Ashes to Ashes

Do you ever feel as though you have experienced several days in one? Today has been one of those days for me.

After a night of strange dreams, I awoke not knowing where I was.

I went to work on my day off for a training, followed by a trip to the autobody shop to bring my car in for service. What I envisioned as a half an hour, $30 expense turned into three hours and $442. By the time I arrived home, the day was nearly over, and I already felt like I had experienced several days in one.

Turning back the clock for a moment, I want to write about a brief encounter I had as I was leaving work.

First, allow me to provide you with some context. I live and work in an old factory town, one of the first in New England.

Where old factory buildings stand silent and cobblestone streets have been covered with pavement was once a thriving mill town. Wealthy, white men who were very well politically connected decided to build a city here because they could use the power of gravity and a wild river to power dozens of factories.

IMG_4043It didn’t matter that there was a farming community here. They simply purchased the land on the cheap. No big deal.

Of course, this was a continuation of a tradition started when farmers took the land from the Penacook Indians in a time when this area was a wilderness.

What one experiences in modern Lowell is but a snapshot in time of a place that has changed drastically in a very short time. The only wilderness is of the urban persuasion.

Despite the taming of the land and waterscapes, there remains an abundance of wildness in this city—human and beyond.

As I left work this morning, I was reminded of this wildness when a volunteer who works with us asked if I could help him.

I looked over and saw him standing with a tall woman. They were both hovering over something small on the bricks.

I walked over and looked down to see a small birds crouching with its mouth open, panting in the sun.

The woman asked if animal control would come and rescue it. I did not have the heart to tell her that it was a juvenile house sparrow, so there was no hope of rescue.

Instead, I suggested that mom and dad were likely nearby, and we just needed to get baby out of the sun. I scooped up the tiny being in my hands and placed it under a shrub nearby.

And that was that.

I left thinking about the difficulty of survival for animals of all kinds in a city. Later in the day, I wondered about the baby bird. I feared the worst and felt an aching inside. Should I go and check on it? If it had died, I knew that I would take a photograph to remember it and bury it by the canal near my home.

With a heavy heart, I walked across the street and back to the site. As I approached the spot, I spoke out loud. “I think it will be alive,” I said.

I knelt down and peered under the shrub. No baby bird!

I felt buoyant and surprised.

I sent thanks to the universe for its kindness and immediately wondered if kindness was an appropriate word to use.

Had the baby bird died, it would have escaped what was sure to be a difficult urban existence. It would have also provided nourishment to other urban creatures in search of their next meal.

Plus, house sparrows are an introduced, aggressive species that inhibit the growth of populations of native birds. I was doubtful of the existence of many nesting native bird species in the city proper, but I had heard of many impassioned migratory bird enthusiasts shooting starling and the like that the native species might have a fighting chance.

I walked past an abandoned lot, thinking about life and death and the human impact on the earth. True, we have set many rippling effects in motion with our choices, many for the worst for the earth, yet the idea of resolving issues through unethical, unkind gestures did not sit well.

The baby sparrow was not at fault for having been introduced by another species into environs where it has unfair advantages over others of its kind. Are humans not an introduced species in most parts of the world with similar characteristics?

Killing introduced species feels akin to fighting violence with aggression?

I wrote in an earlier post that the only tool needed is kindness, and I am finding the wisdom of this message to endure.

Be kind. Be patient. Be thankful. Life may not always feel like a gift, but I would not trade a single day.

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One thought on “Ashes to Ashes

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  1. I know that feeling… it’s happened to me as well. There is little in the wild that is more heart-wrenching than a helpless baby bird. I think their absolute helplessness, which is unlike a lot of baby animals who can move around immediately or within an hour or two of birth, evokes a similarity in our own human experiences, and it’s almost horrifying to imagine a baby chick all alone with no protection.

    As for our impact on the wild… it’s a good question. While the big picture might suggest there is this aggression you speak of, I doubt the generations upon generations of individuals who make up families who make up clans who make up tribes and so on would say there was any aggression involved. They were born — helpless — and were taught and grew up and did their own thing. Yep, just like you say… just like the sparrow. This brain we have is amazing though, it helps us actually see the big picture when we’re taught that we can use it and think about these things on such a grand level that we can recognize patterns and trends and tendencies. I’m one of those people who — probably in his hubris — thinks he recognizes many patterns and finds it all pretty fascinating. But it’s hard to figure out the judgement of it all… when I was young, I lashed out at the ignorance of it all, but now as I get a little older I see it as this cycle that can’t really be broken, even as aware of the world around us we claim to be. It’s almost like our actions *are* part of nature, they *are* natural, they are the extension of what we are and what we do. And they could even lead to our downfall… but that *is* nature: cycles.

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