There plopped on the back driveway, among all the fallen leaves and pine needles was a brilliant red-colored form. The cardinal laid there not dead but shaken, rather bobbing his head and seeming to have taken too many drugs. One wing reached out while the other was held in. Clearly, the bird was in trouble and hardly made a motion as it was picked up and held gingerly.
It was a sad thing to see such beauty in trouble and we wondered if it was a victim of some bird flu but Eleonore scanned the surroundings and noticed the outline of tiny feathers, red feathers, attached to the garage window left there as a telltale. The impact had been sufficient enough to dislodge the delicate red colorings and enough to knock the bird to the ground. As we used to say on the field of play, he had his bell rung.
We took turns holding the trembling bird making small apologies for the clear glass and the obvious misfortune making note of man’s inventions and how they do not always play well in the natural world. The bird obviously thought the window was an opening and willingly flew into it.
The pathetic bird shivered in trauma. Its head bobbed as if controlling his nervous system was not a possibility. As is said, “He had a six foot stare in a hundred foot forest.” The bird, after examination for broken parts and finding none, was placed in a bed of pine needles where I personally thought it would quietly fly off to the final frontier, but at least in comfort.
As the afternoon passed, the Cardinal remained alive and seemed to become more responsive while feebly and desperately trying to hop and flap its wings, but still there was a haze in those terrified eyes, an unknowing.
I recalled a time in Colorado many years ago when visiting an office building and finding, there lying scattered like dry leaves about the building, a dozen dead Bohemian Waxwings. They had been eating dried miniature apples and then seeing another tree in the window, headed off after it. Silent death. Some observers felt they were intoxicated by the partially fermented fruit and simply ran their cars into the metaphorical light post.
Wanting to wish away a silent death, and reflecting on enjoying the Cardinals this year, I ultimately put the bird, now showing still more improvements, into a cardboard box made comfortable with a nest of the pine needles, and placed it in my studio where the creeping winter frost held no sway. It had occurred to me that one of the silent cats that seem to peruse the area, frequently hanging by our bird feeder trying to take down more song birds, might find the weakened bird and see it as another easy meal. Safety and comfort in my infirmary was the call.
The top was shut, while quietly thinking the morning would find it deceased or still lost in the haze from a serious bird concussion. Still, if I remember right, I always had come out of my concussions and the damage wasn’t real detectable—I don’t think, but I never did learn to fly.
The bird’s pathetic misfortune came up in our household discussion in the evening after our neighbors had headed home, themselves reflecting on the possible loss.
There is always a certain quilt associated with seeing a life snuffed out by something that is not natural, say a speeding car or even that cat, which was never a part of our real world, taking some hapless unsuspecting bird. It is one thing to hunt, to be respectful of that process and then consume that game with an understanding we are part of a natural world in that way, but to see things poisoned, crushed or indiscriminately killed by an unnatural process is discomforting.
I walked into the studio this morning thinking it might be a lead-in to a burial, but then just maybe, in the time in quiet repose, his neurons had realigned and all his instinctual attributes had returned. When the box was touched, there was a shuffle that sounded of conviction. There was intent and just maybe the box was not appreciated in its confinement. The cardboard infirmary was taken outside and opened carefully. Then in an instant the Cardinal lifted straight out of the box and headed out into the sky probably thinking that was one hell of a night. He seemed to look back but I suspect only in confusion and terror.
I put tape on the window and filled the feeder with sunflower seeds wanting very much to see the bird back but if he did not come, I would understand.