Early in January I discovered a chickadee with a broken wing floundering in the snow. I rescued him, providing him with a safe haven in the house, hoping he might recover use of his wing. For the first couple of days we conversed at the edge of the mesh that covered the sides of his cage and he seemed pleased to be with me. I named him Blue.
On the third morning, a solitary chickadee chirped just behind me outside the window. I immediately suspected it was his mate because Blue became almost frantic jumping back and forth on the mesh that faced the window.
After that incident, things changed radically. Blue bit me hard whenever I changed his water. He tried to escape repeatedly. I knew that to let him go was to consign him to death because sub-zero temperatures were the norm for this time of year. I resisted. It took a few more days to face the truth. I could feel and sense it. I had to let him go although I knew he would die.
I placed a small balsam tree next to the house. I left fat, food, and water in the lush gray-green branches. I didn’t sleep that night. I was drowning in regret. I had made a mistake by intervening in Nature’s Way and in the process I had become too attached to a wild bird.
When I carried the cage outdoors the next morning I choked back tears as I gently lifted Blue out and placed him in the tree. Immediately he bellowed “Chicka dee dee dee.” Suddenly a bevy of chickadees appeared on nearby branches all conversing excitedly at the same time. It was impossible not to draw the conclusion that this chickadee had been sorely missed and was being welcomed back by his friends and kin even if it was only for a brief moment in time. When he tried to fly towards them and fell to the ground, I picked him up and set him back in the tree. In moments he disappeared into fragrant fir branches.
I never saw him again.
One morning about a week later a chickadee landed on my head and stayed there. Another day one continued eating as I filled the feeder he was in. Chickadees were now hanging around the house in large numbers conversing with me whenever I stepped out the door. I could feel the comfort of their presence on a visceral level. Gradually, I reached a point of acceptance. I stopped questioning my poor judgment.
Then, a couple of nights ago I had a strange dream. In the vignette a chickadee was talking to me in a language I understood through my body– not through words.
The chickadee told me that I had no protection (protectoress) except the kind that came through nature.
That Nature was my muse was reality but trusting her as a protectoress seemed scary – Nature was focused on the whole life death life process more than its individual parts I thought uneasily… and death was on my mind all the time these days with COVID and other health problems, so surrendering my trust to nature seemed very risky – wasn’t I opening myself to allow her to orchestrate my own death like I had with Blue? Yet, the message seemed clear – Letting Nature lead in death as well as life seemed to be what was being required of me. First I had done it with Blue; now I had to do it with myself. I finally understood that this was why I had saved the chickadee, an action that made no sense to me as a seasoned naturalist.
When I first began to work with clay about 35 years ago bird-women goddesses emerged out of the medium. Ah, I thought, here are images of the animal familiars that had been appearing as helpers all my life. Birds (and animals) were frequently associated with the ancient goddess according to Marija Gimbutas. I remember pouring over the images in “The Language of the Goddess” with a kind of awe and recognition, feeling validated on a level I had never experienced before.
My expectation is that nature is always communicating with me; all I have to do is to listen. The more than human aspect of the world has always seemed wiser to me than the culture I was dropped into. When the incident with Blue occurred I sensed that this heartbreaking experience held a critical lesson for me that I was still resisting on an emotional level with all my might.
Now that I have uncovered it I must turn back to Nature to ask for help to internalize in my body what is being required of me.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.