They Fell from the Sky
Hundreds of them. Eared Grebes. The birds precipitated from inside crystalline clouds where the sunlight flashed in an infinity of ice atoms swirling and refracting in a frozen explosion of brilliance, as if the sun raged coldly right there inside the clouds. The birds became utterly hopelessly disoriented in the icy intensity, blind, not knowing up from down. Hundreds of grebes dropped from the mists to bounce into buildings, cars, trees, yards, and parking lots. And there she stood, unmoving, in my parking space, her olive-brown feet stuck frozen to the ice. My office key made a crude chisel for chopping around her toes – they bled and flaked skin already. I wrapped her in my coat and sat her in a box by my desk, with cracker crumbs and a bowl of water.
The children begged to open the box and see what was scratching inside, and exhaled exclamations of wonder when they saw. What IS it? She’s an Eared Grebe. Look at her pointy black beak, her long flaring golden feathers that look like ears, and her crimson eyes. Do you know what you call a group of grebes? A Water Dance! Can’t you just picture the family flapping and paddling and splashing their delighted dance on the lake?
What are we going to do with her? Can we fill the bath tub? Our grebe paddled around with obvious enthusiasm. What are we going to feed her? How about fish! Tub-side with a bag of goldfish, the children clamored for the privilege of feeding their bird. Our compromise: eight hands held the bloated bag and poured. She darted after the fish in a flash of black and gold and red, a little paddling package of magnificence. Look at her feet – no webbing. Look at how her toes unhinge with little retractable paddles. Wow! came in whispers.
That needling question of what to do with the bird in the bathtub? We would try a nearby pond, and hope for the best. The children watched her swim away and they looked sad and happy and I sensed how singular a blessing to have welcomed that bit of living feathered grace into our human home, to release her willfully, to be moved by her wildness and beauty. And I hoped a small sliver of that exquisiteness would stay behind in memories of hinged toes and golden ears and red red eyes, and of creatures that dance on the water.