In a quiet room, an injured Red-tailed Hawk sleeps between fits of consciousness, her regal head contorted to one side by damage suffered in a collision with a power line. Talons dangerous even in her sleep, we control her feet and carefully pass fluids into a vein in her leg, down a tube to her stomach. If fate smiles, she may heal. We do what we can. We exist to buy her time.

In an indoor pen, the Mallards laugh, and they should, and they shall—one, both broken legs healed, stands strong to take drink. Her companion stands also, on one leg, but he will be fine. He can fly. They will both be free.

Cottontails, silent, hide under blankets and in small boxes, waiting for night and the courage to venture out for food. The woodchucks doze, hibernation dreams filling their bellies.

Outside, eight fawns lick each other’s noses, backs and legs. They prance and dance within their 3/4 acre enclosure, now drinking, now eating, now standing unsteadily on long hind legs to reach a leaf dangling tantalizingly from the oak tree above.

Two recovering Red-tail Hawks, male and female, share an outside aviary. Like two children forced to make friends, they perch close, shoulders almost touching, but glancing to study each other every so often. If their gazes meet, they raise healing wings in a sign of strength, of willingness to fly, if they must. But they want to sit close. Strangers to each other, I am stranger still. I bring food, but they are kin.

Alberta, our Great Horned Owl, is hooting, a wild and powerful declaration of her strength, her joy at being alive, for the ability to fly the length of her spacious enclosure, hitting one perch after another, startling the other owls, who grip long talons hard to keep their balance when she lands beside them.

It is a grey cold wind that blows, but for the Cedar Waxwing with the injured wing, for the opossum with the frostbitten feet, for the Red-tail fighting for her life, for the fawns that gambol in the dappled shadow, for Alberta, it is a wind buffeted by the compassion of their fellow mortals, whose gifts keep them safe while they grow, or heal.

You, our friends, our supporters, are why these creatures are here, why they are healing, why they will be free.

Fellow Mortals is theirs and yours. We are but the caretakers, the shepherd with the crook, the nurse with the needle, the watcher in the night.

© 1999 Yvonne Wallace Blane


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