Like so many, I look forward to the New Year. It’s a time for new beginnings, new intentions, and new energy.
Unlike many, I also look forward to the New Year in anticipation of which of the avian spirits will be my guide. In my life as a birder, the first species to wing its way into my frame of vision becomes my totem for the year.
This year, I awoke and wandered over to the second floor windows that grace our bedroom with a view of trees, forest, red-roofed homes, and many winged neighbors. As I peered into the sleep morning, a magpie whisked up and over the roof.
It’s my year of the magpie, I told my husband from my perch by the window, who had not yet risen to face the greet day.
The night before, just as midnight approached, we had stood together by these same windows.
Let’s take our first step into the New Year together, my husband had whispered, his words and presence both comfort and hope as I leaned back into him.
Together, we lifted our feet. In sync, we placed them gently down onto the wide, wooden floorboards.
I felt the inhale and subsequent sigh of energy as we silently set our intention to begin this New Year in harmony.
The previous year 2017 was not harmonious, far from it. My own suffering stemmed from a ricocheting of energies from the entitled, those beings hell-bent on a rapaciousness that wound its way around me like tentacles. Each of my own attempts to sever their ties and detach resulted in repeat attacks wherein the grasp became stronger.
By the end of the year, I could barely breath.
I stepped into 2018, gulping in breaths of fresh, cold air in the wake of several successful tentacles severed at the tail end of 2017.
Bring on new energy and new life.
The first week of the year, my husband brought a magpie home. since we do not have stairs leading from our back terrace to the yard below nor is there a fence around the yard, we take our newly adopted husky for several “potty walks” each day. I take him for the first morning walk, and my husband takes him for his final jaunt before bed.
On this particular night, I was nestled under the covers, cozy and ready for bed when he called up to me that he had found an injured bird. I threw back the covers and set myself in motion.
I came down, scooped the bird into my arms, cooing gently to it that everything would be all right.
Maggie, as I began to call the bird, was wrapped in a towel and placed in a small box in our bathroom (called a water closet in Europe for the simple reason that there is no bath and that it is literally the size of a tiny closet). My husband is so tall that he has to literally back into the space. It’s so small that I never bother closing the door, preferring to look out into the trees beyond the windows to watch the crowds of crows, magpies, pigeon, and dove as they perform their backyard avian dance.
I have been blessed with some beautiful views from the bathrooms in my different homes, and this comes in a close second to the view of a glacier-topped mountain from my home in the Cascade Mountains of the upper Skagit Valley in Washington state.
But enough bathroom talk. Since I was a child, I have taken on the role of caretaker. I have adopted many abandoned beings and cared for creatures in need of a quiet, safe place to rebound from the shock of life.
My husband found this particular being sitting still in the middle of the street. Two cars slowed and veered around it as he crept forward to try to scoop it up in his hat. His theory was that it had been hit by a car, and indeed it did not seem able to move its legs. It was so stunned that it did not even attempt to clamp its black beak around my finger as I tucked it in for the night.
The larger of our two cats took up watch outside the now closed water closet door. I like to think he was being protective, but he is a cat after all. There is a reason we keep our cats indoors. Don’t be fooled into thinking a bell is going to keep your sweet lawn tiger from catching even the fastest of hummingbirds.
Maggie made it through the night, and in the morning I transferred her to a larger box set atop our kitchen counter. This move was short-lived, as our husky was even more interested in the poor bird, so much so that he broke through my sad attempts at a barricade and even tried to crawl up and over the counter to get to her.
Back upstairs Maggie went to the bathroom (I use the term “room” here liberally as well, as the counter, sink, and shower are all part of the upstairs open loft bedroom). There are very few doors in our Boitsfort home, which I tend to prefer, though it can make it challenging to hide injured creatures from the curious canine on the ground floor and the two felines who live upstairs. Sometimes, I feel like I am running an over glorified furry being B n B.
Though I knew I should not bother her, I checked on Maggie every few moments. I couldn’t seem to help it; I was so worried about her. It’s very challenging to know what a bird needs and how to help it, and I quickly began to realize that I was out of my league.
A benefit of having a magpie come to stay is that they do not seem to be very picky about what they eat. I gave Maggie a mixture of cat food and birdseed, which she ate without complaint. In the interim, I contacted birder friends for advice. A couple of days after Maggie’s late night arrival, I was finally alerted to a local bird protection agency, which I called right away. The staff person recommended that I bring the bird in right away.
