Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Seagull

Standing on the grey shore and thorn-scrag of Sand Bay, we saw a seagull high overhead, wings spread, gliding. A very ordinary sight. Up there. That's where a gull needs to be, I thought. A wild bird with a broken wing is finished, they're not meant to come back from that. Nevertheless, I felt sad and guilty. We'd had a brilliant walk along the spine of Worlesbury Hill, carrying a hollin bow-stave that we abandoned in the bus-shelter.

That morning Seagull had appeared in Laura's garden, and Seagull had two broken wings. He stood on the concrete path just by the gate so when I arrived I had to be careful opening it. Each wing-tip dragged along the ground, and when he panicked and flapped, one wing turned completely upside-down in a horrible way. I suppose we did what most kind-hearted and helpless people do, we put down bread and water and made a sort of shelter and then we left him in the garden because he seemed safer from cats and then we went out for the day. I regretted never having learnt to set a broken wing, they should teach you this at school. He was a goner, we both agreed, nothing we kindly did could put his life back on track.

Still, it's disturbing to sign someone's death warrant if you're not used to it. We wished he was not there. I seemed to accept with cool equanimity the brutal destinies of a million wild creatures, but that was somewhere else... What business did he have to show up immobilized inside a small fenced garden on a council estate? (I did have my own dark imaginings about that.) We got back late in the evening, and Laura said Park round the front instead, I don't want to disturb Seagull. The truth is, neither of us felt like coming face to face with that ruined, condemned creature at that time of night. And actually I never did see him again.

When I caught up with Laura today I heard the rest. On Monday they became friends, and Seagull got a shelter with a roof and more bread and water. Laura couldn't face just waiting for him to die, on Tuesday he stopped eating, she spoke to the RSPB, they talked about animal hospitals, but as the nearest one was sixty miles away they said take him to a local vet to see if there's any chance. So she threw a shirt over him and scooped him into a cardboard box and carried him across town, singing to him. The vets had a look and said he had no chance, Seagull died by lethal injection, and we mourned. And felt relief.

I might not have written about this, but for reading Sina Queyras' entry for January 11th on Lemon Hound, one of my new favourite blogs. This too is a report of an out-of-the-ordinary encounter with birds, and she adds: "But I am deeply skeptical about the reportage of such encounters. The specialness of the reporter--in this case myself--in the center of the poem's world. I am also worried about the use of animals in literature just as I worry about the Polar Bears and Beavers, the Marmots and Iguanas, the parade of animals appearing in all manner of advertising, staring out at us from the floating nether worlds they are often photographed in, as if they had no firm ground to stand on as they ply us with products, services, offers of exotic, distant lands. I consider the deer showing up in Mary Oliver's poems. I consider Don McKay's Chickadee Encounters, and report on Ravens in Vis-a-Vis, I think of Lilburn lying down in the long, waves of Saskatchewan, and imagine Jan Zwicky somewhere thinking about this. Oddly enough I don't imagine Zwicky "in nature." No, I imagine Anne Carson in a frozen expanse, fuming as she walks, much easier than I imagine Zwicky with mud on her boots. But I digress. What I'm wondering is how to get at what this moment means to us without getting sentimental? What is the ethical way to deal with these encounters? What are we trying to represent? One part of me thinks that human sight is deadly: if we have seen something, it's over."

I share those doubts about the form of the narrative, though as for the possible usefulness of the content I think that searchable blogs can record things that in earlier times would have been harder to collate - who knows exactly when and where blue tits first learned to peck through milk-bottle tops (perhaps in the 1930s) and where was the last place they retained this skill before it died out completely (some time in the early 1990s)? But the form involves the trope, something happened that I don't completely understand (I mean no-one bothers to write a blog entry about just seeing rooks pecking for worms in a ploughed field); why does this conception of newsworthiness involve ignorance? Is ignorance security? Do I appoint myself the prophet Ezekiel, armed with a message from the world beyond the world? Writers do find in themselves these annoying little vanities. Is the message of pleasant shrug-shoulders mystery a self-deceit, because it only turns into a message when we make it, or does the world beyond the world in fact send us a real message that we aren't willing to act on?

I would have liked, in a way, to learn that it is impossible for anyone but a highly-trained specialist to fix a broken wing, but this is apparently not true, and vets sometimes condemn common birds too quickly. Seagull was the commonest of gulls, a black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus); around three million of them spend winter in the UK. If you want to have a go at fixing a broken wing, there are good instructions here.


At 7:48 pm, Blogger evolutionary.flo said...

I am homing a seagal with a broken wing now. I have called many places and they only offer 1 answer... euthenasia. This is a disturbing prospect given that the bird on a whole is healthy. I have offered to pay for the wing to be reset and I have been told that it is quite possible that this once free creature will be imprisoned by the injury... he will never fly again. Now I have never had a bird as a pet, let alone a seagull. It bothers me to see them caged. I am in this position where I am left to wonder what is the most humane thing to do? I'd like to rehabilitate and release this bird but the prospects of such a ideaqlistic occurance is slim to none. Do not feel bad for making the birds life comfortable before he met his demise. Chances are, there was not anything else kinder that could be done.


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