Winter morning, below freezing, ground covered with thick layer of frost like unto snow. Oyster-gray sky streaked with clouds aflame with sunrise. Breathtaking colors. I drive to work, looking for magisterial hawks perched on power lines. None to be seen. At the corner where the patch of woods has been cleared, old tobacco barns are melting into the stubble, overlaid with a thin veneer of crystal. So beautiful, I say aloud. Something pure remains in the devastation. I cannot think of what. I drive on, pondering destruction and human hunger for it.
In the new rose-light little birds skitter up from the wood-edged fields. What type of birds they are, I cannot determine, just upward movement and wings. A strange line plays in my head: This day your life will be required of you. I suppose it’s born of constant murder in the news and too much reading, this very morning the strange coincidence of Diana, Princess of Wales, attending the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash. Did the struggling Diana sense any foreshadowing?
Why am I even thinking of these things during such a glorious dawn?
A shape swoops from the right, directly in the path of my car…surely a bird. I hear no thunk. I see no skittering escape in my rearview mirror.
The bird—if in fact it was—must be caught in the grille of my car. This happened once, long ago, when I was driving a different vehicle: I discovered a dead cardinal hanging partway under the car. Why, why do they fly so low?
I will have to stop and check. There’s nowhere to pull over on these winding backroads frequented by too-fast drivers and farm equipment.
There’s a tiny church tucked in the woods up ahead, past the intersection. Steep driveway, deserted area, but I have to get out and look.
Nothing ensnared on the wide chrome grille of my old car. Beneath the grille, however, are unscreened compartments and there, on the dark, recessed shelf, is a bird.
Alive and moving around. Gray, orange, and cloud-white, like the morning.
I take off my heavy black cardigan, wrap it around my hands, and reach in.
Gently, gently… then a soft, warm weight is in my sweatered hands. I make sure to cover its wings to avoid panicked and possibly injurious flapping. Its head is gray. Small gray beak opens and closes without a sound. Its eye, turned toward me, has a faint purplish hue, slightly reminiscent of my pet parakeet when I was six. The gray back and pale-orange coloring on the breast had me thinking robin, but now I can see it’s not. I don’t know what kind of bird this is.
Oh, little bird. I am sorry. As if my speaking will help, somehow.
I cannot stand here gawking at it. The creature has survived the trauma of my car; I don’t want it to die from terror of me.
I think of being in the hands of God.
Please don’t let it die, I pray. Is this a selfish prayer? I don’t know how badly the bird is damaged.
And what am I going to do with it now.
The woods…I skim for a sheltered spot. I step in the leaves and a sudden sound startles me: a rabbit goes skittering away, its big white cottontail bobbing against the sepia scenery. I had no idea it was there. What else is here that I cannot see—? I am shivering. I find a small ridge of leaves and pine straw by a bit of barren brush and there I lay the bird.
The bird turns itself from side to breast, facedown. There’s a bit of white edging on its tail feathers. I wish for to something cover it. The morning is so cold. My sweater might entangle its legs; scraping pine straw over it might alarm it.
I will go. I will not stay to see the outcome. It will recover, or it won’t. I recall the woodpecker that flew smack into the glass wall of the school where I work; it landed on its back in the flowerbed mulch and lay so still I was sure its neck was broken. Within a moment, it managed to flip itself right side up, ruffled its feathers, and flew off—zip!—as if nothing had happened. The robin I extricated from the grille of my sister-in-law’s car, having traveled miles down the interstate at 70+ mph, hopped around my backyard for a day before it flew away. Birds are hardier than they look…at least robins and woodpeckers are.
Should this pretty little bird die or recoup…it will be in its own natural setting.
In the hands of God. Not a sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the Father...
It is hard, yes, to leave it there and walk away. But I have done so before. With people whom I loved very much.
It is Yours.
Back in the car, I circle the tiny church named for St. John, heading on toward crystal-coated fields and misty-mirror ponds and the work that lies ahead. The little bird will never know that I will remember it, that it’s now part of me, stuck to my soul as long as I live. I know it and that is enough on this cold, fiery-sky morning, orange and gray, breathtaking glory tinged with, but not diminished by, loss.
“If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” —Psalm 139:9-10 (my favorite of the Psalms). This is the view leaving my neighborhood.
As best I can determine: My unexpected passenger was a female eastern bluebird.