I proceeded to put together a shoebox that I had opened to lay down beneath one of the cat’s cardboard scratching pads. I laid newspaper down, and placed Maggie into her temporary traveling box. Atticus our husky was beside himself with excitement, and it was a fairly eventful one hour journey via bus, metro, and on foot to the bird rehab center in Anderlecht.
On our brisk walk from the bus to the metro, I told an old man who was looking at me like I was the definition of insanity (and this could be entirely true) that my dog was excited because I had an injured bird in the box who we were transporting to a bird rehab center.
Don’t bother, he croaked. They will only kill it. No one cares about birds!
Ok, I said, not wishing to engage. Have a nice day and hustled quickly away. These days, I try to put as much distance as I can between myself and beings who radiate negativity. Life is just too short to get sucked in if I can help it.
Once on the platform for line 5, direction Erasmus, I found myself chatting with two individuals wearing Justice de la Paix jackets. They were thrilled with Atticus and equally smitten by Maggie. They assured me that the bird rehab folks would not kill the magpie and that they would do everything possible to save her.
It was a bit of a harrowing journey for me, so I cannot imagine the stress experienced by poor Maggie. Between Atticus’ regular attempts to pry the top of the box open with his snout and my own frequent peeking in to make sure Maggie was still alive, she must have been beyond shock. Poor thing.
My husband is smitten (the French word would be “ravi”) with public transit, and it is not within the realm of reality for our budget to invest in a car, so every journey to a new place requires navigating several different modes of transit—bus, tram, metro, ad sometimes train—to reach our destination. Add a rescue dog with extreme anxiety and abandonment issues who we cannot leave alone for more than a half an hour, and it makes for an eventful journey.
I roll my eyes and harrumph every time my husband tells me that transit will be my path to Enlightenment.
I don’t think I want to be enlightened that much, but the story of my love-hate relationship with public transit will have to wait for another day.
At the bird rehab center, the staff person took my information and assured me that they do everything possible to save little Maggie. She is a protected species, I was informed, and we are obligated to do all that we can.
Will she need to be returned to the area where I found her? I asked. Magpies live in what appears to be the bird equivalent of a wolf pack, replete with bullying of those birds at the lower end of the alpha spectrum.
No, the woman told me, but we will make sure to release her in a an area where she can join a new group of magpies.
I exhaled. Then it was time to go.
Goodbye, Maggie, I called to this bird I already felt strongly bonded to. I wish you luck.
The trip home was far less excruciating. Atticus was adored by nearly everyone seated and standing around us on the metro. Young girls squealed with delight and timidity. When Atticus sniffed a little girl seated on her mother’s lap, she cried out, NO! Not everyone is a dog person.
For the next several nights, I dedicated my meditation sit to Maggie. I imagined her flying over the trees, full of life. I envisioned her as an old magpie, sitting in a rocking chair, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.
Tell us the story of how you met grandpa, the tiny magpie fledglings would plead with her, and she would proceed to tell the story of how she was scooped up into a woolen cap, brought to a house with furry beasts, transported to a hospital, and then released into a foreign forest, where she met the love of her life. Grandpa would sit rocking quietly beside her, smiling to himself at the memory of their first meeting.
This had already been quite the year of the Magpie.
The woman at the center had suggested calling back a week later. With my husband’s daughter visiting and my strong desire to avoid making telephone calls in English, let alone French, two weeks passed before I finally called to check on Maggie’s progress.
Malheureusement, elle est decedée, the woman told me over the phone. My heart sank.
Maggie had passed away 48 hours after arriving at the center, likely due to shock. The woman also told me that they thought she had sustained trauma to her spine that had probably resulted in paralysis of her legs, so they would not have been able to release her into the wild.
We gave her anti-pain medication, she continued.
So she did not feel too much pain? I asked.
No, I don’t think so.
I thanked her profusely for trying to save Maggie and ended the call.
Silent tears quickly followed, my heart raw with the unjustness of it all. There are many who pay dearly for our desire for speed.
I am heartened by the gift of witnessing life continue in the wake of loss. Magpies continue their dance around our home, chattering as they go. I have been drawn to members of the corvid family for a long time, and I think the magpie spirit is one that lives within me with fervor. To me, these brilliant, beautiful birds embody every emotion on our human spectrum. They dance, they love, they sing. They bully the weak. They cling to survival.
May we all live with such magnificent intensity for as long as we can, with gratitude.