Yesterday a female Blue Winged Warbler fell out of the sky and landed suddenly on the backyard deck near the stone wall. She was alive but stunned, upright, her heart racing a mile a minute. Bright yellow underneath, with a yellow brow, slate-colored wings, and her eyes half-closed. She was alive but beaten, hanging on. She allowed me to come close and brush the feathers on her back then made two or three futile attempts at hopping away. She lost her balance and her right wing flayed out and stiffened. I propped her up, but she shivered and began to heave. She couldn’t stay upright, again falling toward the right on the outstretched wing. She shat a yellowish white liquid and shuddered. She was dying.
Can I ascribe stoical bravery to a warbler no bigger than the palm of my hand? The poor thing fell forward, her little head now supported by her bill, her bill open, apparently gasping. Two convulsions rippled through her midsection and twisted her right around, then the little body uncoiled and she keeled over for good, stretching to her full length. Stiff. I shuddered and teared up. She and I share a mortal creaturehood, so perhaps I was crying for myself. I picked her up and laid her on the stone wall. She had become light.
Millions of birds migrate southward this time of year and many of them don’t make it to their wintering grounds. I know this. It’s a sober fact. They tire, they get blown off course, they are taken by predators from above and on the ground. Vast numbers die, even as the strong and lucky ones make the journey safely, down to Central America. I know all about the migration, having, over the years, spent many spring and fall days down in Cape May, or out at the Great Swamp, or, closer to the city, at Liberty State Park or the Meadowlands in Lyndhurst. I have seen clouds of raptors overhead and coastal grasses filled with songbirds. I came across a resting Peregrine Falcon in the dunes at Brigantine not ten feet from where I stood. She glared and fixed me for the interloper I was. Of all the gratuitous beauty that fills the world -- colors and textures, flora and fauna, scent and song to make your hair stand on end -- none is as beguiling as that of live bird being itself, soaring, perched, singing, or still. If we don’t have everlasting souls, neither do they. But their beauty, momentary in the mind, is its own species of miracle, one that fractures time, thus achieving true immortality.
I have had to use a lot of words to tell you how deeply this little death affected me. She had become light, but I had become heavy, filled with grief for a broken world that cannot rest long enough to regain its breath. My warbler was beautiful in life and she was beautiful in death. It was only left to bury her and begin the arduous task of putting out of mind the fate that awaits us all.