Yesterday, I killed a bird and it was quite unintentional. With somewhere to get to and with a rare schedule to keep, I was driving along the winding country lane near my home at the speed of one who knows all the bends when a cloud of swallows rose up from behind the hedgerow and flew as one in a great swoop over the road to the telegraph wire. One lagged behind out of the pattern, hesitated and came lower as though straight towards me and I also hesitated, tried to swerve and, in doing so, hit it as it took the same avoiding diversion. This wasn’t a road for stopping so I witnessed its last movements as a receding view in my mirror, down on the tarmac; yet somehow felt its irregularly fluttering heart, its sun-warmed feathers, in the palm of my hand with such intimacy it broke my heart. I felt sick, all the colour drained from my face and I probably trembled a little, even as I bashed the steering wheel with frustration. I was so angry with myself for not being present as I drove…or at least, not enough to know whether there was another car up close behind if I braked hard on the bend so I had hesitated, assuming the bird was nimble enough to avoid me and there it was, I had done this. My dance with Nature had been out of step for long enough to do harm.
From that point, I felt agitated, consumed with guilt, regret and remorse, as though a heavy leaden weight had descended on my heart, a cup of ink had spilled on the day or like an omen had been shown to me (it was an auspicious day; soon, we were heading off to the airport to collect my daughter, whose plane was about to take off…). Now, I felt I didn’t deserve my day to go well anymore; felt distinctly out of kilter.
I sent blessings to the bird, garbling some appropriate-seeming words in my head to accompany it on its way, wishing fervently that I had better ones to draw on when these things happen; some profound alchemy I could perform in order to restore the balance most quickly. I was struck by the irony that I had ended its life at the peak of its exuberance, that very thing I had been writing about in my post that morning; feeling it rise in myself like a spiralling tailwind in the warm breeze and now I had cut-short the life of its very talisman. I wanted to somehow make recompense to the bird-world though my husband aptly pointed out that I already had as the kites gained a lunch…it was all-but cleaned up by the time I drove back an hour later (Nature wastes nothing). Everything I’m about, that I choose to be, felt temporarily spoiled or hypocritical in the aftermath, like I had failed at it all.
But then as the day progressed, I continued to hear all the relentless shooting sounds that go on in the background, weekend after weekend from late august, where I live….the ceaseless murder of birds reared in the name of someone getting to shoot at them. What I “had done” by accident was a far cry from what the greedy pigs (sorry pigs) that guzzle on pheasant meat washed down by a robust red do, really, so that they can kill “for fun”, which pheasant shooting is really about; no one “needs” this meat on their plate, least of all those who have it. With all the gun-shot, it honestly sounds like we live a mile from the frontline in this typical South of England semi-rural community and it sickens me to my stomach, angers me so much, week after week, but there it is…its legal and its popular.
As it happened, I had been drawn to watch Avatar the evening before (it had been many years…) and hadn’t got around to finishing it so I settled down to watch its second half that evening. In many ways, watching it then felt so timely, now more so than even the night before. I NEEDED to do a refresher on how it’s all about balance; how Eywa (like our Gaia) won’t take sides… but will step in if that balance gets messed with. Push too far one way and we can be sure she will push back. In these morale-destroying times, I needed to make myself sure of that again; this needed to be revised, made fresh as a visual (thank you Avatar) so I can keep on believing it more strongly. Like a tonic, I HAD to immerse in the acknowledgement that all is connected for a couple of hours, as I truly believe it is, for all it is not widely acknowledged by the masses. I found whole new layers of synchronicity with what I have been learning recently about the incredible interconnectivity of trees and between trees and the rest of Nature in Peter Wohlleben’s astonishing book The Hidden Life of Trees – What They feel, How They Communicate (2017); to the point that Avatar has already taken on the air of science fact more so than science fiction in the ten years since its release (two sequels are in the pipeline). These connections are undeniable, yet they can seem ephemeral, fragile and we can (collectively) abuse them, pushing and pushing them to the point of extinction. So, in the dominant world trajectory, we are (again, collectively) pushing very hard indeed…but we can be sure Gaia will push back, in ways that may surprise and, yes, alarm us all yet.
And of those doing the pushing, I am doing relatively little of it…in fact, less and less, with each passing year as we adapt our lifestyle to be more in sync with Nature, not less so as is the dominant trend. My heartfelt accident is a far cry from those who kill for nearly every meal (even if they pay someone else to do it) though there are plenty of other healthy options in most developed places, for instance, plus all the harm they do to the planet by encouraging meat production as one of the most ecologically destructive industries yet devised. I suspect it will be those of us who tread most gently on the earth, acting as gentle custodians, not rapers and pillagers, who will ride out this next wave with most grace; because we will be serving as the agents of balance in a world off kilter.
And if we feel alone or dispersed, ineffectual and outnumbered, Avatar reminded me also that what we actually need is a willing turn out, with a forceful desire in our hearts to step forwards as protectors of Nature, in ways large and small, doing what we can with what we have, as with the gathering of the far-flung nations in Avatar (and not necessarily an equal match for the machine mentality in force power). Because, at some point, when we reach a certain tipping point as those prepared to take a stand, we will feel Gaia’s support at our backs, as the agents of balance working with her, and it will make all the difference. As I said before, all is connected…in ways unfathomable to those who plunder Nature as a “resource”; thank you, Avatar, for the spectacular visual reminder of our sentient planet and the hidden “technologies” that outdo the arogance of self-interested parties. It isn’t those of us who feel remorse as we harm that are most out of kilter here, it is those who feel nothing at all!
So, yes, yesterday I killed a bird…unwittingly, with great remorse, feeling sick to my stomach and it reverberated through me long afterwards and still now; just as it did the very last time, years ago, when a robin came from nowhere against my windscreen on a country lane. That time, I also pained and pained over it; but then, looking back, it was from about then that I paid more attention to these and other small birds, treating them ever more thoughtfully, paying close attention to their habits, learning their songs, encouraging them all through my garden by creating a habitat that would enable them to thrive, with food in winter, water in the heat and sheltered places for nesting. Since then, we have attracted all sorts of birds and welcomed one fledgling robin after another, watching them grow up from the speckled fluff balls that find their feet and then their wings in our cat-free haven (one even spent its first day out of the nest in my dog’s plush bed, right next to where we were sitting, unfazed by our presence). Then, each autumn, one always seems to take up position as “our” resident bird, singing nightly in the tree by my kitchen window as I prepare the evening meal…same place, probably same branch, year after year….and on into spring time, bringing back a mate and so the circle turns. Though I already loved robins, I was reminded of some sort of intimacy with birds that I must have lost, after my adolescence, by the gift of that one bird’s demise and, now, my relationship with all birds is one of the most important things in my world, teaching me so very much about some surprisingly universal things. It somehow jolted me out of the subtle state of disconnect I had been in beforehand (a collective phenomenon…convenient but unhealthy) and I felt more aligned after that.
So, we give and we take; and, though sometimes we don’t mean to take or it feels necessary, when done with great respect and gratitude (Avatar once again), it is that all-important point of realising the difference between this and grabbing all we can that makes a person who they really are; a “small” detail which, I suspect, will become far more decisive of our fate than some people have yet to realise in this quite pivotal era we have now entered.