world, every day, in
each other and in our local communities of mixed species?  Would this give us more support, more
passion, and more fire to bring our relationships and communities into line
with our values and our dreams?

I want to shout to the world not to bring out the dead, but
bring out the life, the joy, the beauty in all we do, in every moment, in every

May it be so.



Great Egret (Photo by Mike Baird)